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transgenderbathroom-750x400On March 23, 2016, North Carolina legislators passed HB2, a bill that barred so-called “transgender” people from using bathrooms and locker rooms that do not correspond with the gender designated on their birth certificates. The bill sought to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance passed earlier by the city of Charlotte that allowed transgender people to use public bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity rather than their biological sex. HB2 was signed into law by North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, just hours after it passed the General Assembly.

Predictably, the so-called “bathroom bill” was greeted with sweeping denunciations from the political left. What was surprising was the volume of outcry toward the law leveled by corporations such as Apple, Starbucks, Kellogg’s, and PayPal who, along with more than 100 CEOs, signed an open letter urging the repeal of this “discriminatory and radical new anti-LGBT law.”[1] Even the NBA suggested that it would move the All-Star Game if the law wasn’t repealed.[2]  Such tactics echoed earlier threats by Disney, Intel, Dow Chemical, and the NFL to boycott Georgia if its governor signed a so-called “religious freedom” bill, which would allow faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violated their religious beliefs.

But why on earth do CEOs care so much about this? Why do they act as if they have a dog in this fight? Why are they so adamantly siding with such a small percentage of the population?

I believe that the key to understanding this corporate solidarity with transgenders is to see it as part of a mass process known as globalization. Considered the defining trait of modernity, globalization involves what is in effect a worldwide social system constituted by a capitalist economy, telecommunications, technology, and mass urbanization.[3] What is crucial for us to observe is that globalization involves a social dynamic known as disembedding, which is a propelling of social and economic factors away from localized control toward more transnational processes. For example, think of your local mall: In one sense, the mass shopping complex is in fact local in terms of its proximity to consumers; but notice that the retail outlets that comprise the various stores at a mall are not local but rather national and international chains and brand names. This is especially the case with the latest releases at the movie theater or the offerings at the food court. This is disembedding: from the ubiquity of “Made in China” imprints on our products and consumables, to the mass influx of immigrant labor, both legal and illegal, and the ever-increasing “Orlando-ization” of our urban and suburban landscapes by chains and franchises, our lives are increasingly defined and interpreted by translocal economic and social processes.

However, it is not merely economic processes that are arrested from provincial control; such dislodging also involves localized customs, traditions, languages, and religions. Whereas premodern societies are characterized generally by provincial beliefs and practices considered sacred and absolute, globalized societies offer a range of consumer-based options that call into question the sanctity of local beliefs and practices, relativizing them to a “global food court” of many other creedal alternatives.

christmas-story-chinese-restaurantPerhaps you remember the restaurant scene from the holiday comedy classic, A Christmas Story. After the Christmas Turkey was eaten by some local dogs, the Parker family goes to a local Chinese restaurant for Christmas dinner. As the waiters attempt (unsuccessfully) to sing “Deck the Halls” to create a more festive atmosphere, a roast duck is carried over to the family’s table, with its head still attached. “It’s a beautiful duck,” the father says to the waiter incredulously, “but it’s smiling at me!” After the waiter abruptly decapitates the duck with a meat cleaver, the narrator remarks: “That Christmas would live in our memories as the Christmas when we were introduced to Chinese Turkey. All was right with the world.”

You see, in globalized societies, local customs and traditions can be exchanged for wider translocal options and practices. The Christmas Turkey can be replaced by Peking Duck, even one that smiles at you.

This social order of consumer-based options tends to forge a new conception of the human person as a sovereign individual who exercises control over his or her own life circumstances.[4] Again, traditional social structures and arrangements are generally fixed in terms of key identity markers such as gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation. But globalized societies, because of the wide array of options, see this fixedness as restrictive. And so traditional morals and customs tend to give way to what we called lifestyle values. Lifestyle values operate according to a plurality of what sociologist Peter Berger defines as “life-worlds,” wherein each individual practices whatever belief system deemed most plausible by him or her. These belief systems include everything from religious identity to gender identity.

