On the morning of Wednesday, March 23, North Carolina state legislators filed HB2, otherwise known as the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.” In a whirlwind series of actions, members of the state’s House and Senate passed the bill in a single day. That night Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law. What HB2 does, among other things, is:
• Eliminate local nondiscrimination ordinances
• Bar transgender people from using bathrooms in line with their identified gender in publicly-owned buildings
• Prevent schools from accommodating trans students
Why was this bill necessary, and why was it railroaded through the legislature? If you take the words of those who support the law, they say it was for the sake of women’s safety and privacy. If you look at what the law actually does, however, its goal becomes much clearer: to cement anti-trans discrimination into law. It’s timing is also curious, with the law’s passage coming just days before a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance was to take effect in Charlotte. With HB2’s passage, Charlotte’s nondiscrimination act is no more.
The law could prove dire for trans individuals. ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio told me, “In addition to these practical consequences, the public conversation around the city of Charlotte’s ordinance and the rushed passage of HB2 will certainly escalate violence against the transgender community by relying on and perpetuating lies about alleged dangers that transgender people pose to others in public space, including restrooms.”
Going to the bathroom is already a tough task for trans individuals. According to a 2013 survey of 93 Washington, D.C.-area trans people, 68 percent had experienced verbal harassment with 9 percent reporting that they had been physically assaulted while trying to access or use a public restroom.
One of the most memorable and disturbing instances of anti-trans bathroom violence is the 2011 beating of trans woman Chrissy Lee Polis, who was attacked while trying to use a McDonald’s restroom in Baltimore. When laws don’t explicitly provide protections for trans individuals—at the time, Baltimore did not have a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance—trans people are viewed as a threat.
The argument against trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances is based on the line of thought that by giving trans women the right to use women’s restrooms, it, in effect, allows “men” in. Anti-trans justifications prey on bystanders’ fears, claiming that unless trans people are stopped, wives and daughters will be put at risk.
But do North Carolina lawmakers have a point? Do nondiscrimination ordinances increase the likelihood of sexual assault? No. There’s no data to suggest such a thing. Seventeen states and more than 200 cities have enacted nondiscrimination ordinances similar to what Charlotte had planned, and there have been zero reports of people assaulting others in restrooms as a result.
In a promising sign, backlash against HB2 is coming from a variety of sources, from citizens on social media, activists, the NBA and national and international corporations. Executives from Barnes & Noble, Kellogg’s, Airbnb, Apple, Twitter, Uber, Citibank, Pfizer and more than 100 companies signed an open letter asking Gov. McCrory to push for repeal.
“We are disappointed in your decision to sign this discriminatory legislation into law,” the letter reads. “The business community, by and large, has consistently communicated to lawmakers at every level that such laws are bad for our employees and bad for business. This is not a direction in which states move when they are seeking to provide successful, thriving hubs for business and economic development.”
Business-led criticism helped scuttle similar bills in South Dakota and Georgia.
“It’s crucial that these businesses actually follow through on these threats to remove jobs and resources from states that ultimately codify this anti-trans and anti-LGB language like North Carolina has done and Mississippi is poised to do in the coming weeks,” the ACLU’s Strangio said.
Then there’s the nasty business of the 2016 presidential election. In 2004 George W. Bush and Dick Cheney won with a series of anti-gay referendums on the ballot in a number of swing states, which were a sly “get out the vote” effort to energize the GOP base. Based on posturing from Republicans, it seems in this election the goal is to use North Carolina-style discrimination laws as a wedge issue.
Earlier this year the Republican National Committee issued what it called a “Resolution Condemning Governmental Overreach Regarding Title IX Policies in Public Schools.” The resolution endorses the steps taken by states such as North Carolina, urges the federal government to backtrack on interpreting Title IX as protecting trans students and supports anti-trans legislation under the guise of “protecting student privacy.”
So while you might not find referenda regarding trans people on your ballot, the focus being put on this at both a state and national level by the RNC makes every election in part a referendum on the future of trans rights. Should the GOP win the presidency and retain control of Congress, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see legislation resembling North Carolina’s at the federal level.
Claiming to be interested in protecting the safety of citizens by enacting laws that will put an already vulnerable population even more at risk is disingenuous, at best, and violent, at worst. Claiming to be interested in protecting the privacy of your constituents by revoking the right to privacy for others is shameful. No one should be denied service, fired from their job, or, yes, refused the right to use a bathroom simply because of who they are. These are the most basic of rights, and violating them is not only un-American, but inhumane.
Parker Molloy is a writer from Chicago who has written about LGBT issues and culture for various national publications. Twitter: @ParkerMolloy.