MSNBC Host Compares Gender-Specific Bathrooms to Segregation

In a hostile exchange with North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse during MSNBC’s 2 p.m. ET hour on Monday, anchor Ali Velshi compared the state’s transgender bathroom bill to racial segregation in the 1940s and 1950s.  

Noting that a deal had been reached for the state legislature to repeal the law, Velshi began by dismissing objections to allowing mixed-gender restrooms and shower facilities as a “made-up fear”: “...you know there’s no real thing about this, right? There are no numbers that support the fact that people who claim to use somebody else's bathroom because of their gender end up committing sexual assaults....it’s a made-up fear.”

Woodhouse replied: “I would also say there was no issue in Charlotte about people going to the bathroom either.” Velshi ran to the defense of Democrats in the city who instigated the culture fight by passing their own bathroom ordinance: “Fair enough, but there’s – excluding people is different from including people, right? Charlotte was trying to say you should go to the bathroom that you are comfortable with and the Republicans in North Carolina are said ‘No, you shouldn’t.’”

The Republican pushed back: “Yeah, I mean, I think it’s important to remember that we have gone to public restrooms divided by little boys and little girls since we’ve had them and I think this is a massive social change that was unnecessary and it was forced upon the people of Charlotte...” Velshi immediately hurled comparisons to racism: “Dallas, that’s sort of weird logic because we used to actually have separate bathrooms or separate water facilities and buses and restaurant tables for black people and white people. And that was massive social change...”

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Woodhouse denounced the ranting: “Sir, I think that’s ridiculous....That is a ridiculous comparison.” Velshi argued: “Why is it ridiculous? You said we’ve been going to bathrooms for little girls and little boys forever and that would be massive social change to change that. And I just gave you an example of massive social change.”

The GOP official declared: “I think comparing keeping little boys going to bathrooms and little girls in bathrooms away from grown men in shower facilities is not comparable to race and I find that to be offensive.”

Velshi continued scolding him: “Right, you understand that there are people in the ‘40s and ‘50s who would say that that’s not problematic. So what is obvious to you today was not obvious to a lot of Americans 50, 60, 70 years ago.” Woodhouse shot back: “Well, thank you for the lecture.”

Later in the segment, Velshi couldn’t resist returning to the topic, snidely remarking: “Okay, so just so that you and I don't end up getting into the same argument, I’m not going to say that just because something’s been done for a long time means that it should continue to be done because you’re going to tell me I’m comparing race to gender in bathrooms."

Here is a full transcript of the December 19 exchange:

2:18 PM ET

ALI VELSHI: Legislators in North Carolina calling a special session on Tuesday to repeal House Bill Two. Now, this is the controversial bill which was signed into law back in March by Governor Pat McCrory which forces people to use restrooms according to their sex listed on their birth certificate. North Carolina Governor-elect Roy Cooper says the bill will be repealed in full. This development coming just days after the GOP pulled off a coup in North Carolina. In an unprecedented power grab, the state’s Republican Party passed a pair of proposals stripping the incoming Democratic governor of many of his powers.

Joining me now from Raleigh is Dallas Woodhouse, he’s the executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party. Dallas, good to see you. This is all about this bill. The legislature passed HB-2 basically to roll back bills like that, that the city of Charlotte have passed and promoting the idea that you should use the bathroom of the gender with which you identify rather than the one that is on your birth certificate. So it’s a deal that's been cut – if Charlotte takes away this law, the legislatures takes away HB-2.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE: Which they have, they did that this morning. That’s right, this deal has been out there for months and that was – the legislature never really wanted this fight, Governor McCrory never wanted this fight. But they were so offended and concerned about bad actors, not people who had legitimate issues, about using this to access restroom and shower facilities that they shouldn’t be able to. But Charlotte passing this offending ordinance and the deal has been out there for months that if they repealed it, the legislature would repeal what they did. It’s unfortunate that our now Governor-elect Roy Cooper over the summer helped defeat a     compromise like this, as he did again in the fall. And I think it shows the naked political nature of Charlotte Democrats and Mr. Roy cooper.

VELSHI: But, Dallas, you know there’s no real thing about this, right? There are no numbers that support the fact that people who claim to use somebody else's bathroom because of their gender end up committing sexual assaults. It’s kind of – it’s a made-up fear.

WOODHOUSE: I would also say there was no issue in Charlotte about people going to the bathroom either.

