Down the hallway that serves both the York County Probate Court and the county’s passport office in a downtown York building is a single restroom.
When Belk sold clothes from the building in the 1960s, a sign outside that restroom read simply: “White only.”
What’s on the wall there now is, for some, a sign of the apocalypse; for others, a sign of togetherness.
Next to the restroom door hangs a small sign with two figures – one of a man, one of a woman. One restroom, both sexes. A guy came out of the restroom Thursday morning. Another man went in. After him, a woman.
The probate court is where for 200-plus years, couples of men and women – and for the past 18 months same-sex couples – receive marriage licenses. It is where those opposed to what they wrongly call the “gay lifestyle” claimed the world would begin to crumble when same-sex couples were allowed to marry.
Yet, the building still stands. Not a single crime or incident of turmoil has risen from the legal licensing of same-sex marriages in York County.
There was no crisis Thursday. One guy hopped on one foot – but it was clear that crisis was that he had to go.
Just hours before, on Wednesday, one of the same politicians who fought against legalized gay marriage and to keep the Confederate battle flag flying on Statehouse grounds introduced in the S.C. Senate a bill that would not allow transgender people use of the restroom that aligns with their gender identity.
The proposal by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, would not allow leaders in cities such as York to decide for themselves how to manage public restrooms – leaving all power with the state.
It is patterned on the law North Carolina rushed into place after Charlotte enacted a local ordinanceallowing transgender people to use a public restroom that aligns with their gender identity. Opponents of the new state law went berserk and flushed it in record time. Supporters call it common sense: Keep the men in the men’s room, they say.
As at the York County Probate Court, there is just one restroom at the temporary York County Clerk of Court Office down the street. There have not been any problems reported concerning either restroom that he knows about, Clerk of Court David Hamilton said.
“The difference is that each of these restrooms has a way to lock the door behind the person using it, ensuring there is only one person in there,” said Hamilton. “There is an expectation of privacy.”
But many see the North Carolina law and the proposed South Carolina law as wrong – and not about restrooms at all.
York Mayor Eddie Lee said both the North Carolina law and the proposed South Carolina law are not the way to ensure equality for all people.
“It is wrong,” Lee said.
Seemingly, discrimination can never be argued for. Except, sometimes, it is.
In Rock Hill until the 1970s, recreational sports leagues were big. Great green fields, lights, uniforms – for whites.
Blacks played in the dirt.
The white teams and the black teams didn’t play each other because Rock Hill city leaders believed that if you mixed the races on the ball fields, the world would explode. Brother David Boone fought the segregation of recreation leagues.
Cops had to guard him after he received death threats.
That rule died, and guess what? There was no chaos when black kids and white kids played baseball together. In 2016, nobody thinks twice about integrated sports.
Boone had one word for what the old leagues were, and what the laws supposedly about restrooms are now.
“Discrimination is wrong, no matter who it is against,” Boone said.
Until the 1970s, sings were plastered all over York, Chester and Lancaster counties: “Colored restroom.” “White waiting room.”
Those signs were both custom and law. The state of South Carolina, for 100-plus years after the Civil War, had laws that said white hands must be washed at a different sink. White lips would drink from separate fountains. And yes, white waste would go into a white-only toilet.
Blacks had their own toilet – or none at all.
David Williamson Jr. – who buried fellow Friendship Nine civil rights protester Clarence Graham last week, 55 years after they and seven others went to jail for protesting whites-only lunch counters in Rock Hill – was asked about these laws. These men are a big part of the reason that America has laws against discrimination in public accommodations such as restrooms.
They went to jail so that all people would be able to use the same restroom. It is that simple.
Separate never means equal.
“This is about discrimination, not restrooms,” Williamson said about the South Carolina proposal and the North Carolina law.
And, like Boone and Lee, Williamson had this to say about discrimination.
“It is always wrong.”