When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star. I played bass guitar in a band that took all the energy and angst of youth and blasted it out through progressive psychedelic rock music. My friends and I looked up to bands like Led Zeppelin and The Mars Volta, and naturally we also took fashion advice from them. After school we’d scour the women’s section of thrift stores in search of tight clothing that would surely propel us to stardom.
Wearing tight women’s clothing wasn’t exactly the most popular style of rural Burke County, NC in the mid 2000’s, but we never experienced anything more than light-hearted jokes from our peers at school. This all changed one night when we decided to attend a bonfire party. We arrived at the party feeling a little out of place, but otherwise ready to have fun. Primarily in attendance were what I would have referred to as the redneck clique - Carhartt jeans, military boots, and camouflage were abundant. The very clearing we were partying on was used for jumping dirt bikes earlier that day.
I don’t remember how exactly everything unfolded, but it wasn’t long until the party escalated dramatically towards violence. Not long after we had arrived, I looked across the large clearing to see a group of people running up a hill. I later learned that three of my friends were being chased.
With the assurance provided by alcohol, a group of rednecks began making fun of them for wearing “women’s britches”. Simply put, they mocked my friends because they thought tight pants meant my friends were gay. They became violent and my friends retreated up a hill towards the parking lot, trying to get to their truck while being chased by the drunk rednecks. In the parking lot the gap between the two parties was closed. A fight ensued. They dragged at least one of my friends to the ground, kicking and punching. A bottle was thrown through the back windshield. Luckily no major injuries occurred, and eventually they were able to get in the truck and drive off.
Minutes later, the same rednecks walked up to another friend and me and asked “Thems women’s britches?” Of course they were, but fortunately they were drunk enough to believe us when we simply said “No.” We narrowly missed experiencing the same fate of our friends.
However, this article is not about getting beat up in high school or being in rock bands, it’s about HB2. Let’s take a detour and I’ll return to this story shortly.
As you most likely already know, a few weeks ago the North Carolina General Assembly called a special session to pass the now infamous law known as HB2 (House Bill 2). Lawmakers scrambled to overturn a Charlotte ordinance that granted gender identity protection against discrimination in public facilities. In about 12 hours, the bill was rushed through the General Assembly and signed by Governor Pat McCrory. A deeper analysis of the bill can be found in other sources, but briefly it did a number of things:
Created a requirement for bathroom usage in schools [Section §115C-521.2b] and public facilities [Section §143-760b] based on biological sex as defined on one’s birth certificate. This primarily stigmatizes the transgender community.
Established a statewide nondiscrimination policy that does not include sexual orientation and gender identity [Section §143-422.11a]. Presumably, any business can refuse to serve or hire citizens if they are gay or transgender and face zero repercussions.
Invalidated all existing local non-discrimination protections established by cities and counties and established state control. [Section §143-422.2c]
Removed the power of local governments to create their own workforce provisions in regards to minimum wage, hours of labor, benefits, and sick leave. [Section §95-25.1c]
Removed the ability for any NC citizen to sue for discrimination in state courts [Section §143-422.13]. We must now go through federal courts, a process which is more costly and complicated, and the window for suing is much shorter - 180 days as opposed to 3 years in state courts.
The backlash against this bill has been epic, putting NC in the national news cycle and compromising millions of dollars in jobs and lost revenue. It has been so epic that the Governor began to backpedal and released an executive order adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s nondiscrimination policy, but otherwise leaving the rest of the bill intact. The Governor and other Republican legislators continue to claim over and over, in an eerie cult-like mantra, that the complex issues tackled in the bill are “common sense”.
When deciding where I stand on this issue as a citizen, I figure it’s probably not the best course of action to listen to politicians, who undoubtedly are primarily concerned with reelection in November. I choose to put more weight on the positions of human rights lawyers who have made a living defending the rights of minorities. I also choose to listen to those within the transgender community in order to understand their perspective and their experiences. Both sources tell me the bill is wrong.
I would also prefer that lawmakers take time to understand the issue they are weighing in on, and seek out actual evidence when casting a vote. None of this was done with HB2. It was rushed through in a single day. McCrory himself said on an interview with Meet the Press that he did not discuss the bill with anyone in the transgender community, and even that he did not agree with certain parts of it, yet it was signed anyway.
In that same interview he exaggerated the scope of the Charlotte ordinance in an attempt to characterize it as government overreach, when in reality it only applied to businesses that offer accommodations to the public. It is interesting that his response to a perceived overreach in Charlotte is even greater overreach at the state level. I was under the impression that Republicans were for smaller government.
In their haste to make HB2 law before the Charlotte ordinance came into effect on April 1st, lawmakers decided not to wait on the decision of a U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit case that was to rule on whether or not schools can allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity. Not long after HB2 was passed, the court ruled in favor of the transgender student, establishing a legal precedent that jeopardizes billions of dollars in Title IX federal funding for our state education system.
During the bill’s passage, the evidence was ignored just as much as the transgender community. Of the roughly 200 cities that have a similar ordinance as Charlotte, there have been no observed increases in crimes where someone disguised as one gender gains access to facilities meant for another. There are already plenty of laws on the books protecting people from being assaulted in a public setting, for whatever reason.
And what of this insidious notion that the condition of being transgender is some sort of mental disorder, or that they are just making it up for attention? In one lazy swoop this completely demeans an entire class of people and puts them at a lower status. It is also false. Assigning gender at birth is not as easy as one might think. Recently twenty experts within the field of pediatrics and endocrinology wrote a letter to McCrory detailing their position that HB2 should be repealed. They said that
"there are babies born in whom chromosomes suggesting one sex do not match the appearance of the genitalia….For these children, gender assignment at birth is challenging and takes substantial time — sometimes requiring re-evaluation over months to years...Severe hormonal imbalances at birth may also result in gender assignments at the time of the birth that may require reassignment later in life. "
Additionally, a study by the American Institute of Suicide Prevention found that there is a 40% suicide rate among transgender people, but that rate decreases dramatically once they have transitioned. Once that happens, they look exactly like a male or female, regardless of what they started out as. More alarming findings by the study - 57% have family who choose not to speak with them anymore, 50% have been harassed at school, 60% have been refused medical treatment, 63-78% have been sexually or physically assaulted at school (where they are now required to use a bathroom that will put them in even more harm’s way), 69% have been homeless.
Where is our compassion for the suffering among us?
I began this article talking about an extremely hateful event my life. As straight males simply wearing the clothing of the opposite gender, my friends and I were the recipients of hate and physical violence. Even after this experience, I know I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like growing up in rural North Carolina as a member of the LGBT community. It must surely be a life full of fear, loneliness and the constant threat of violence. That’s despicable and it needs to change.
The bathroom provision of HB2 means that any student or government worker that identifies as transgender is now more likely to come into contact with ignorant, bigoted people raised with the love of guns and violence and hate for those they do not agree with or understand. Other provisions mean businesses are free to discriminate at will against the LGBT community.
All this talk from politicians about common sense is meaningless.
Common sense tells me that it is ridiculous to make someone who has breasts and other feminine features use the men's restroom, or someone who has a beard and huge muscles to use the women's. Common sense tells me that we are putting people in harm’s way by forcing them to do so. Common sense tells me that this law is unenforceable and is merely a political ploy by Republicans to energize their evangelical base to vote for them again in November.
Altogether common sense, evidence, experience and compassion tell me to stand with my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community in opposition to HB2.
Written by Isaac Crouch, Host & Producer at Citizen:Earth Media
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org