Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Plants and politics

Entrance bed (cropped)

Gardening and politics don't often cross paths, and when they do, it can get unpleasant.  I've avoided political issues in this blog because, first, none ever came up, and secondly, my political opinions weren't the least bit relevant to the subject matter of this blog.  That changed with North Carolina House Bill 2, widely (but inaccurately) portrayed as a "bathroom bill".  In reality, this bill goes far beyond that issue to give a special "screw you" to the entire LGBT community.

Why drag politics into my blog now?  Because I was really looking forward to a trip this spring to Raleigh, NC to visit gardening friends, visit some private and public gardens, check out some garden centers and nurseries, and do some plant shopping.  Raleigh has some great gardens (and great gardeners) and I've always enjoyed my visits there.  But after the North Carolina legislature passed, and NC governor Pat McCrory signed, HB 2 (which is much more than the "bathroom bill" its supporters, and far too much of the media, portray it as) I've decided against this trip.

I feel a bit conflicted because I don't want to punish people or businesses who don't have any problem with me or the LGBT community, and (I hope) don't support this law.  But on the other hand, why should I travel to, or do business in, a state whose elected representatives have gone out of their way to let me know its businesses can turn away me, or any other members of the LGBT community, because of their religious disapproval?  Sadly, that was already the right of most businesses in NC (and in several other states) as there have never been any state-wide LGBT protections—discrimination against gay and transgender people is already perfectly legal for any reason, religious or otherwise—but this bill prohibits even local municipalities from enacting any such protections, going so far as to rescind several such anti-discrimination policies already enacted at the local level.

This brings back memories of being turned away from a motel, in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere, because the owners refused to allow me and my partner (now husband!) to share a bed.  Even though we had made reservations, we ended up driving around an unfamiliar area in the dark, exhausted, looking for another place to spend the night.  That was over 30 years ago, but in some states (like North Carolina) this would still be perfectly legal.  But I have to ask, if the North Carolina state legislature and governor are really so serious about protecting the "religious liberty" of these business owners, why stop with LGBT?  If they really had the courage of their convictions, they'd be passing laws allowing businesses to turn away customers who are Jewish, or Catholic or Mormon, or in an interracial or second marriage, or anybody else who doesn't fit into their narrow little religious beliefs.  Why should they have to allow anybody to ride at the front of the bus, or sit at the lunch counter?  But for some strange reason, it's only when dealing with the LGBT community that the last vestige of people's sincere, deeply held religious narrow-mindedness seems to kick into action.

And now people are threatening to boycott Target for being inclusive (in reality just formalizing what has been an informal policy by most businesses, just about forever).  But trans people have already been using rest rooms for years; they just need and want to go to the bathroom, same as anybody else.  When did this become a huge problem?  The idiocy of laws like the one in North Carolina is that they now legally require people who look, dress, and act like men to use the ladies room, and people who look, dress, and act like women to use the men's room, as if that somehow solves the problem and makes everybody feel safer.  The real kicker with the ostensible purpose of these "bathroom bills" is that the deviants, perverts, and predators these politicians are so afraid of—who they think pose so much danger to women—are apparently heterosexual men, but they seem to think they're going to solve the (non-existent) problem by targeting gay and transgender people.  The sad truth is that men who sexually harass or assault women—because that seems to be the biggest concern, although they're loathe to admit the problem is primarily heterosexual men—aren't going to be stopped by such laws.  The real purpose of these laws seems to be to punish the LGBT community for daring to be visible, and for daring to expect the same rights and protections everybody else takes for granted.

When I travel to North Carolina, I'm not just spending my money at nurseries and garden centers; I'm spending my money at hotels, at restaurants, and at gas stations.  Any of them could turn me away, for no reason other than the fact that I don't live up to their own religious beliefs, and there's nothing I can do about it.  Well, there's one thing: I'll choose to spend my money in states that let me know I'm welcome, not ones that want me to know I'm a second-class citizen.

Whether you agree or disagree, feel free to let me know in the comments section.  Either way, I certainly hope this is the last time I will post any kind of political rant on this blog.


  1. It all goes back to what grandma say: Mind your own business and treat others as you want to be treated.


    1. Your Grandmother was a very intelligent lady. We need more people like her today.

  2. Arthur says it well. Treat others as you want to be treated is a good rule in every context.

    On your larger question, do politics have a role in gardens and garden writing -- yes, they do. For centuries, many gardens were overtly political. I am most familiar with this in terms of England and Italy and there are many examples I could cite. Gardens continue to be political, even if less overtly than at Stowe, for example, the 18th c English garden where a Temple of Ancient Virtue looks across the Elysian Fields to a Temple of British Worthies. Through a choice of style and substance gardens reflect social and cultural ideas. And if these aren't political, I don't know what is. Pat Webster, at www.siteandinsight.com

  3. Thanks for this post, John. Your personal story adds a poignancy to your post. I think you know that all of us LBGT folks have suffered discrimination, in one form or another, at one time or another--we all have our stories. I'm sorry you and your husband had to endure that discrimination. As you know, my partner lives in NC, so what is going on down there puts both of us in a difficult situation. I have to go visit him, yet, for the time being, I am going to avoid spending any more money than is absolutely necessary. And this kills me, because it hurts the citizens more than anyone. And yet--a lot of these citizens support what the NC governor and legislature are doing. Depending on where you are, it can be a very, very conservative place, and I have to admit I don't always feel safe.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post, it really sums up my feelings about the matter as well, better than I could have put it. Also, I too think that gardens and garden writing can - and often should! - be political, even if in very subtle ways. As an awkward garden-obsessed gay teen, garden writing by LGBT authors and about great gardeners who happened to not be straight did much to make me feel better about myself and gave me hope that I could in fact have the life I dreamed of.

  5. John, we entirely agree. While we will still take this year's trip to NC because of family plans, we will avoid adding anything to state treasuries and we'll also be vocal that civil, tolerant, rational and kind behavior will guide our future spending.

  6. Thank you for making an exception and addressing this political issue. I think your decision, and others' to avoid travel to the area is bound to force this dumb law to be reconsidered. Totally support this kind of political garden writing.

  7. A very appropriate post. I'm glad the law is getting so much blowback, and that the blowback is being so highly publicized. Thank you for doing your bit to contribute to it.

  8. I think it's important to support companies that share your beliefs and not support companies that are living in the Dark Ages. As long as the person next to me is polite, I don't care what their gender is.

  9. Great post John! Thank you for sharing.

  10. Here here -- !