Transgender individuals in our society often must overcome challenges within family and inner circles on the journey to establishing their true identity. In peripheral circles such as school and work settings, transgender people may also confront struggle and stigma, as well as discrimination and danger. Much of America has come to recognize that schools and employers should not be allowed to make life more difficult for (i.e. fire or otherwise discriminate against) anyone because they are female, or male, or black, or hispanic, or asian, or native, or white, or gay, or straight, or bisexual, or married, or single, or divorced, or widowed, etc. Although these protections are more real in some communities than others, the general categories of sex, ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation are increasingly recognized in municipal and institutional listings of protected classes.
Missing out on many of these protections are transgender individuals, despite international recognition of the need to recognize gender identity as a protected class. Many (not all) politicians lately seem determined to misunderstand and misrepresent what the transgender community is, and needs. Our current president once opposed the so-called ‘bathroom bills’ forcing transgender people to use public facilities not associated with their gender identity, then he retreated to a position of deferring to states. Some American citizens fail to recognize the reality of the risks and challenges faced daily by our transgender sisters and brothers, while others step up as allies. In North Carolina, we are all too familiar with these issues. It should not be controversial to protect transgender individuals against discrimination. However, somehow, it is.
Let’s be clear. North Carolina’s HB2 remains much, much more than a ‘bathroom bill.’ Governor Cooper has rightly committed to a total repeal, in spite of the republican legislative supermajority fighting to retain the discrimination. Economic consequences persist. Even focusing solely on the ‘bathroom’ component of the discrimination embodied in the bill, there is plenty to argue against in the justifications put forth by the bill‘s supporters.
Enabling transgender people to access restrooms aligned with their gender identity decidedly does not mean supporting “men who enter women’s restrooms with the aid of nondiscrimination ordinances” as some North Carolina conservatives have tried to define it. Transgender means identifying with a gender other than that associated with the sex assigned at birth. There is no harm associated with transgender people using the restroom for their true gender identity. There is definitive harm associated with barring transgender people from accessing facilities appropriate to their true gender identity.
We need to insist that our North Carolina lawmakers repeal HB2, completely. No more nonsense from State Senator Berger is to be tolerated. We also need to insist that our federal legislators halt the misguided movement to federalize these bigoted efforts within our national public education system. Let North Carolina‘s terrible journey down this path of discrimination serve as a terrible warning, not an example to follow.
National implications remain. In addition to reversing protection for transgender students, our government is elevating opponents of civil rights within the administration. John M. Gore, who defended HB2 against legal challenges in North Carolina, and defended voter suppression by republican state lawmakers, was suggested by our current president to be the deputy assistant attorney general to the Civil Rights Division (including its LGBTI Working Group) of the United States Department of Justice. Instead, the administration named Thomas Wheeler, who helped Texas write its contested voter ID law. Rewarding defenders of fear and prejudice with powerful enforcement roles in the Justice Department sends exactly the wrong message. For all of us.
Stay awake. Keep the faith. Keep in touch.