A Close Reading of the North Carolina GOP’s Deranged Response to the NCAA

North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, left, and North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, third from left.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The NCAA pulled seven upcoming championship games out of North Carolina on Monday, citing “the cumulative actions taken by the state concerning civil rights protections.” Specifically, the NCAA expressed concern over HB2, a new state law that repeals local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances and excludes transgender people from certain bathrooms. The NCAA Board of Governors explained that its commitment to “fairness and inclusion,” as well as “gender equity,” compelled it to move the games to more tolerant states.

HB2 has already cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and an NBA All-Star Game; the law also appears poised to drag its chief defender, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, right out of office. (A federal judge has also ruled that its application to the university system is illegal.) So the North Carolina GOP was understandably perturbed by the NCAA’s decision on Monday, and it fired off a press release that falls somewhere between completely deranged and simply incoherent. From its deliberate ignorance about gender identity to its bizarre and offensive invocation of the Baylor University rape scandal, the statement certainly requires some puzzling out. I have thus provided a line-by-line analysis of this most unusual press release in an attempt to better understand the North Carolina GOP’s grievances.

This is so absurd it’s almost comical. I genuinely look forward to the NCAA merging all men’s and women’s teams together as singular, unified, unisex teams.

This passage appears to imply that the NCAA is hypocritical for criticizing HB2 while maintaining gender-segregated teams. The logic, I suppose, is this: HB2 forbids transgender people from using any government bathroom that aligns with their gender identity; instead, they must use the bathroom that corresponds to their “biological sex”—the gender listed on their birth certificate. The law’s supporters, including McCrory, argue that HB2 is merely designed to keep men out of women’s bathrooms. So here, the GOP is essentially arguing that by maintain gender-segregated teams, the NCAA is promoting the same notions of gender encoded by HB2.

There are two problems with this assertion—in addition to the fact that it is glib, fatuous, and plainly imbecilic. The first is that HB2 was not passed to forbid gender-neutral multistall bathrooms, because of course no municipalities were advocating for such reforms. In reality, the city of Charlotte passed a basic LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Republican legislators promptly passed HB2 with the specific intent to repeal that ordinance. The canard that HB2 prevented gender-neutral group bathrooms is just inaccurate. It only prevented North Carolina’s (relatively small) transgender community from using public restrooms in peace.

The second, related problem here is that the NCAA is the opposite of hypocritical on transgender issues: It is extraordinarily respectful and progressive, relying on the latest medical understandings of transgender bodies to craft a rigorously fair and equality-minded code for trans athletes. Trans men can play on men’s teams; trans women can play on women’s teams. No athlete must change their birth certificate, as North Carolina now requires, in order to play on the proper team or use the correct locker room. If North Carolina adopted the NCAA’s rules regarding trans athletes, it would not be losing championship games, investments, and lawsuits left and right.

Under the NCAA’s logic, colleges should make cheerleaders and football players share bathrooms, showers and hotel rooms. This decision is an assault to female athletes across the nation. If you are unwilling to have women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, how do you have a women’s team?

Once again, this passage reflects a complete (and, I suspect, willful) misunderstanding of HB2 and gender identity. The NCAA is only asking that North Carolina allow transgender athletes to be treated with dignity—that is, to be recognized by their gender identity. Moreover, while the claim that transgender protections are somehow “an assault” on women is a myth, trans people themselves do face a heightened risk of violence in public facilities. And that last line—“If you are unwilling to have women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, how do you have a women’s team?”—would certainly be an excellent question if it were truthful, or half-true, or even truth-adjacent. But because no party to this controversy is advocating for the abolition of women’s bathrooms and locker rooms, the question might instead by generously described as asinine.

Moving on:

I wish the NCAA was this concerned about the women who were raped at Baylor. Perhaps the NCAA should stop with their political peacocking—and instead focus their energies on making sure our nation’s collegiate athletes are safe, both on and off the field.

Here it is—the perverse pièce de résistance of the GOP’s statement. This passage very clearly suggests that the NCAA enabled or at least ignored the sexual assault scandal in Baylor University’s sports programs. But how? The statement doesn’t say—and cannot, because this calumnious attack is totally made up. As an independent investigation ultimately concluded, Baylor, a Christian university, was largely at fault for facilitating the ongoing rape crisis by punishing victims and ignoring complaints. No one has seriously asserted that the NCAA fostered a culture of sexual violence, and many commentators (including conservatives) urged the NCAA to stay out of the debacle and let the government dole out the appropriate punishments. After all, the NCAA’s well-intentioned but terribly overreaching efforts to punish Penn State University for condoning child sexual abuse in its football program ended in disaster.

Jessica Luther, a journalist who covers college football and rape, captured the flaws of the GOP’s Baylor non sequitur with lapidary concision:

Incidentally, by passing HB2, the North Carolina legislature jeopardized millions of dollars in funding provided by the Violence Against Women Act, which explicitly bars states from discriminating on the basis of gender identity. In its statement, the GOP did not attempt to explain why it was willing to sacrifice federal funds to protect victims of sexual assaults in order to discriminate against transgender people.

One final note: The GOP spokeswoman who released Monday’s statement, Kami Mueller, has an absolutely fascinating background. Mueller has spent much of her career campaigning against LGBTQ rights and vilifying gay parents; she once insisted that same-sex parents are an “anti-reality” that is “scarily rampant” and called Modern Family an “extreme” show for depicting loving gay parents. More recently, Mueller has specialized in comparing trans individuals to sexual predators eager to assault young children in bathrooms. In all, she really was the perfect mouthpiece for the North Carolina Republican Party’s clearest break from reality yet.