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Barbershop: 'Bathroom Bill,' VP Pence's Marriage Beliefs


Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we sit down with a group of interesting folks to talk about the news of the week and what's on their minds. Joining us for a shape-up this week are a group of our regulars.

Steven Petrow writes the Civilities column which you can find in The Washington Post. He's with us from the studios at WNCU in Durham, N.C. Gayle Trotter is here in our Washington, D.C., studios. She's a political commentator, and you can find her writings at Right in D.C. And Tammy Garnes is with us she's a film producer and a former communications director for the Atlanta Public Schools. We normally catch her in Atlanta, but she was nice enough to come by during a trip to D.C. So she's here in studio as well. Thanks everybody for coming.

GAYLE TROTTER: Great to be here.

TAMMY GARNES: Great to be here.

STEVEN PETROW: Great to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: Sorry for the pollen count. There's nothing I could do about it.


MARTIN: So let me start with news out of North Carolina. We've been following what's been called the Bathroom Bill for about a year now. The bill required that in public buildings and schools, people had to use the bathroom of the gender in which they were born rather than the one with which they identify. Needless to say, this is understood to be aimed at people who identify as transgender. It also barred municipalities from enacting their own nondiscrimination measures for gay, lesbian and transgender people.

Now, a huge backlash followed - most recently, for example, the NBA moved All Star Weekend out of the state. So after a year of this, new legislation was signed this week by the new governor Roy Cooper. He's a Democrat. Now, it's described as a bill that repeals the restriction and as a compromise. But critics like the ACLU say it isn't really a repeal and isn't a compromise. Steven, I'm going to go to you first because, A, you're in North Carolina, B, you've been following this closely.

And what's interesting to me is that you've been writing some really strong columns saying people shouldn't compromise on this. And what's noteworthy to me is that you are a person who normally asks people to try to find a way to find common ground on these sticky, emotional issues. So I want to hear from you first on this.

PETROW: Well, you're absolutely right, Michel, that I do usually seek common ground on issues where you can find common ground. But when you're talking about civil rights, when you're talking about human rights, I think it's very difficult to make a compromise and especially when we're thinking about, you know, minority rights.

And I look back in one of my columns to some of the great compromises of this great country that starts with the Three-Fifths Compromise that our founding fathers settled on which was a way to count slaves as fractional people. And in a sense what we've seen Roy Cooper, our Democratic governor and the Republican legislature do this week, is discount the lives of LGBTQ people. And that is a fundamental issue, and there was a state senator here in North Carolina, Susan Fisher. And she said before the vote, you know, this is an accountability issue for all of us. We don't compromise on civil rights, but we did.

And this was really an attempt to - what I call dial for dollars because the NCAA is going to be deciding this week whether North Carolina will be in play to get championship games, and everybody wants to put HB2 behind them so they can get some big bucks.

MARTIN: Before we - before I move to Gayle on this - because I also know she has strong views on this as well - why do you say that this is - you do liken it to the Three-Fifths Compromise? You do say it's a sellout in essence. You say it's not really what it's purported to be? Why do you feel so strongly about it?

PETROW: Well, one of the main provisions of HB2 was that local governments could not pass anti-discrimination laws. And one of the main anchors of this new law HB 142 is exactly the same. So you can call it a repeal, but it's really just a renaming and the most onerous odious part of HB2 is still part of the DNA of this state.

MARTIN: Gayle, what do you say about this?

TROTTER: Well, politics is about how we order our lives together, so Steven's talking about civil rights. And I think that - I've read many of his pieces - he ignores the civil rights of people who care about their privacy, the people who care about their modesty, people who care about their safety. And those are important civil rights, too.

So when he talks about this legislation as compromising principles of morality and dialing for dollars, I would agree with him. But on the opposite side of the issue because I would say that, unfortunately, many of the big businesses in this country have a liberal agenda and they put pressure when the political system of a state doesn't go their way with their agenda. They put economic pressure on these states.

And so the compromise is a way to back away from the civil rights of people who want to protect their modesty. Sexual assault survivors who want to have a feeling of safety in bathrooms, locker rooms, facilities. So I would see it as this - we come to completely different perspectives on whose civil rights we're talking about.

MARTIN: Well, two questions for you, though, Gayle. First of all, I mean, don't conservatives also engage in boycotts? I mean, haven't boycotts been directed at places like Target for - or Starbucks for whatever...

TROTTER: Boycotts or purchases?

MARTIN: Purchases - OK.

TROTTER: I'm talking about companies that's - you have a great point because conservatives will use boycotts and use the power of the purse. But we're talking about companies like PayPal, which said they would not put 400 employees in North Carolina and other big companies, too. So we're talking about individuals making choices versus big companies making choices.

MARTIN: Do you see this as an acceptable - go ahead, Steven. I'll let you take this one. Go ahead.

PETROW: Well, I just want to say with all due respect to Gayle, I certainly have listened very carefully to the proponents of HB2 and the false claims that they've made which you're repeating here about sexual predators and transgendered people being sexual predators.

TROTTER: No, that's not the claim. That's not the claim. I just have to interrupt.

PETROW: There's no - let me finish. Let me just finish. There's just no evidence for that. And that has really been a red herring in this debate.

MARTIN: Go ahead.

TROTTER: That's not the claim that's being made.

MARTIN: What is the claim?