Thus, lifestyle values and identities are defined and determined by consumerist tendencies and norms. Commercial advertising is not merely central to economic growth, it is also of central influence to inventing the self through offering variant lifestyle features and choices. In the words of social theorist Anthony Giddens: “Market-governed freedom of individual choice becomes an enveloping framework of individual self-expression.”[5]

I would therefore argue that the corporations promising to boycott states like North Carolina for their traditionalist politics are not so much for LGBT rights as they are against arbitrarily restricting lifestyle options, since such limitations are deemed inconsistent with a society comprised of consumer-based self-expression.

However, these CEOs seem to have overlooked a rather obvious notion: Is not a tradition-based society a legitimate lifestyle option? Do not North Carolinians have a right to exercise control over their own lives as they see fit, in accordance with traditional gender definitions? By saying “no,” these CEOs are not merely guilty of their own form of arbitrarily restricting lifestyle options; these CEOs, however inadvertently, are defending a consumer-based optionality from which there is no opting out!

Of course, corporations have a vested interest in such predetermined optionality. As part of a globalized economic system that forges lifestyle values, they have created constituencies that in turn consume corporate goods and services. So while the protests of these corporations may sound the clarion call of social responsibility, standing atop the moral high ground of civil rights and social justice, they are in point of fact merely protecting the commodified constituencies they created and depend upon for continued economic consumption. Such boycotts are thus not about protecting fairness and equality; they are about protecting corporate self-interest. In fact, there’s nothing even remotely moral about lifestyle values; by definition, lifestyle identities and constituencies have self-consciously amputated themselves from any objective moral referent. How can you take the moral high ground in a social arena wherein morality as such doesn’t exist?

worship consumerismThe good news is that there are a number of corporations and scores of localized businesses that are resisting these disembedding tendencies. In fact, it may be wise for churches, Christian schools, and other organizations to put together directories of pro-life and pro–marriage businesses, such as Chick-fil-A, Cracker Barrel, Carl’s Jr., and Urban Outfitters, for promoting informed local and online purchases. As the current ‘buycott’ of Target’s transgender bathroom policy demonstrates, traditionalists are well positioned to make businesses feel the economic consequences for promoting consumer-based lifestyle values. And it goes without saying that we ought to give our full support to those lawmakers who are willing to stand up to globalist corporations.

Commercial optionality is of course a wonderful thing. From sandwich shops to sushi bars, the vitality of a pluralistic market entails innumerable joys and manifold benefits. But when optionality transitions from servant to master, as in the case of lifestyle values, it easily becomes just another absolutist system with its own forms of intolerance, exclusion, and bigotry. A number of traditionalist-minded states are about to find this out. Let’s hope that their commitment to a morally-defined public good outweighs their sentiments for the shopping mall.

Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore




[3] See, for example, Anthony Giddens, Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping our Lives (New York: Routledge, 2000).

[4] Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991), 211.

[5] Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity, 197.

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23 replies to this post
  1. This is a very interesting theory, and much of it is no doubt true. However, I think these corporations like Apple and others who seek to coerce States and others who try to adhere to perennial moral truths, are looking to associate themselves with a cause that the younger generations believe to be just. And they are doing that for strictly bottom line considerations.

  2. The above article may be too complicated an explanation. The real reason these companies are doing this is probably pure cowardice in the face of the PC bullies. They saw how, in the gay marriage fight, anyone who defended normal marriage was shut down by simply being called “Bigot!”, and these CEO’s were far more terrified of the bigot label than of offending the people of North Carolina.

  3. Eric, I’m with you, but I would add that political correctness emerges precisely from the advent of lifestyle values and emancipatory politics. Thus, I see the fear of PC retribution (which is no doubt operative here) is inextricably linked with the social dynamics outlined above.

  4. It would be interesting to note how many CEOs turn down the profits made in North Carolina and other such states. After all, isn’t this essentially “blood money”?

  5. Big Business wants a deracinated population to exploit. “Autonomous individuals,” or, more accurately, alienated souls, are desperate for consumer goods that brand them as unique, authentic, and sexy.

  6. This article raises a key problem for the left: how to defend working families against a corporate culture of greed when corporations are simultaneously financing modern leftist social engineering and counter cultural initiatives . The modern left has pretty much abandoned working families in favor of the sexual revolution .