VELSHI: Fair enough, but there’s – excluding people is different from including people, right? Charlotte was trying to say you should go to the bathroom that you are comfortable with and the Republicans in North Carolina are said “No, you shouldn’t.”  

WOODHOUSE: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s important to remember that we have gone to public restrooms divided by little boys and little girls since we’ve had them and I think this is a massive social change that was unnecessary and it was forced upon the people of Charlotte and the –

VELSHI: Dallas, that’s sort of weird logic because we used to actually have separate bathrooms or separate water facilities and buses and restaurant tables for black people and white people. And that was massive social change to change that –

WOODHOUSE: Sir, I think that’s ridiculous.

VELSHI: But we’re better off for it, right?

WOODHOUSE: I think – of course, we are. That is a ridiculous comparison. My point is –

VELSHI: Why is it ridiculous? You said we’ve been going to bathrooms for little girls and little boys forever and that would be massive social change to change that. And I just gave you an example of massive social change.

WOODHOUSE: I think comparing keeping little boys going to bathrooms and little girls in bathrooms away from grown men in shower facilities is not comparable to race and I find that to be offensive.

VELSHI: Right, you understand that there are people in the ‘40s and ‘50s who would say that that’s not problematic. So what is obvious to you today was not obvious to a lot of Americans 50, 60, 70 years ago.

WOODHOUSE: Well, thank you for the lecture.

VELSHI: I’m not offering a lecture, I’m just saying this whole thing – in fact, if the legislature had gone and done this several months ago – as you said, it was on the table – you know, your governor might have been reelected.

WOODHOUSE: Well, if that's true, it shows the political nature of this issue by the Democrats. You know, if this was the most important thing and they didn't want to inflict the economic harm on North Carolina, they could have helped do this as well. A matter of fact, I’ve thought about adding up the lost revenue from losing the ACC championship football game and saying that should be reported as an in-kind contribution to the Cooper for Governor campaign.

VELSHI: But you understand that Charlotte didn’t cause that to happen, it was the legislature that caused economic boycotts of North Carolina.

WOODHOUSE I would disagree with that. The legislature would have never passed anything if Charlotte hadn’t upset this apple cart.

VELSHI: This is a bit of a circular argument I would imagine. Alright, you have argued that what the legislature is doing now, the Republican-controlled legislature, stripping a Democrat of powers that are normally afforded a governor, is something that has happened before, happened in the ‘70s and you’re saying it’s just normal, it’s normal course of action. The government’s in power, the legislature’s a different party, strip them of power.

WOODHOUSE: Yeah, I don't think it’s a good idea to use the word “coup.” If you look at Webster’s “coup,” is a violent, illegal overthrow. In this case, this is a normal disagreement between divided government and in a state, and I think it’s important, that loans executive power. We elect a statewide council of people – a treasure, an insurance commissioner, people to divide power away from the governor – and we don't have three co-equal branches of governor. We have a massively stronger legislature than we do a governor. We have the 47th weakest governor in America, no matter who it is, and the second strongest legislature. So this has happened – ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s – and of course a court-packing scheme by who is now our Governor-elect Roy Cooper, in 2000.

VELSHI: But you weren’t troubled when this governor, the Republican governor, was a little bit stronger than the Democratic governor is going to be?

WOODHOUSE: I wasn’t, because I don't believe it is a moral question. I believe it is a political question that has been answered the same way time in and time out, the legislature reasserts its authority and scales back power from the chief executive that is not close to them.

VELSHI: Okay, so just so that you and I don't end up getting into the same argument, I’m not going to say that just because something’s been done for a long time means that it should continue to be done because you’re going to tell me I’m comparing race to gender in bathrooms.

WOODHOUSE: No, but I would – but again, I would say that it’s – I don't think it’s a moral question, I think it’s a political question.

VELSHI: I didn’t say it was a moral question, I just said you didn't mind a governor being stronger when it was a Republican governor, now there’s a Democratic governor coming in and you think that the governor shouldn’t be too strong. I’m just saying, it doesn’t seem consistent.

WOODHOUSE: I think under North Carolina's history, that is pretty consistent.

VELSHI: Okay, Dallas, good to talk to you, thank you for joining us. Dallas Woodhouse with the North Carolina –

WOODHOUSE: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah.

VELSHI: And to you, sir. Thank you.

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