feature image credit Syd Roberts
Following the election of Donald Trump, North Carolina’s anti-trans HB2 has, understandably, gotten lost in the torrential downpour of other attacks on human dignity and vulnerable minority groups. However, between the Appalachian mountains and urban metropolitan areas of North Carolina, resistance to the current Republican supermajority state legislature is still going strong. While Democratic Governor Roy Cooper was able to eke out a victory against Republican incumbent and figurehead of HB2, Pat McCrory, the political landscape of conservative domination still hasn’t changed and the struggle is still raging.
On December 19th, before Governor Cooper was officially sworn in, McCrory called a special session, supposedly to repeal HB2 after the Charlotte city council repealed the ordinance that Republicans say triggered conservative legislators to quickly pass and sign the “bathroom bill.” The unanimous vote overturned a regulation that had extended legal protections for the trans community in North Carolina’s biggest city to use the restrooms that correspond to their gender in hopes that the state GOP would then, in turn, remove HB2. Activists and grassroots advocacy organizations that had been fighting the bill since its signing last year remained skeptical of the sincerity of these tactics.
The following Wednesday, a measure was debated on the senate floor to repeal HB2. As yells of protesters careened off the walls of the senate chambers and officers began arresting people in the crowds, the bill failed and the senate adjourned. Days later, a report from the Electoral Integrity Project declared that the state of North Carolina couldn’t be considered a democracy. With the backdrop of a veto-proof Republican-controlled House and Senate reneging on their promise to nix HB2, it came as no surprise to those of us fighting for trans rights in the state.
Under the new administration, trans students are under attack again across the country. Just this week, President Trump retracted the Obama-era Department of Education and Justice statement to public school districts that instructed them to allow trans students the ability to use the school bathrooms that correspond to their gender.
So, what does all this mean? Well, besides the obvious sign that electoral politics aren’t helping anyone get free down south, the recent developments signal two things. Firstly, the impacts of this in North Carolina are the clearest. Even before the election of Trump, the NC GOP had a long track record of violating human rights, targeting some of the most vulnerable in the state, and utilizing rhetoric of traditionalism to justify violence against queer folks in the state. The inauguration of a crypto-fascist president and a VP with an extensive history of legislative attacks on the LGBTQ community, including a state-level rejection of the same federal directive on trans student bathroom usage that is now being retracted, further legitimizes these forms of state violence. In addition, the portion of the bill that has been obfuscated by trans and moral panic that limits the capacity for increases in minimum wage will remain in effect as well. This means workers across the state, where over 16 percent of the population lives in poverty, won’t see an improvement in their stagnated wages. And, given the fact that trans individuals are four times as lively to live in poverty due to employment and housing discrimination, those who are working class as well as gender non-conforming are being hit twice as hard by HB2.
Secondly, the longer HB2 stays on the books, the more it signals to other states that this type of discrimination is feasible. We can already see the beginnings of HB2 lookalikes cropping up across the country, including in states like Washington, Alabama, and South Carolina. A hyper-conservative presidential administration will only embolden those efforts being made by Republicans nationwide and creates the possibility for a federal-level version of HB2.
I’ve been working with other trans activists on the ground since HB2 was pushed through the legislature in a secret session and there are a few things to keep in mind when going forward. First and foremost, the majority of the labor being down in North Carolina has been by Black and brown queer, trans people. Because of that, the battle intersects with other fights. HB2 stems from the same power structures that spawn police violence, anti-blackness, misogyny, and poverty. The fight needs to be treated as such. The second thing is that the grassroots organizations headed by those folks are the ones that need support if you’re looking to donate. Activists from groups like Southerners on New Ground, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), and NC Queer TROUBLMakers were the ones in the streets demanding justice and challenging the notion that rich, white trans folks weren’t the only ones at risk, even though they were getting the most interview time and coverage in the news. Non-profit LGBTQ advocacy groups have obviously played a role in the struggle against this legislation, but those organizations have far more resources and tend to be more removed from the nitty gritty of queer liberation. The Black, queer, trans femmes that have been getting arrested, being brutalized, and fighting for years need more support and when you donate to them, that money goes directly to people being affected.
Trans North Carolinians are still fighting for our dignity and for a voice in NC politics. It’s not a new battle or one that will exist in distant memory years from now, but it’s a defining moment of self-determination and radical community building. So, learn from the trans leaders in North Carolina. Start adopting the systems of protection and youth advocacy that we have had to form in reaction to HB2 before a version of the bill hits your state legislature. The war is winnable, but we need to be prepared.
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