North Carolina Just Became the Most Transphobic State in America
There’s some shady shit going on in North Carolina and people have taken notice, but it may be too late. On Wednesday, state legislatures gathered for a special session to put their homophobia and transphobia into law with a new bill called HB 2. In the most basic terms, HB 2 puts a statewide ban on local ordinances at a city and county level if they concern wages, employment and public accommodations. This means that any attempt to pass anti-discrimination legislation that would grant protections to LGBTQ people or allow transgender people to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity is now impossible, unless it happens at a statewide level. So why did panicked lawmakers that weren’t supposed to meet until late April come to work early (and cost taxpayers $42,000 a day)?
It was because they felt some moral need to respond to a measure passed in Charlotte, NC that would’ve protected gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from being discriminated against by businesses and allowed trans people access to the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. The law made sense, given that it’s 2016 and not 1946, but North Carolina’s state legislators didn’t get the memo on their telegram. Instead, they joined a number of other states that have adopted the same shameful attitude toward the LGBTQ community this year. HB 2 was pushed through the legislature in a mere 12 hours and led every Senate Democrat to walk out in protest.
Now that the bill has been signed into law by North Carolina’s cisgender straight Governor Pat McCrory, equality under the law is effectively over. So how’d this happen? Imagine a pearl-clutching mom shrieking “but think of the children” and you’ve got your answer. Part of the fight might’ve been about allowing businesses to practice segregation against LGBTQ people, but the central focus of their laser-guided bigotry was on policing bathrooms. Just days after New York City landed on the right side of transgender history, North Carolina got it so wrong. “One of the biggest issues was about privacy,” North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said while presumably daydreaming about how to oppress LGBTQ people next. “The way the ordinance was written by City Council in Charlotte, it would have allowed a man to go into a bathroom, locker or any changing facility, where women are – even if he was a man. We were concerned.”
He’d have a point if what he said wasn’t so fundamentally based on a deep misunderstanding of the transgender community. The new bill will only allow transgender people access to the bathroom that corresponds to their sex on their birth certificate, which adheres to the outdated idea that sex and gender are the same thing (they’re not). HB 2 even goes further into the hole of transphobia by requiring all government-controlled facilities—including schools and universities—to assign all multiple-occupancy bathrooms and locker rooms to a single sex.
That means the lawmakers who passed this and Governor McCrory have all successfully allowed their transphobia to violate federal law. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 forbids discrimination against trans students in any school that receives federal funding, which could strip away the more than $4.5 billion in federal education funding that North Carolina was set to receive this year. It’s unfortunate that access to quality education is lower on McCrory’s priority list than shaming transgender students from trying to use a bathroom safety in accordance with their gender identity.
Inclusion is one of our core values and we are proud to champion LGBTQ equality in N. Carolina and around the world: https://t.co/40yYLCrqO1
— PayPal (@PayPal) March 24, 2016
The backlash against the governor and the unapologetically prejudiced bill has been swift, with many companies based in North Carolina speaking out. IBM, Biogen, Dow, and PayPal have all sent out tweets condemning HB 2. Even the state’s largest newspaper, the Charlotte Observer, released a statement calling out McCreary for allowing the bill to pass. “It was, in the end, about a 21st century governor who joined a short, tragic list of 20th century governors. You know at least some of these names, probably: Wallace, Faubus, Barnett,” the editorial board wrote. “They were men who fed our worst impulses, men who rallied citizens against citizens, instead of leading their states forward.”
North Carolina already fails to offer any legal protection to LGBTQ people, but now that they’ve banned any new protections from being passed, hope for the future has been tarnished in a 12-hour wave of bigotry. That means that if you aren’t straight and cisgender, you’re out of luck. As if that weren’t awful enough, the language of the bill also blocks cities and counties from raising their minimum wage and makes it harder for black men and women to sue for employment discrimination, as noted by the Charlotte Observer.
There will undoubtedly be legal action taken against the state to stop the unconstitutional bill, but the damage has been done. If this teaches us anything about America, it’s that elections matter at every level. The group of lawmakers who approved the bill and the governor who signed it were put there by voters and, therefore, can be ousted by voters. What happened in North Carolina can happen anywhere and it’s time that people in every state pay attention to whom they’re allowing to make their laws. We can no longer allow people to let fear and bigotry overrule compassion and kindness.
Stay tuned to Milk for more LGBTQ equality.
Original imagery via Kathryn Chadason. Additional images via Getty.