By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the Public Securities and Private Facility Act that North Carolina recently signed into law. Colloquially referred to as the “bathroom law,” it essentially mandates that a person must use the public restroom corresponding to the designated gender on their birth certificate.
For most of us, that’s just reinforcing common sense, but that’s because most of us identify with the gender of our birth. The controversy behind the law, rather, stems from its blatant discrimination against transgender citizens, i.e., those who have completed or have almost completed the transition from one gender to another. It is a process that, frankly, most us (including me) don’t understand, but we don’t have to. It’s as biologically legitimate as it is psychologically relevant, and it is something that we’re all going to have to learn to cope with if we want to have a place in this world.
To give you an idea of how widespread the outcry against this law has been, here’s a list of high-profile individuals, ranging from “well, duh” to “really?” on the predictability scale: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Nils Lofgren, Jimmy Buffett, Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Rob Reiner, Debra Messing, John Kasich, Donald Trump and more.
Yes, Donald “Rounding up Muslims is totally not like what the Nazis did to the Jews during the Holocaust” Trump thinks this law is way out of line.
The political statements, especially this year, are par for the course. And celebrity involvement is too, to a large extent. In some cases, celebrities have even more power, seeing as how they can screw with the state’s economy and future ability to bring in revenue. Springsteen and Adams have both cancelled upcoming concerts in protest of the new law, and Buffett, while still going ahead with a series of already-planned concerts, indicated that future visits to North Carolina will hinge on the presence of this “stupid law.”
Now, all of these people are absolutely correct to come out in support of LGBT rights, as any true American citizen who cares about personal liberty would. But it keeps the question of celebrity influence in politics fresh and relevant; it’s quite the tightrope. Politicians, news media and celebrities have long maintained a sort of abusive, symbiotic relationship. Every time a high-profile musician, actor or athlete has the gall to express a political opinion, there are exactly two kinds of responses: those affiliated with the school of thought that celebrity endorsed trot out the sound byte time after time, praising the courage/common sense/maverick-ness of that individual, etc., while those on the opposite side decry that person as a “mere celebrity” with no business expressing opinions.
Ideally, we would regard these on a case-by-case basis.
For example, when Bruce Springsteen mentions that maybe the war in Iraq was a bad idea, or that American governments shouldn’t be passing discriminatory legislation in 2016, he expresses his thoughts in a calm, measured tone, and just generally gives you the sense that he’s spent some time thinking about this. When Jenny McCarthy, on the other hand, crows about the danger of vaccinations, she repeatedly cites thoroughly debunked statistics and gives off the impression that she is in fact a woman-suit operated by a stack of schizophrenic meerkats.
But I have serious reservations about the general thoughtfulness of the American citizenry, so careful consideration and well-informed debate is not really an option. So I’ll say this: we have to strike a balance that falls somewhere between utter dismissal and outright worship. If we tend towards the latter, we get a Trump or Reagan situation; if we tend towards the former, that attitude can spill over into how we regard our fellow citizens.
For example, “He’s just an actor” can easily morph into “He’s just a bartender” or “She’s just a pet store owner.” None of us should be excluded from the political conversation because of our chosen occupations, nor should we be held up as examples because of them. The paths are wholly different, but each one leads to the same dark place.