North Carolina has been drawing attention recently for their controversial Bathroom Bill, or HB2, if it’s all a bit confusing, here’s an explanation of the main points and why it’s so controversial.
On Feb 22nd 2016, Charlotte in North Carolina, wanted to expand the anti-discrimination laws which already existed and proposed allowing transgender people the legal right to use whichever bathroom best fitted their own self-identified gender. This was to come into law on 1st April 2016.
In response, at a special session on March 23rd 2016, North Carolina’s General Assembly counter-proposed House Bill 2, which the Senator for the State, Pat McCrory signed into state law that same night.
HB2 went further than simply repealing the original proposal to extend the anti-discrimination laws. It made the state law unable to be extended in the future to protect gender identity and sexual orientation. It states that individuals must use a bathroom based on their biological genitalia, so that having a penis requires you to use a men’s bathroom, and having a vagina requires you to use a women’s bathroom.
The bill also says that businesses can discriminate against LGBT people if they have a ‘sincerely held religious belief’. In short, if the faith you follow says that LGBT is not acceptable, then you don’t have to supply or serve LGBT people.
People supporting the new law say that this protects young children and women from male abusers dressed as women, who may enter a women’s toilet with the intent to abuse. (http://dailysignal.com/2016/04/26/on-executive-order-on-hb2-north-carolina-governor-lurches-to-left/)
Those against say that it directly discriminates against transgender individuals, and there have already been cases of self-appointed civilian ‘bathroom police’ monitoring who goes into a women’s bathroom. (See http://www.advocate.com/transgender/2016/5/03/man-protesting-targets-transgender-policy-mistaken-active-shooter and http://jezebel.com/helpful-man-patrols-texas-ladies-room-tells-woman-your-1773882994)
Even the police have removed a woman from a ladies bathroom, in the mistaken understanding that she was a man. (http://jezebel.com/police-refuse-to-believe-lesbian-is-a-woman-force-her-1773733431)
Groups of parents have also begun to protest schools, saying that transgender students should not be able to use a locker room of choice (http://dailysignal.com/2016/05/04/50-families-sue-over-illinois-high-schools-transgender-bathroom-policy/)
It would also mean that a provider of counselling could refuse to see LGBT clients, or a shop refuse to sell goods, a faith leader refusing LGBT people to attend services or support, a homeless support centre turning LGBT people away, or an employer could refuse to employ an LGBT person.
To complicate matters, America is technically a federation of states. Every state is free to govern themselves, as long as their State law doesn’t directly conflict with overarching Federal law. American schools receive federal funding, which subsidises the cost of running the school. By signing HB2 into state law, North Carolina is argued to be in violation of Federal law and could have billions of dollars of federal funding for their schools withdrawn.
The backlash to the state law is widespread, from businesses, to filmmakers to musicians and performers such as Beyonce (https://www.gaytimes.co.uk/news/35648/beyonce-slams-north-carolinas-anti-trans-laws/) The company Target have issued a statement that they will support their Transgender staff and shoppers by allowing them to use whichever bathroom they feel most comfortable in (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-target-lgbt-idUSKCN0XG2VU) The state continues to suffer mounting economic losses and passionate arguments have been heard on both sides.
Yesterday, 4.5.2016, the Federal Government issued a legal challenge to North Carolina, saying that HB2 is discriminatory towards Trans individuals, goes against current Federal Law and requested that the bill be revoked by 9th May (http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2016/05/05/obama-administration-sends-legal-threat-to-north-carolina-governor-over-anti-lgbt-law/) The response from North Carolina officials to this has been bombastic and firmly based in moral panic. But HB2 was implemented without notice, and was hailed as a solution – to a problem that didn’t exist. In short, if someone is able to view what you keep in your pants when you go into a bathroom stall to pee, then you’re doing it wrong… so what would the State plan on doing – providing bathroom police at the entrance to every public facility? Checking birth certificates or passports for a gender marker before you can pee? Even doing a simple glance takes the power of self-identification and expression of gender from the individual and into the hands of a stranger.
To say that the potential impact of this is huge, would be a massive understatement. As an LGBT+ support organisation, you might be able to guess what our stance is. We are taking heart over the fact that the backlash to this has been huge and widespread, something that just a few years ago might not have happened. Businesses have moved their offices, musicians and performers have cancelled their performances and condemned the bill, and North Carolina schools stand to lose their funding, affecting the education of all children in that state, not just those who identify as LGBT+.
Senator McCrory has said one thing that we agree with “This is no longer just a North Carolina issue.” North Carolina and Federal America, the world is watching you with interest.