Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mondays with ... Orville and Wilbur?

The Wright Memorial on the OBX
On the way home from the Outer Banks yesterday we stopped for gas in Ashland, Va. I wound up standing in line to use the restroom. The station had two facilities, each of them a “one-holer” of identical design, furnishing, and, most importantly, function. Each door had a standard-issue restroom placard, one of which read “Men,” and the other “Women.” The women’s placard included a strip of masking tape on which was written in blue marker “only.”

All weekend in North Carolina I had gone out of my way to speak with the manager of each business we went into. While others in our crew shopped or settled tabs, I’d go speak with the manager and leave a copy of a letter explaining why, following the passage of HB2, not all of us feel safe or welcome in North Carolina.

After a weekend on “team advocacy” of our vacation crew, I was simply too tired to inquire at the gas station in Virginia concerning what prompted the signage. After all, the restrooms were already private and each was, by architecture, exclusive to the individual using it.

I’m writing this blog post in a coffee shop in Arlington. The shop has three one-person restrooms. Over the years I have drunk gallons of coffee here, and I have used each of these restrooms. I’m certain that each has been used by countless men, and women, and, also, by countless transgender persons, and gender queer persons as well.

I’m pretty sure nobody cares.

What I do care about, though, is justice. That’s why, wherever we went in North Carolina, we left behind a copy of the following letter, printed on church letterhead: 
Dear North Carolina friend,
 For the past five years a small group of us from Northern Virginia have enjoyed a lovely weekend together on the Outer Banks. We have strolled your beautiful beaches, enjoyed many wonderful meals at your restaurants, rented condos, participated in OBX running events, visited your parks, and shopped in your stores. We love the Outer Banks.
 Thus it is with real sadness that we must let you know that we will not be back in the years to come due to the recent passage of HB2.
 We are members of the Clarendon Presbyterian Church community, and the deepest values of our common faith rest on the conviction that all of us are created equally in the image of a loving God. HB2 violates that image in some of our sisters and brothers. More than that, it threatens the safety of our transgender sisters and brothers, and, particularly, of trans kids.
 We know that many North Carolinians oppose the law, and that many North Carolina businesses are working to create safe spaces for all people. We applaud that effort, but we will not continue to contribute our dollars to the economy of a state that does not welcome all of us.
 We encourage you to become active in your own state’s political processes, and send to your legislature leaders who truly want everyone to feel welcome, valued, and safe in North Carolina. In the meanwhile, we encourage you to contact your current lawmakers and your governor and tell them to rescind HB2.
 We promise that when you do, we will come back and visit again.
 Grace and peace,
 David Ensign
We left about a dozen such letters, and in almost every conversation, the business manager was incredibly gracious, receptive to the conversation, and deeply sympathetic. About half of them apologized for the law.

To those apologies I responded, “you don’t need to apologize; it clearly was not your idea. But we do encourage your activism. Contact your governor and your legislators, and let them know how you feel, and feel free to share our letter with anyone who might be interested.”

The conversations were universally pleasant, and several of them were deeply moving. A clerk in an ABC store actually had tears in his eyes thanking us for what we were doing. The only person who was merely cordial was the clerk in a state park, and I suspect that, whatever her personal convictions, she’s probably bound by her employment to avoid engaging controversial topics.

Even though the conversations were powerful to participate in, by the time “team advocacy” reached Ashland, really all I wanted to do was pee in peace. Come to think of it, that’s all anyone opposed to HB2 and similar proposals wants.

Oh, there was a line to the restroom marked “men.” The one labeled “women – only” was empty. I’m through Ashland from time to time. If I need gas, I’ll stop there again and ask, “why?”

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