The passage of HB 2 in North Carolina, essentially enshrining biological sex as an admission requirement to state restrooms, was awful in many, many ways.
It forces trans students to out themselves. It causes hardship to those unfortunate enough to be born in states that don’t allow birth certificate gender changes. It disproportionately targets transgender people whose economic situations make documentation updates prohibitive. And it carries a chilling effect for those just beginning transition.
What should also trouble state residents, though, is that their legislature took up the bill, debated it, and passed it in both houses for the governor’s signature in a single day. Can the impact of a law affecting thousands really be appreciated in just a few hours? It’s clear legislators didn’t want to know the truth, lest stories of human suffering sway their “weaker” colleagues from the noble end of oppressing the state’s transgender citizens.
When government shows that level of callousness, simply speaking out in opposition is ineffective. Hope is being expressed that the NBA or Disney or some similar corporate powerhouse will rain punishment down upon the powerful of their state showing them the error of their ways. Maybe one will. They certainly could use all the help they can get.
But it’s optimistic to expect large corporations to ride to their rescue. Companies are driven by profit. If it profits them to punish North Carolina, they will. Otherwise, they may make big noises (which obviously didn’t worry the bill’s supporters), but will end up taking whatever route financially benefits their investors.
Reliable pressure on lawmakers in Raleigh needs to come from the LGBT community itself. Ideally, any action should have happened months ago. Our enemies have made it clear an all-out nationwide assault on our rights is underway. For transgender people living in states harboring religious antipathy, the time to educate the public and lawmakers about bathroom needs is long before a bill like HB 2 is introduced. Now the toothpaste needs to be returned to the tube.
The protests reported in the state capital represent a good start, but such actions are hard to sustain. I suggest a more narrowly targeted protest with greater staying power.
What if transgender people across the state sought to “occupy” restrooms in popular locations as an educational gesture? Just two or three people could make their presence felt, small teams of transgender men standing in women’s rooms, and trans women in men’s rooms carrying signs saying we don’t want to be here; a live, conspicuous display of the reasons why forcing them there doesn’t make sense.
Yes, such a move would be provocative, possibly leading to confrontation, violence or arrests. Protests generally do. However, incidents instigated by others against peaceful protesters will help make our point. Were a team to chronicle on video an instance of harassment from the public or law enforcement, it would make clear who truly is in danger from the new law.
Safety would be a concern, of course, as in all civil rights struggles against the forces of hate. It takes bravery to stand against homophobic and transphobic intimidation. Occupation teams would need escape plans for when violence erupts that seriously threatens harm. However, inciting violence would be a tactical error by opponents of transgender bathroom rights. Violence makes news, news draws attention and attention represents an opportunity for education. Indeed, without attention, educating the public is impossible.
One Charlotte resident has already begun. Charlie Comero has been handing out cards. “I am a transgender man who would rather be using the men’s room right now,” they read. “This is likely uncomfortable for both of us.” Something larger is needed. Cards can be rejected, but signs are harder to ignore. Turning Comero’s personal crusade into a more visible protest would drive home to voters who may still be unclear, exactly why HB 2 is a bad idea.
Suzi Chase is a Maryland-based freelance writer.