North Carolina's HB2 Challenges Us to See Equality as a Long Game
We recently read the story of Joseph in parashat Vayeishev. Joseph is the last of Jacob’s 12 sons and is often favored by his father. Exacerbating the jealousy and resentment Joseph’s brothers already feel towards the favored son, Joseph shares two of his dreams with them, both of which prophesize his destiny to rule over the family. The brothers are infuriated by this, and in their rage, sell Joseph to a band of passing Ishmaelites and fake his death to avoid their father’s inquiry.
Joseph flaunts his differences, but his brothers’ response and ultimate betrayal is not a reaction to this arrogance, rather, it is a reaction to what they cannot understand and consequently come to fear. They see Joseph’s differences as negative, and get rid of him so as to avoid any future consequences due to those differences.
The same can be said for transgender Americans and the broader LGBTQ community, and the lack of rights and protections they face every day. We must stop treating differences as negative, and start understanding them as essential to the very fabric of our society.
In late December, the North Carolina Legislature was poised to repeal HB2, a law that specifically targets transgender North Corolinians by prohibiting people from using public restrooms that don't correspond with the biological sex listed on their birth certificates. When this bill was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory in March, North Carolina became the center of national controversy. Celebrities pulled their concerts, sports teams cancelled their previously scheduled championship games and concerned citizens from all over the United States, including Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center, urged the governor and the legislature to repeal the discriminatory law.
The North Carolina General Assembly held a special session, in which it was believed they would repeal HB2 in its entirety. Instead, some legislators stood firm in their support of HB2, while others demanded its repeal. After several hours of intense dialogue and the floating of potential solutions, the legislators adjourned without even taking a vote, allowing the discriminatory law to remain intact. Rabbi Pesner issued a statement calling the adjurnment a missed opportunity, and urged the governor and the legislature to prioritize repeal of HB2 in the next session.
As many of us know, the Joseph story does not end on the same sour note with which it begins. Joseph becomes a very powerful advisor to Pharaoh, having interpreted his dreams to mean that Egypt would see seven years of abundance and seven years of famine. Joseph helps the Egyptians plan during the years of plenty, so that in the years that follow, there is more than enough food to go around. And when the famine hits, the 11 remaining sons of Jacob, those who had so hatefully cast out their brother for being different, come to Egypt in search of food. Joseph is able to rekindle the relationships that had been squandered, hearing from his brothers firsthand the remorse and guilt they have felt ever since casting him away. He is finally given the love and respect he has always desired and has rightfully deserved.
Joseph’s story is a reminder that justice does come. It takes some time, and there is pain in waiting for it, but it does come. For the transgender community, and the LGBT community at large, each step forward is met with significant barriers, but that doesn’t mean the fight is any less vital. Because even if it takes many years for an acknowledgement to be made, justice will eventually come.