Earlier this week, North Carolina’s legislature passed a shockingly restrictive bill barring transgender people from using restrooms of their identifying gender and preventing localities from instituting protections for transgender people. (While they were at it, they also barred cities from setting their minimum wage higher than the state’s.) The bill was the result of a hurried special session convened in response to the passage of an LGBT nondiscrimination bill in Charlotte.
Ironically, the most public spokespeople against the Charlotte measure and in favor of calling a special legislative session to undo it were David and Jason Benham, two brothers who have built a high profile on the Religious Right by claiming that they are victims of persecution at the hands of LGBT-rights activists.
Back in 2014, the Benham twins were set to star in a house-flipping program on HGTV when we reported on their long history of virulent anti-gay and anti-Muslim activism, which was about to get a boost with a national TV platform. Faced with an outcry, HGTV cancelled the show, but the Benhams got their national platform anyway. They quickly became the latest — and the most photogenic — examples of conservative Christians who claimed to be martyrs at the hands of LGBT activists. They took their show on the road, becoming staples at conservative events and Republican campaign rallies.
Most recently, the Benhams endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential candidacy and joined his campaign's “religious liberty advisory council” that recommended that a President Cruz roll back federal employment protections for LGBT people.
While the Benhams claim in their frequent presentations that they lost their TV show because of their personal views against marriage equality, they in fact had a long history of very public activism against what David once called “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation.” In 2012, David led a prayer rally outside the Democratic National Convention which he said was necessary to stop “demonic ideologies” like gay rights from taking “our universities and our public school systems.” In 2004, the brothers tried to get the city of Charlotte to deny a permit to an LGBT pride parade, with David saying, “This is filth, this is vile and should not be allowed in our city.” Jason urged the city council to “deny [LGBT activists] every permit that they ask for.”
Then, last year, when Charlotte began to consider a LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance, the Benhams used their new right-wing celebrity to lead the campaign to stop it. Using the anti-LGBT’s movement’s new messaging on such bills, David called it a “transgender bathroom ordinance” and warned that it would put religious liberties “under attack."
David called the proposed ordinance “depraved” and the latest example of “the radical gay agenda’s plan to change America.”
The 2015 ordinance was defeated, but the city council considered it again this year, and this time it passed.
The Benham brothers, after speaking out against the ordinance at a hearing, responded to its passage with a Facebook video in which Jason said that he and his brother could now “declare ourselves women” and play in the WNBA. David surmised that the “ungodly ordinance” was the “direct result of God’s judgment” for legal abortion and claimed that it would allow “young women and girls” to be “victimized.”
David said that he prayed the ordinance would be “overturned at the legislative level.”
We lost the battle at the Charlotte City Council meeting over the transgender bathroom bill.....but, God is still on the throne. Boom.
Posted by Benham Brothers on Monday, February 22, 2016
Shortly afterward, the Benhams headlined a protest calling for a special legislative session to overturn it and promoted a petition campaign calling on the legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory to overturn the Charlotte law.
Speaking at the Awakening summit in Florida earlier this month, the Benhams cited the Charlotte ordinance as an example of “ungodly laws” that must be resisted with “biblical obedience” — their new phrase for civil disobedience.
This week, the Benhams got what they wanted, thanking Gov. Pat McCrory for signing the bill overturning the Charlotte ordinance and severely restricting the freedom of transgender people.
What happened in North Carolina this week underscores the reality behind the Religious Right’s claims that they are being persecuted in America. In the view of people like the Benhams, “religious liberty” doesn’t just mean the right to live freely as you choose; it also means the ability to restrict the freedoms of others as they see fit.