    This whole debate, when focused solely on a conflict of worldviews and ethical norms also ignores the biological fact that a percentage of individuals are born with a biological sex opposite to their physical sex. I am not talking about people who have inclinations of preferences that fall outside of the norm for the species but people simply born with male chromosomes in a female body or vice-versa. These people are often overlooked in such debates which keep focusing on choice and “lifestyle values”.

    I think common sense is the answer here. Don’t check ID at the bathroom door and don’t let politics decend further (from the bedroom we are now moving to the bathroom. What is next?)

    Incidentally this is why Pope Francis is capturing the world’s attention while the LGBTQ folks are trying everyone’s patience.

    While the Pope calls attention to the millions of people dying and suffering from war, terrorism and economic corruption – a bunch of well off people in the West argue about who can and can’t use which bathroom. This is supposed to be leadership of the free world?

  7. I’m sorry, but this critique is really dumb. Consider Occam’s Razor. Perhaps the reason these CEOs are against this ridiculous bill is that they are intelligent human beings and see this as nothing more than what it is. Dumb policy. It’s only easy to marginalize gay people or transgendered people if you don’t know any. When you actually discover they are the neighbor who helped you put out your house fire or (oh my gosh) your own loved son, daughter, niece or nephew – suddenly some church leader interpreting long dead languages to sell the idea that “it’s an abomination in the eyes of heaven” stuff gets real hollow, real fast. If you’re sitting in a toilet somewhere – behind a closed door – and somebody has infected your mind to IMAGINE that something evil might happen to you or your loved ones in that situation, you’re being conned. And it’s time to ask yourself what the people conning you are selling, cuz they’re selling something. Cosmic protection? Salvation? The next collection plate or building fund? Something. Guaranteed.
    Imaginative conservatism is fine. Particularly if you’re in a time where the status quo is worth conserving. Unfortunately, this might not be such a time. Which means CHANGE is called for. But not change that requires actively marginalizing those who are different than you – because that is NOT conservative. It’s mean. Live and let live on the other hand IS conservative. The best kind of conservative, IMO.

    • Sorry, but it is pure narcissism to demand to use whatever bathroom you want. It’s putting your “Rights” as supreme while completely ignoring the rights of others to basic privacy.

  8. Mr. Turley’s article is excellent, but it leaves out a highly pertinent aspect of the law. It only applies to government-owned facilities or facilities in buildings whose occupants receive Federal aid. The employees of PayPal and other companies who’ve announced that they won’t be locating in North Carolina can allow their employees to pee wherever they want to. This fact is left out of almost all the self-righteous discussion about the bill.

  9. Bill Davis. Excuse me, but your argument is silly also. How are gays and transgenders being “marginalized”? Live and let live, yes, so please refrain for mocking people who don’t agree with you.

  10. If social conservatives are appropriating Marxist critique, why not appropriate the labor movement? Collective bargaining can reassert a safe space for traditionalists and families in an increasingly bizarre market.

  11. Good article Mr. Turley. Makes me wan to look into Giddens work as well. However, the discussion in the combox section re: corporate elites being cowed by the threat of the bigot label rings hollow here. There is now way that any CEO of PayPal, or Kelloggs or Pepsi or Wells-Fargo thinks that their bottom line will suffer because they associate with a state that wants men in the men’s room and women in the women’s room. They are doing it because a critical mass of those who run these corporations believe it is simply the right thing to do. Maybe because the they have been indoctrinated by the gay rights crowd, maybe because they are simply swimming in a sea of globalized, disembedded culture that Mr. Turley describes. Probably both without even realizing it. But they aren’t simply reacting out of fear of bad press. Corporate capitalism is now an open enemy of conservatism and the sooner we recognize this, the better.

  12. I fail to see the big who ha about this bill. We all have at least one bathroom in our homes that is used by all people in that home. When men go out we use a “restroom” by ourselves when women go to the “restroom” they tend to go with someone else why? Who knows women never really explain themselves. A “restroom” is where you go to relieve yourself it is a strictly utilitarian room. And yes I have been to sporting events when women will yell into the restroom that they are coming in to use the stall. They are braver than I will ever be to do so.

