In response to the recent passage of House Bill 2 in North Carolina, I penned my first-ever letter to our state’s governor, and posted that letter on our church’s webpage. I have had near-unanimous affirmation for my words. Two weeks later someone called our office, identifying himself as “the Governor.” Much to my surprise, it was, in fact, Pat McCrory! We had an engaging, always respectful conversation. He stayed on the phone for about a half-hour, and I was impressed with his humanity, and though I disagree with his convictions, I have no doubt they are sincere, and not maliciously founded.

I thanked him for his call, and told him that, as part of my long-standing soap box for more and more respectful dialogue across the country, I would share our experience, his sincerity, and my belief that people of good will can work out even our most difficult disagreements — if we talk.

I mailed the following reply to his office:

April 14, 2016

Governor Pat McCrory
Governor’s Office
1 East Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
Dear Governor McCrory,

I want to thank you for your call last Friday. I so appreciate the tone of our dialogue and the very personable encounter. I believe that across the nation we are woefully lacking in the kind of dialogue you and I shared on Friday. We disagreed, and still do, yet the conversation was respectful and meaningful. Thank you for setting the tone for that dialogue.

I also appreciate the candor and vulnerability you shared. I really heard a heart-felt pain in your voice when you referred to being called a “bigot” through this episode. As I have recently written, both sides are at fault and need to moderate their language on this issue. Everyone who supports HB2 does not “hate gay people.” On the other hand, those who do support HB2 would do well to recognize how their language, and the impress of this law, feels like hatred if you are gay or transgender.

I will not belabor this reply. I mostly want thank you for reaching out. I will convey my gratitude and what I believe to be the sincerity of your position — and our agreement that we are in complex, unchartered waters — as I speak and blog about this issue in coming days.

I do want to add, however, as grateful as I am for it, that I feel our conversation mostly missed the point. After introducing yourself you immediately began expounding the details of the bathroom policy and inveighing the faults of a national, liberal political agenda through the Human Rights Campaign and the Democratic Party.

The honest truth, Governor, is that I am naïve about all of those machinations. You may be correct in your assertions, though I have a number of more politically informed and savvy colleagues whom I am sure would be glad to offer a counter to every claim of “overreach” and “agenda” you suggest rests with the liberal left!

There is much “politics” involved in this issue, I have no doubt — but please be honest enough to admit that the right is as guilty of plying an agenda as is the left. But politics did not bring me to this issue — though it was politics and the minutia of partisan policy (both from Charlotte’s City Council and the state General Assembly) that kept us from talking about the real issue. Isn’t this so often the case?

We finally touched on the real issue in the last minutes of our dialogue when I referenced my concern that HB2 denies legal protections to gay and transgender people in our state. What brought me to this issue is the people who are being deeply hurt by it. You quickly reminded me that sexual orientation is not a legally protected class anywhere in the country — but it should be! And this is precisely why I support what you called the Charlotte City Council’s “overreach.”

If it takes “overreach” to affirm and protect all people in this city and state and nation, as children of God, all worthy of our best efforts for equality and legitimacy, then sign me up.

Surely it was “overreach” that gave black Americans the rights to “white water fountains” — an issue just as confusing and confounding and frightening to many white southerners in the 1960s as adding legal protections to gay and transgender people is today. But that “overreach” was the right thing to do in 1964.

It is the right thing to do today.

Finally, Governor, there is no credible evidence that Charlotte’s children were in increased danger of predation due to the passage of the non-discrimination ordinance — but you cannot doubt that gay and transgender citizens are more at risk today than they were before HB2. That “transgender woman in the pink dress” we spoke about will certainly be less safe today if she follows the letter of the law.

I do not pretend to understand the transgender experience, but I am confident it is not, as you say, a matter of “feeling like a man” in one moment and, willy-nilly, or for malicious purposes, “feeling like a woman” in another. The experiences I encounter tell me these people are often tortured emotionally as they try to come to grips with their own sexual identities. As our society seeks to better understand the biological and psychological complexity of our sexuality, we owe to them their basic humanity, the protections and affirmation afforded the rest of us.

HB2 simply fails these people, and in further alienating these communities of our citizens, we are all made lesser human beings.

Thank you for our sincere dialogue. Though I am troubled by the further steps you have taken since our conversation, know that I hold you in a light of respect, and in the light of prayer, in the difficult days before us.

Grace and Peace.