Transgender campaigners and lobbyists have been delighted at the downfall of North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, who was voted out at the recent US elections. He is the first sitting governor to lose an election in the state, and in 2016 he was the only sitting governor across the USA to lose his post. The same electors backed Trump and voted in a Republican senator. McCrory’s loss is widely attributed to his support for North Carolina’s HB2 law. The law includes viciously discriminatory anti-worker provisions (see here and here; I think these provisions will appeal to local small-to-medium businesses more than major corporations), and anti-gay measures, banning “any local restrictions on discrimination in public places based on sexual orientation”. But the notorious aspect of the law – the aspect that has rallied forces for and against it – relates to transgender rights, in particular the use of government-run bathrooms: it says people must use the facilities matching their sex of birth rather than the gender they now identify with. The law was used to over-ride a pro-transgender ordinance in the city of Charlotte.
Big business was prominent in the campaign against the HB2 bill. Corporations held back investment in the state, impacting on jobs: they launched what amounts to a capital strike, of the kind that has previously been used, on a larger scale, to bring uppity left wing governments into line.
Associated Press had previously reported that “over 100 top CEOs” had protested against the impending law.
The list now includes leaders of many sectors of the economy. Tourism is represented by Hilton, Marriott and Starwood hotels; AirBnB, Uber and Lyft; and American Airlines, which has a major hub in Charlotte, the state’s largest city.
Banking and finance executives include the leaders of Bank of America, Citibank, TD Bank, PayPal and others. Restaurateurs and retailers include leaders of Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and Levi Strauss. Technology leaders joined in force, including the leaders of IBM, Apple, Intel, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, eBay, Twitter, YouTube and many others.
After the election The Economist noted that corporate supporters were heavy hitters within the pro-trans alliance:
“Mr McCrory did worse than other Republicans in part because of a state law widely thought to discriminate against transgender people and others. After he signed it, some businesses reconsidered their investments, entertainers cancelled concerts and sports tournaments were moved… the economic costs, and the broad coalition that mobilised against him, seem to have convinced some Republican-leaning voters to ditch him…” (North Carolina: Not going quietly. The Economist 26 November 2016 p32)
Indeed The Economist could not help gloating over McCrory’s come-uppance after his “rash” support for the HB2 bill. Similarly, Time magazine called the governor’s downfall “a cautionary tale for other conservative legislatures that will almost certainly consider similar measures in the coming months.”
Republican candidates for the state legislature did not suffer in the same way as McCrory from the pro-trans campaign. They won both chambers. This may be due to what The Economist called “energetic gerrymandering”. (The New York Times has described NC Republicans’ “unscrupulous efforts to fence off black communities” so as to “diminish the political power of black voters”; this included “an unnecessary and harmful voter ID law and other unfair electoral restrictions”.)
Meanwhile the alt-Right Breitbart News has exploited the bathroom dispute to boost its salt-of-the-earth, anti-elite credentials, by railing against “corporate extortion” and the alliance of big business with the “radical left” and gay rights groups.
Two right wing ideologies slugging it out
The bathroom access issue has wider ramifications for Republicans, “pitting the party’s pro-business branch against social conservatives“, according to a Reuters article. To put it another way, the top layers of Republican and Democratic parties both reflect the views of the neoliberal capitalist class, which has moved on from the traditionalist, backwoods sex stereotypes where chromosomes are destiny. As discussed elsewhere on this blog, the capitalist elite finds in transgender ideology a means to help preserve women’s oppression in a changing world. And women’s oppression remains vital to its economic interests. The neoliberal elite is by far the most powerful force driving the trans trend, and now defines its fundamental nature.
The main difference between the Republican and Democrat grandees on this issue is that the Republicans have to try to accommodate the traditionalist views still cherished by the their base, and championed by the religious and alt Right. For the Right, the battle against the trans trend is part of a wider war against lesbians and gays and liberalism. But lacking elite support, the Right is almost certainly doomed to lose on the trans issue. Its only path to victory would be the nightmare scenario where it manages to take leadership of mass anger during a social crisis, deeper than anything we have yet seen, and extending far more deeply than the election of someone like Trump. Under that scenario trans people, lesbians and gays, women and organised workers would all get it in the neck.
The only way out of this morass is to start building an alliance between trans-critical feminists and Left, which can then start to rally wider layers of support for women against the trans trend, on a progressive basis.