Over the weekend Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, apologized for re-tweeting an article from a right wing website that calls transgender people mentally ill and/or perverts.
Woodhouse claimed he did not read the article – titled “Justice Department Kills Obama’s Pervs-In-The-Girls-Bathroom Rule” – closely enough before sharing it.
The reaction to the apology was illuminating.
Some were incredulous, asking how Woodhouse could have misread a piece whose first paragraph proclaimed “the Obama administration decreed that the mentally ill and sexual perverts who claim to be mentally ill had to be allowed to use the restrooms and school locker rooms of their preference without regards to the concerns of anyone else.”
Others chided Woodhouse for apologizing at all, saying he should ignore criticism because the article was right.
The incident highlights the rocky terrain on transgender issues on which the Republican party – and particularly the N.C. GOP – finds itself. It also provides further insight into December’s failed attempt to repeal HB2 and the continued struggle to resolve the conflict over the controversial law as it continues to threaten the state’s reputation and economy.
Woodhouse’s retweet – and the article’s sentiment – actually reflect the official position of the state in the federal lawsuit over HB2: There are no transgender people – just delusional, mentally ill people who shouldn’t be encouraged.
Gov. Pat McCrory, lawyers for the state and a number of GOP state lawmakers have depended on “expert” opinions from right wing groups well out of the scientific mainstream in defining their position on transgender issues.
Earlier this month a transgender woman learned that the hard way when she wrote members of the N.C. General Assembly about HB2 and got a shocking reply from N.C. Rep. Mark Brody (R-Union).
“I cannot speak professionally but can only repeat what professionals say about what you are going through,” Brody wrote. “I believe it is called Gender Dysphoria, I hope I got the spelling right, and am saddened by the fact that North Carolina doesn’t provide the help you need to readjust from the mental disorder you suffer with. It appears that allowing you to use a bathroom, locker room or shower of your choice only reinforces the disorder not helps to correct it. As compassionate legislator I seek to help people who are suffering. If you are willing I can investigate promoting legislation to help those who suffer from this disorder and with your help can work to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by this disorder. I’m willing to help if you are willing to be helped and help others.”
Brody’s misunderstanding of the realities of transgender peoples’ experience – and what gender dysphoria actually is – seem to be widespread among GOP legislators in Raleigh.
In fact, gender dysphoria is the distress that can result from living as one gender but not identifying that way – and expert doctors now help people transition to alleviate the problem.
N.C. Policy Watch spoke about this with Dr. Deanna Adkins of Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care at Duke University Hospital last year.
“The best medical literature shows that treating dysphoria and helping them to transition has a 70-80 percent efficacy,” Adkins said. “Why would we ignore that? Especially when forty percent of them attempt suicide and many more, I’m sure, succeed.”
Adkins, an actual practicing physician who has been working with transgender people for the last five years, provided expert testimony against HB2 in the federal lawsuit.
But the echo chamber of political rhetoric on the issue – and the absence and distortion of good information – has made discussion of an HB2 repeal difficult. The problem is even more complicated now as the President Donald Trump’s administration abandons defense of President Barack Obama’s guidelines on transgender students in schools.
LGBT advocates responded to Woodhouse’s apology Monday, underscoring its relationship to HB2 repeal.
“Mr. Woodhouse’s retweet of this article sends a message to transgender kids that their government views them as criminals and deviants who are not deserving of the same protections that others take for granted,” said Equality NC Director of Transgender Policy Ames Simmons in a statement Monday.
“How could any trans or gender-questioning child hear that message and believe that they are going to be okay or that they have a viable future in our state?” Simmons said. “We say to those youth, we see you; we value you, and we are going to fight for you.”
“Dallas speaks for the North Carolina GOP, and the article he touted creates a direct risk of discrimination and violence for transgender North Carolinians,” said Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro, a former N.C. House member.
”Our leaders should not be tearing down those they are meant to lead – especially our young people,” Sgro said. “This incident underscores how detrimental HB2 has been to our state, and why it is crucial that we immediately enact statewide protections against hate and discrimination. Will Tim Moore and Phil Berger denounce this action, and commit to the full repeal of HB2?”