"Bathroom panic." That's what Republican lawmakers in North Carolina recently exploited in passing a bill that wipes out all local laws that protect LGBT Tar Heels from discrimination in jobs, housing, restaurants, taxis or apparently anywhere else they try to live their lives in peace.
It's part of a two-pronged national strategy to roll back LGBT civil rights in the wake of last year's marriage equality ruling - which recognized a federal right to marry, but left us dependent on state and local civil rights laws to regulate private discrimination in our everyday lives. Both strategies prey not only on anti-gay bias, but on hyped-up, unfounded fears that allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their identity will lead to sexual predators invading women's restrooms and locker rooms.
The first, more familiar, strategy is to pass "religious freedom" bills that allow those with religious objections to deny jobs, housing and services to LGBT people. Mississippi's governor recently signed such a measure into law, provoking an Indiana-style business backlash in Biloxi.
The second strategy is to pass preemption laws at the state level that bar cities from enforcing non-discrimination laws that are more expansive than the state's. That's what North Carolina just stepped into last month. Since that state's non-discrimination law doesn't cover sexual orientation or gender identity, the effect is to prohibit cities like Charlotte from passing or enforcing any laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination.
It's a stealth version of what Colorado did in the early 90's and what the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 1996. But unlike Colorado's version, the new laws don't specifically single out gay people for discrimination, even though that's the intended effect. Lawmakers are betting this bit of legal doublespeak - and ginned up bathroom panic - will save the laws from being overturned.