John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

House Bill 2: Déjà vu All Over Again

April 22, 2016huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

I write to share some reflections and report on actions taken with respect to the controversial legislation recently adopted by the North Carolina legislature regarding what the proponents are describing as privacy and safety protection in public toilets and what opponents would describe much differently. As one who has been championing for social justice since I was a college student in the 1960’s, this is all a very bitter pill to swallow.

And because I am the appointed leader of a non-profit organization that serves the national and international higher education community, I wanted to report on what actions our organization has taken in response to the recent legislative action which has been found by so many in our fellow higher education community as offensive and probably –and hopefully- illegal.

I refer to what is known in North Carolina as House Bill 2, which restricts the use of public restrooms by transgendered persons to the gender indicated on their birth certificates and not their gender identity; and which prohibits anyone from seeking legal relief related to North Carolina workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation; and which prohibits any municipality in North Carolina from raising the minimum wage above the state proscribed minimum (currently the Federal minimum); and which forbids any North Carolina municipality from adopting policy to provide anti-discrimination protection beyond what is currently provided in state statute.

Actions Taken

In light of these new restrictions being imposed in North Carolina, I would want it known hereby that the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education:

  • Will continue to obey all State of North Carolina statutes and policies and those of the United States government as they may pertain to the operation of our legally constituted corporation.
  • Strongly opposes these legislative provisions.
  • Believes these provisions violate the fundamental values of our organization, which have been to promote social justice and equality of treatment and rights for all undergraduate college students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, physical condition, religion, creed, nationality, immigration status, sexual orientation and/or identity.
  • Has successfully been able to cancel lodging space and related arrangements for the annual, legally mandated meeting of the Institute’s Board of Directors, which was to have been held in North Carolina and will now be held out of the state of North Carolina.
  • Is not able to move the locations of four professional meetings our Institute has previously entered into prior to this legislative action for legally contracted hotel space in North Carolina for events scheduled for June, July, and October of 2016, because of significant financial damages we would incur that would be unacceptable for a small, non-profit organization such as ours. We must honor our contracts.
  • Will not book, organize, or host any more professional meetings in the state of North Carolina, other than the four referenced above, until this legislation is rescinded by the North Carolina legislature or invalidated by the Federal courts.
  • Will respect any of our colleagues in higher education who may choose not to participate in any of our remaining events hosted in North Carolina because of their personal, moral, opposition to this legislation.
  • Understands and accept, of course, any of our higher education colleagues who are forbidden by state or city policy from the use of their public funds to travel to North Carolina in an official state employment capacity because of this legislation and hence cannot participate in any of these remaining events in North Carolina.
  • Profoundly regrets these legislative actions and their outcomes for North Carolina citizens and the state’s economy, for which we are certainly not responsible.
  • Believe that the majority of our fellow North Carolinians agree with us that any form of discrimination against others based on sexual orientation or gender identity is inappropriate and a moral affront to the dignity of all persons.
  • Implores the supporters of and participants in the various works of the Gardner Institute to bear with us as we do the best we can under these circumstances, which we did not create, and to continue to grant us their respect and support.
  • Has posted a public statement to this effect on the home page of our Institute website:


I was raised in a lily white, affluent suburb of New York City, New Canaan, Connecticut. I was a child of privilege. I know represent what sociologists have long called “downward social mobility.” I like many Americans learned prejudice at home, although I know I never translated that into discrimination.

My own undergraduate experience was truly intellectually liberating and to the extent possible it enabled me to unlearn, rethink, the culturally acquired prejudices I may have acquired in my family and my country. I am so appreciative of my own liberal arts college, Marietta College, where I received the intellectual and professional foundation for my career work to promote social justice.

My military experience on active duty in the United States Air Force further demonstrated the power of government to provide an environment where all members of the society can be treated equally and where all can flourish.

While on active duty, I served in South Carolina, arriving 2.5 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. I had the opportunity there for 32.5 years to observe the transformation of a formally de jure segregated political region, in part through higher education open to all citizens.

As a country we stopped restricting toilet use as a function of race and ethnicity in 1964. This new legislation adopted by my adopted state of North Carolina returns us to an era I had thought we had long left behind. Now we are restricting the rights of our latest scapegoat cohort, transgendered people, to use the toilets of their chosen identity. So, in fifty years we have moved from suppressing the rights of blacks and women, and then of gay persons, and undocumented immigrants, and now transgendered persons. The game is the same. Only the people being attacked and suffering are different. And sadly, many of the proponents of this newest version of Jim Crow, are the same: disproportionately, older, southern, white, men.

One of the most basic human functions and what should be a right, is where you go to the bathroom. Government aspiring to provide equality for all should not be restricting this basic human right.

I learned firsthand that those who advocate for social justice and civil rights for all Americans can and do pay a price. I was fired (or as we euphemistically say in higher education speak “non renewed) from Winthrop College in 1969 for my activities in establishing a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. In that action I naively participated in legal action taken against a local business owner that was prominently connected to the governing board of my employer. Not very smart John. I did not have tenure. Contrary to what many outside the higher education community say, we still do need tenure! Thankfully, I was able to secure a faculty appointment at the University of South Carolina, which always protected my privilege of academic freedom and allowed me the opportunity to do work of socially redeeming value to promote social justice for all, for the next nearly five decades.

As a country, we have made progress. We are making progress, albeit too slowly. I have made progress. As I wrote initially, this latest action is a setback, especially for North Carolina, but also for our country as it reflects so poorly on us abroad—and hence is a bitter pill to swallow.

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