North Carolina’s LGBT community is currently fighting the most hostile law in the country, and other states could be next.
House Bill 2 has faced considerable media scrutiny for its language which forces transgender people to use public restrooms that aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than their current gender identification and expression. However, HB2 goes even beyond that. It forbids any local jurisdiction in the state from including gender identity or sexual orientation in their non-discrimination ordinances.
That means that nowhere in the state can local politicians ensure that LGBT people won’t face discrimination in their communities; in fact, when it comes to public restrooms, they’ll be legally required to discriminate.
Other statehouses around the country have been proposing similar measures, including Missouri. The state has proposed both a “bathroom bill” and what they call a religious freedom law, Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 39, which is opposed by the Human Rights Campaign, Missouri’s Chamber of Commerce, and the state’s Democrats, who filibustered the bill for 40 hours on March 9.
Despite the severe hardship faced by the populations targeted by these bills, they can be reassured by one thing – ultimately, North Carolina’s Republicans and people like them will fail.
The North Carolina bill and its copycats are the worst kind of legislation: the kind that isn’t aimed at solving any actual problem. According to Media Matters, multiple conservative news outlets have reported stories about the supposed risk of assaults and ogling posed by men pretending to be transgender women. These stories aren’t based on facts or actual incidents; just the fevered imaginations of people who want to envision the transgender community as a menace.
To be clear, the idea of men invading women’s private spaces for sexual purposes isn’t something to brush aside. It is in fact true that men don’t respect these boundaries; arrests for voyeurism aren’t uncommon. However, men who commit these crimes don’t need to pretend to be transgender women to get what they want. Usually, they use the far less complicated method of hiding a cell phone and leaving the camera turned on.
That, however, is not the issue that North Carolina legislators have chosen to address. Instead, they’ve chosen to use the veil of women’s safety to cover their true agenda of discrimination. The main frontier on which transgender people have fought for their right to use the bathrooms of their choice has been schools. These are young people struggling to deal with life in an environment where they face extraordinarily high rates of bullying and abuse.
On the other hand, the Huffington Post reported that leaders in school districts which have allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice say the consequences have only been positive. These bills aren’t addressing a real issue, but they do offer a very appealing narrative for social conservatives. The language surrounding them lays out a narrative in which conservatives are bravely fighting for women’s safety against political correctness run amuck. A group of people historically unconcerned with feminism and women’s issues are suddenly the only ones standing up for women’s safety, or so they want you to believe.
Under the guise of protecting women’s safety, laws like these really jeopardize the safety of transgender people, and anyone who does not conform to gender stereotypes. If they were implemented, violence in public bathrooms would only increase.
Of course, safety isn’t what these legislators (and the groups who support them, which have names like Americans for Truth About Homosexuality) really care about. Laws like this represent the weak last gasps of the dying “family values” movement. After losing fight after fight in the battle of LGBT rights, they’re realized that naked prejudice is no longer a good enough reason for their policy preferences. They’ve had to finally resort to pretending the issue is something else.
Unfortunately for them, these advocates for social regression are fighting against the winning team. Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which is legally challenging the law, have a far better track record than the ragtag bunch of bigots which make up its supporters. Like efforts to oppose marriage equality and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, efforts to prevent the full legal equality of transgender people cannot and will not succeed. They simply stand against the rising tide of America’s changing values.
North Carolina was a slave state, then a part of the Confederacy, then a deeply racially divided state whose schools remain largely de facto segregated. The federal government had to overrule the state’s decision to forbid women from voting. When courts forced the state to accept same-sex marriage, local Republicans responded with dedicated efforts to keep discrimination legal.
It’s a promising sign for Missouri that our state isn’t letting this happen without protest. The Human Rights Campaign will hold a rally in Jefferson City Thursday to speak out against SJR 39’s attempts to legalize discrimination.
This law represents the latest in a series of dedicated efforts to resist progress. While the state’s politicians may have to be dragged against their will into the 21st century, others, including Missouri, must refuse to join them on the wrong side of history.