In case you haven't heard, North Carolina passed a new law last week that has caused quite the stir throughout America. Having been born and raised in the Tar Heel State, I was astonished at Governor Pat McCrory's decision to sign into law a bill that spent no more than twelve hours on the legislation floor. A law that claims to be pro-nondiscrimination, but actually disguises itself as a weapon against those who identify as LGBTQ+ in the state.
Most people who have heard about this new law automatically associate it with one word: "bathrooms." Yes, this DOES deny the right of a transgender person to use the bathroom of which gender they identify as, but this law is so much more than just bathrooms. It is an attack on the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
NC HB2 Background Information
For those of you who may not be familiar with HB2, let me give you a bit of background information on the bill. Charlotte passed a law last month meant to protect LGBTQ+ residents from discrimination by businesses. This law--supposed to go into effect on April 1st--caused North Carolina's General Assembly to call their first special session in 35 years to address this new ordinance. Within just twelve hours and only 30 minutes of public comment allowed, McCrory signed the bill into law.
So what does this bill allow and how is it considered a "nondiscriminatory" bill? The bill has two main purposes: to keep bathroom separate by "biological" sex and to protect people in the workforce. However, the people aimed to be protected under law in the workforce do not include anyone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc. Specifically, the bill aims to rid any discrimination based off of "race, religion, color, national origin, age, biological sex or handicap." Please note that the word "biological" in the actual bill (The Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act) is underlined, for emphasis. To the General Assembly, "biological sex" is defined as what's found on a person's birth certificate.
Their definition of biological sex comes into play with the new bathroom law as well. In the state of North Carolina, it is now illegal for a transgender person to use the bathroom with the sex that they identify as. In other words, a transgender female could not use a woman's restroom; she would be required to use a male's. This becomes a topic of concern when considering a trans person's safety, especially in a state that has a conservative background and is well-known for being discriminatory.
Upon being passed, McCrory said that nondiscrimination is "an issue of general, statewide concern," taking power away from local governments to make their own decisions about implementing this law, therefore nullifying Charlotte's ordinance.
NC HB2's Effect on the LGBTQ+ Community
McCrory's claim is that North Carolina's new bill is protecting the privacy and safety of its citizens, not necessarily from transgender people but from "sexual predators" who might prey on minors or women in their respective restrooms. Whereas this is a valid concern -- people imitating a trans person in order to enter a bathroom of their opposite sex -- there has only been one case in 17 states and 225 other cities where rapists used their "legal" cover to attack women.
With problems of violence being shown against trans people in the state, it's simply dangerous to require someone who looks, acts, talks, identifies as (and is!) a woman/man to use the bathroom of their opposite sex. They're subjected to more danger--and a higher risk of danger--than a child is to a predator in this situation. Interviewed by NPR, Charlotte resident and trans woman Lara Nazario said, "If I were to walk into a men's bathroom, I would either be told that I'm in the wrong bathroom or I'd be outed as a transgender woman. This can often lead to violence or harassment, especially when there's no protection in place for people like me."
The bill also takes a lash at other people who identify as LGBTQ+. It blatantly refuses to defend anyone based on their sexual orientation or sexual identity in the workplace and at individual businesses. Essentially, someone can be turned away or fired for being gay upon another individual's discretion.
I asked Nhawndie Smith, a Junior at North Carolina A&T University, about their opinions on how this bill would affect them and other students at public universities throughout North Carolina: "The bill affects my presence on campus as a black student and also as a queer student," Smith said, "The bill is also violent to me in regards to my economic status and there being regulation in regards to the minimum wage . . . it impacts me in ways that folks aren't protected when violence happens. The situation's being treated less severely than it ought to be."
NC HB2's Effect at Public Universities
The new bill doesn't just stop with LGBTQ+ members, though. With McCrory signing into law HB2, he has potentially put every public university and school in North Carolina at risk of losing about $4.5 billion in funding. If schools refuse to comply with the new bathroom laws, they risk losing state funds. It doesn't just stop at bathrooms here, either (see a trend, yet?).
