There have been many times in recent months that I've thought of the late "philosopher" Rodney King, Jr., whose plaintive "Can we all just get along?" (often misquoted as "can't") resounded across the nation following the 1992 Los Angeles riots. (King, who died four years ago, was the police beating victim; an acquittal in the case involving four officers accused of harming him set off the disturbances.)
Can we all just get along, then, when it comes to gender and bathroom usage? And is there a spiritual and even doctrinal angle -- on one side of this public debate -- that is missing in the latest flush of coverage about North Carolina?
You probably know the background: A move early in 2016 by Charlotte's city council to allow transgender individuals to use the restroom of their choice in any "public accommodation" in the city brought a backlash from the North Carolina legislature, which outlawed such protections statewide. The state ban brought economic and artistic boycotts, and allegedly cost the state hundreds of jobs. The most prominent job loss might have been that of Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, who narrowly lost a re-election bid in November.
This week, a "compromise" of sorts was reached: Charlotte said it would repeal its ordinance if the legislature would "fully repeal" HB 2, the much-derided ban. The Charlotte repeal included some phrases legislative Republicans didn't like; the proposed state measures included wording the Democrats didn't like. The result: No repeal of HB2 and uncertainty in Charlotte.
So what's the religion angle, you ask? You will barely find it in the media coverage, such as The New York Times, which had reporters in Raleigh and Atlanta on the case:
By late [Wednesday] afternoon, the debate in Raleigh had shifted away from H.B. 2 and toward a Republican proposal to resolve the impasse: a repeal of the maligned law and the imposition of a “six-month cooling-off period” in which local governments would be barred from approving or amending any “ordinance regulating employment practices or regulating public accommodations or access to restrooms, showers or changing facilities.”
“This is the right thing to do for our state,” said Senator Phil Berger, the Republican leader in the Senate, who added that the measure “gives everyone the opportunity to start over.”
Religion News Service's editors must have imagined there was a faith angle, since the organization redistributed a USA Today piece on the subject. That article, too, skipped over the faith aspects of the case, specifically that many who opposed the initial Charlotte move based their objections on a traditional understanding of gender as found in Genesis 5:2, "male and female created He them," per the King James Version.
Only the Los Angeles Times (possible paywall) approached even the fringes of this aspect:
Republicans resistant to repealing the [state HB 2] law also got encouragement at the beginning of the day when Lt. Gov. Dan Forest spoke out against a repeal.
"No economic, political or ideological pressure can convince me that what is wrong is right,” Forest said in a statement. “It will always be wrong for men to have access to women's showers and bathrooms.
"With certainty, if HB 2 is repealed, we will fight this battle all over again with another city or county. The names will change, but the national groups who are pushing this agenda will not stop until their social engineering is accomplished."
"Social engineering." "This agenda." "It will always be wrong."
Do you see anything that hints at underlying religious questions in these words? Something that might amplify understanding of why who-uses-what-restroom is a contentious issue beyond mere economics or politics?
If you do, you're ahead of the journalistic pack, which skipped past all of this to make it a story about politics, 2016 style, with a foreshadowing that this will be a political fight for North Carolinians in 2017. And while there were voices from the anti-HB 2 side, there was nary a word in The New York Times, the USA Today story RNS picked up or the Los Angeles Times article about the values and beliefs on which those opposed to Charlotte's initial ordinance relied. Not even the (partially) taxpayer-funded PBS News Hour, in nearly 10 minutes on the topic (video above), thought to raise that aspect.
C'mon journalists! Can we get all the viewpoints in? The goal is to cover both sides of the debate with accuracy and respect.