TROTTER: The claim that's being made is not that the threat is from transgender people. It's the threat that unless you have this delineation on biology, then you're not going to have the ability to stop sexual predators from going into bathrooms. And you don't even have to get to sexual assault. You're just talking about basic privacy and modesty. So those are important values of our society, too, and those should not be thrown away without a discussion.

PETROW: And they haven't been.

MARTIN: So - OK, Steve, do you want to take one more word on this because then I want to turn to Gayle on something else. So - anyway your point here, though, Steven, is that there should not be a compromise. I want to just ask Gayle finally before we go on this, do you consider this from your conservative perspective an acceptable compromise? And if so why?

TROTTER: No, I don't, and I would agree with Steven that it's dialing for dollars, and, unfortunately, some people care more about catering to liberal corporations than they care about principle.

MARTIN: OK. Steven, go ahead.

PETROW: Yeah. And that is why this is really such a terrible, quote, unquote, "compromise" because nobody who has any principles which regardless of what they are, you know, is satisfied with this and that is why this is another black eye for the state of North Carolina and especially Governor Cooper.

MARTIN: So we let poor Tammy - we ignored her on this. And she's like...

GARNES: I'm just sitting here hoping I don't have to go to the bathroom.



GARNES: I mean, at this point I don't know if I'll be allowed to...

PETROW: You're very wise.

GARNES: You know? I mean, seriously, it harkens back to - just listening to everyone speak about this, it just harkens back to everything, you know, about civil rights for people of color in this country and in other countries. And it's sad. It's sad that we have to have this conversation. Having worked in a school district intimately for many, many years, if you haven't looked into the eyes of a child who's been beaten up or who has been threatened or bullied because of their sexual orientation and felt some type of compassion, I mean, what kind of person are you?

Of course you want to provide a safe place for them. And a gender neutral bathroom is about as easy a thing as we can do in a school district that can be done. So some of this is simply political pomp and circumstance, and people want to keep things a certain way because that's the way they've always been. But in this country, we know that doing that only hurts those who are in the minority.

MARTIN: Gayle, do you want to have one final bite of the apple before I move on to something else?

TROTTER: Sure. I think you have to take into account it's not just women, but I've heard from young boys say, too, that they care about their modesty, and they care about this issue. So it's more complicated than we're able to go into now, but I don't think we should tar people based on their views on this, as, you know, wanting to stick with things just because that's the way they always were.

MARTIN: Well, it is an indication that this is an issue which has - continues to have resonance, and so I do apologize for the fact that we don't have more time to talk about it. But I do want to go on to an interesting story about Vice President Mike Pence. The Washington Post published a profile of his wife Karen. One detail stood out for a lot of people.

The vice president said back in 2002 that he doesn't attend events where alcohol is served without his wife, and he also says he would not have dinner along with a woman who isn't his wife. And some readers commended the vice president for taking these steps to defend his marriage. But others said that this really makes it hard for women to advance within his circle that, you know, there are conversations that people need to have privately, like personnel conversations and that - what's - basically says is that no woman could ever be chief of staff, for example. And, Gayle, I just wanted to ask you about that. What do you think about that?

TROTTER: Sure. Well, I have a few reactions to that. First, I think it's a controversy about nothing because we all are entitled to come up with guidelines to honor our personal commitments, so we can all agree on that. And I think it's delightfully old-fashioned. I think more women in the workplace would benefit if there were men who were honorable and wanted to make sure that they didn't put them in an uncomfortable positions.

And it's a false choice to say that women cannot advance in the workplace if they don't have alcohol with men or they don't dine alone with men, and there's no evidence that Vice President Pence would not promote women in the workplace. And, in fact, there's a piece in The Washington Post right now by one of his employees when he was a congressman saying she was the only woman frequently in a room representing the congressman's views. And she gained so much professional advantage from that.

MARTIN: Tammy, what do you think as a person who's worked in high level executive positions where sensitive things were discussed? Thoughts?

GARNES: I - as far as his personal life goes, I commend him for having barriers that keep his marriage safe and honorable. I mean, I think that a lot of people who are pointing the finger at him and shaking their heads, maybe we should all learn a lesson for him about being proactive about decisions that could directly impact our marriages.

With that said, I didn't see anywhere where he said that he - I mean, absolutely wouldn't have a meeting with a woman in a room. You know, if we're talking about dinner and drinks and things like that, that's his business. I mean...

MARTIN: Is it though? He's the vice president though. He's a public official.

GARNES: He is a public official. He is the vice president. But if it is in his personal time, in his personal life I don't see, you know, how that really impacts...

MARTIN: OK. I have one more question, and this has to go to Steven because it's an etiquette question. Huge conversation on Twitter this week involving Groupon. Is it OK to take somebody out on a date using a Groupon? Because some people say that it's just so rude, and other people - in our huge debate in our office about this, some women said - or men for that matter - said it shows you're fiscally responsible. So Groupon - yes or no on a date?

PETROW: I say yes, but it's really all about who you want to be, how you want to present yourself, and, you know, if you want to be considered, you know, thrifty that's one way to go about it. If you want to be considered cheap, you know, that's the problem. I will say 96 percent of the people who voted on BuzzFeed where that story was said - yes, it's absolutely acceptable, and I do agree.



MARTIN: All right. So we have Steven Petrow with us, Gayle Trotter's with us and Tammy Garnes was with us. They were all here. Oh, no - Steven's in North Carolina.

PETROW: That's right.

MARTIN: Thank you for joining us.

PETROW: My pleasure.

GARNES: Thank you.

TROTTER: Great to be with you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.