Many are arguing that HB2 is in direct violation with Title IX, a Civil Rights Amendment passed in 1972 prohibiting anyone, "on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
With public schools now required to deny transgender individuals access to the bathroom of their identified sex, they are violating Title IX. And with HB2 not covering the protection of LGBTQ+ individuals, if a school chooses not to protect a LGBTQ+ student in a case of a rape, hate crime, discrimination, etc., they will not be penalized -- a direct violation of Title IX.
Emma Karlok, a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill said it as it should be said: "Until there is visibility and protection for all who are unfairly targeted and marginalized, there will be inequality. Legislators with an inability to see past their own privilege will continue to discriminate unless our voices are heard."
Arguments Defending HB2
I have, sadly, seen just as much support for this bill as I have protest. Many North Carolinians believe McCrory made the right decision in keeping the privacy inside bathrooms. Many look at just one side of this bill: the bathroom ordinance that will keep "predators" away from the "children." Whereas some aren't voicing a direct disagreement with anyone LGBTQ+, they are defining their support as keeping perverts out of bathrooms. Though I understand a parent's concern for their young daughter possibly being snatched by someone simply posing as a woman in a restroom, the chances are extremely slim (as described above). Quite frankly, anyone who identifies at LGBTQ+ in our world today -- especially in the South -- is at a much greater risk of receiving sexual violence or threats in a bathroom. There were over twenty transgender women who were violently murdered in 2015, the largest number on record.
I'm not saying that one person's life is of greater value than the other, I'm saying that many people don't even consider the lives of the trans community. This picture is much bigger than many people perceive, or care to perceive.
There are others that don't believe we should be protecting the rights of trans people. As I read in a Facebook comment recently, "I'm NOT afraid of the transgenders - I think what they are doing is wrong but it's not up to me to judge them. The ONLY way to keep children and women safe is for them to have SEPARATE bathrooms/locker rooms. If that hurts a few feelings - it's just tough."
Comments don't stop there. Many people demean trans people, calling them "confused" and "attention-seeking," therefore validating -- in their minds -- why we shouldn't be bending our laws to suit them. Not only are these statements completely inaccurate, they're ignorant.
Attending Chapel Hill's march against HB2 last Tuesday, I had the opportunity to hear different testimonials from individuals of the LGBTQ+ community. They were absolutely heartbreaking. From rape, to threats, to being disowned by parents and not being protected by our government and officials, it's obvious that minorities are doing all they can to stay out of the spotlight, and they are definitely more familiar with their identities than someone looking on from the outside.
At the march, we flooded Franklin Street, stopping traffic at the major intersection. Franklin Street, popular for being rushed when UNC beats Duke and its infamous Halloween celebrations, was used -- not for the first time in history -- in defense of a group of people who are being oppressed by the very people that are supposed to be representing them.
Cars were stopped, onlookers were stationed at the top of Top of the Hill, and police surrounded us. We were told that we risked arrest. Yet hundreds attended -- some people traveled all day -- and stood proudly in defense of LGBTQ+ rights.
This bill obviously means so much more than just bathrooms. Thousands of people in the state of North Carolina are immediately affected by HB2 and, with people turning their heads away, we may not see any change, allowing North Carolina to directly discriminate against people who identify as LGBTQ+.
At the march, I was surprised to see an elderly woman sitting in a wheelchair with a sign that read, "NC Do Not Discriminate Against My Granddaughter." With her granddaughter sitting next to her, I asked them a couple of questions. I discovered that this 93-year-old woman, once finding out about the bill, was devastated. "We are hopeful that not just the community that is most affected--that is, the LGBT community--will fight back," her granddaughter, Carmen Perez told me, "but also that our allies will fight back and put pressure on North Carolina to change this and be a more progressive state."
Lead Image Credit: Mia Renee Cole via Flickr