Yesterday was a strange day for North Carolina. In late February the city council of Charlotte, the largest city in our state and, including the greater metro area, the home of roughly a tenth of the state’s population, passed an ordinance containing a strong set of LGBT protections including public accommodations protections for transgender people.
A group of conservative state legislators reacted to the Charlotte city council by calling a special legislative session to strike the protections down, an emergency measure that hasn’t been used since the early 1980s.
The day before the special session I felt called to do something.
I began contacting friends and loved ones in the community, and next thing I knew a crowd of us were planning a trip to Raleigh to be present for the session.
The night before the special session, the text of the bill had not yet been made public. The morning of the special session, the text of the bill had still not been released.
It was not until just before the House committee meeting on the bill that the text finally appeared. State Representative Bobbie Richardson of Franklin and Nash counties had to actually ask for five minutes for the committee to quickly read over the bill—introduced as HB 2.
Once the committee really got going, it became clear what the tenor of the day would be.
The people who wanted to get rid of Charlotte’s LGBT protections made three basic arguments over and over again throughout the day.
The first and most heavily hit argument is that striking down Charlotte’s LGBT protections is a “common sense” step to maintain the status quo and protect women’s and girl’s privacy. Yesterday was about eight hour of legislators suggesting that there is no way to differentiate between trans women and rapists or sexual predators.
One legislator stood up to say she no longer feels safe driving through Charlotte with her daughters. Another stood up to say that she had told her teenage daughters about the LGBT protections and they were “appalled” at the idea of a trans girl being given access to public accommodations.
These echoed the anti-trans arguments pioneered by 1970s feminists like Janice Raymond and Germain Greer that trans women are just men trying to push our way into women’s spaces for nefarious and sexually violent purposes.
In the House Committee hearing, I advocated against HB 2 from my perspective as a North Carolinian, a trans woman, and a Christian.
But I wasn’t the only one speaking from a Christian perspective. One of the women who testified in favor of striking down the LGBT protections identified herself as a Christian, too. She said that she had been molested by a man as a child and had a great fear of men. And she said that on a recent trip to Massachusetts she saw a woman in a public bathroom who she believed was trans, and that she had become so frightened that she didn’t believe trans people should have legal protections.
Building on that narrative, conservative legislators framed striking down the LGBT protections as necessary for the safety of their granddaughters and wives. One state senator said that the “insanity” of Charlotte’s protections would legalize conduct that, anywhere else in North Carolina, would expose people to jail time—he even looked over at the gathered trans people as he said that. It was more than unnerving.
The second argument of the day was that city councils and county commissions should not have the right to pass ordinances or other local laws that offer protections for LGBT people. Their argument, and language of HB 2, went beyond Charlotte to extend to the entire state. In addition, they tacked on that local councils should not be able to offer a living minimum wage above the state minimum wage.
It was an odd reversal of the standard conservative line that the best governance happens at the most local levels.
The third argument is that Charlotte’s LGBT protections were bad for state business because they created a diversity of local laws across the state. The reality is, of course, there will always be a diversity of local local laws across any state, but in this case, that reality was suddenly framed as a danger to economic growth.
The irony of that position is of course that many of North Carolina’s major business and employers including RedHat, Biogen, and Dow came out strongly in favor of Charlotte’s LGBT protectors and have voiced horror at the North Carolina legislature striking them down. In reality, this anti-trans and anti-gay legislation risks many jobs and opportunities for the state.
Legislating discrimination in this way also puts North Carolina’s billions of dollars in federal education funding at risk by violating Title IX protections. State senators claimed that the Obama administration’s insistence that Title IX cover gender identity is a radical step which can be safely ignored.
All in all, it was an exhausting day. Still, as a human being present there I found some joy in the mix.
Whether it was a trans friend leaning over to excuse himself and tell me, “ironically, I have to go to the bathroom,” or seeing an elementary schoolmate of mine for the first time in two decades who had come out to support her trans girlfriend, or sitting with the region canon from the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina and listening to his horror at the things being said about trans women, there were diamonds in the garbage.
Friends took time off work to come to the legislature and offer their presence and support. People prayed. People who I have known for years who have always dismissed trans issues as unimportant to gay rights finally had that light bulb go on in their head that this is serious, that we’re all in it together.
Don’t get me wrong, North Carolina’s HB2 is dangerous, an act of violence against our people.
But we are Christians, and this is Holy Week.
Just as a terrible act of violence against God made flesh, against the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ was transformed through love into the salvation of the world, let us come together in the light of the reality of the situation to work for a better world, renewed and re-strengthened, loving and supporting one another until we get this fixed.
Photo by Vivian Taylor