  13. The Charlotte law that started all of this allows ANY man into female restrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities. The man only has to say he feels female. No dress, no wig, no lipstick. I cannot understand how society can accept a naked adult man showering with an underage female. This can certainly happen at a high school where many “boys” are 18/19 years old. Please explain how this is good public policy.

    • You nailed it. This is all about making the perverse “Normal”. And in doing so, the left wing furthers their goal of tearing down religious moral authority.

  14. Pete the problem is now DOE tells a school in Palatine Il. they must allow a biological male use the girls locker room because he identifies as a girl and in CA. a boy gets to play girls softball even though he.played boys baseball the year before because now he identifies as a girl. Identifying does not mean reality. It dies not trump biology. I can identify that I’m a car and stand in my garage but I still won’t be one.

  15. There is a thing called science. There are only two sexes, which are obvious by genitalia, DNA, bone structure, etc. There are anomalies, but few. There are mental conditions, numerically few. This whole issue is the tyranny of the majority by the minority. I would assume if someone is using my home bathroom I know that person, in a public place I probably don’t. When I shower, or when my daughter showers at the gym, pool, school, I would expect to be afforded privacy of my person. This minimizing of sexual differences, and roles, is and has been a goal of Socialism and its promise of “equality” in all things since its inception. The real goal is the reduction of humans and their nobility and virtue into cyphers operating solely for the benefit of the State.

  16. The burden of Judaeo Christian families on corporate America is considerable: maternity leave, family leave, holidays, family medical plans, relocation issues, vacays, and more informal costs (other time off, standards of conduct, the general impingement of family on corporate life). Corporations have been trying to unload this burden for many years. Consider, for example, the changes implicit in the full entry of women into the work force over what preceded it. Social justice under the banner of equality and diversity is the wedge they have used and to which they have turned again.

    It seems to me this latest iteration is simply furthering the effort to displace the expensive interests of a high maintenance constituency for the much cheaper interests of a free form constituency that does not carry the baggage of the requirements of decency and formality. It really is all about the money.

  17. The more I think this through, I can only conclude: a culture that can’t tell the difference between male and female won’t know the difference between good and evil.

    • Having likewise thought it through, I offer the conclusion that a culture that has been coarsened to the point of having no ability to discern good and evil cannot, of course, recognize the many manifestations of evil, this bathroom argument being but one small, though damaging manifestation.

  18. We are dealing with this in our small town in the west. Legal counsel advising our district (and many other school districts in our state) have stated we must offer this policy: anyone any place any time any gender in any of our children’s school restrooms or locker room facilities – it doesn’t matter if the biological sex is the same. This is NOT about transgender vs. nontransgender it is about safety, privacy, and respect for ALL persons, but particularly our children.

    All across the nation, school facilities are old and any person who feels this is a non-issue should use an archaic restroom stall or locker room in today’s school buildings. Districts are struggling to scrape together the money to remodel and add some gender neutral facilities. But even if we find the money, we are being told by the lawyers ANYONE can use ANY facility they wish. Thus, privacy, safety, and respect is a huge issue in this call for full inclusion (without surgical changes having been made).

    There must be parameters for access, or ANYONE can access.

    Sadly, respectful, loving, and kind conversations are nearly impossible to have – with both sides. Loss of respect, privacy, safety, and civil rights for one group of people does not beget respect, privacy, safety, and civil rights for another group of people.

    Today we know, 35% of all internet traffic is pornographic and “teen” and “child” are highly searched words for pornography (American Girls, Nancy Jo Sales 2015). It is critical we care for the safety, privacy, and respect of ALL children transgender or nontransgender. No one should be bullied or violated.

    There is a desperate need for those who can handle the difficult conversations necessary to come to the table, and for both sides to listen to each other. These conversations need and require men and women of caliber and courage to sit on our school boards and to administer our schools.

    Yes, there are those with an “agenda” for our children out there. Their “agenda” will not succeed, when at a local level, communities solve these challenges together, with love, in ways that honor all persons.

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