Lee Bright, a conservative Republican in the South Carolina state Senate, recently introduced a North Carolina-style law that would prohibit trans people from using public bathrooms that align with their gender identity. You might expect such legislation to glide to an easy victory in North Carolina’s ostensibly less cultured neighbor. But instead, Gov. Nikki Haley, also a Republican, quickly dismissed the bill, insisting that it was unnecessary.
Haley’s phrasing here—equal parts garbled and canny—deserves close attention. She provides a master class in shrewd deflection, declaring her opposition to a trans bathroom bill without ever saying the words transgender or bathroom. Instead, Haley dances around the issue, explaining that “we’re not hearing any issues of religious liberty violations or anything else.” When a reporter presses the governor on whether “anything else” meant religious liberty or a “transgender bathroom issue,” she responds, “Either.”
“These are not instances that …” Haley continues, tiptoeing toward specificity before switching course. “Y’all haven’t reported on anything. I haven’t heard anything that’s come to my office. So when I look at South Carolina, we look at our situations, we’re not hearing of anybody’s religious liberties that are being violated, and we’re, again, not hearing any citizens that feel like they are being violated in terms of freedoms.”
You can criticize Haley for her evasions and elisions here, but at bottom, her wording is pretty brilliant. “We’re not hearing any citizens that feel like they are being violated” is a marvelously broad, even abstract, way of criticizing the bathroom predator myth without discussing it directly. Haley neatly dismisses the bathroom issue without invoking all the buzzwords that make it controversial in the first place. Yes, it would be nice if Haley explicitly endorsed trans rights. But given her political limitations—and the tribulations of her northerly neighbor—she did a wonderful job leading her state away from the dark path of discrimination.