Reactions to North Carolina’s Anti-LGBT Law Detract from Bigger Issue

Ben Shoemake, Columnist

About a month ago, Republican leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly pushed House Bill 2 through both the state’s House and Senate, and the North Carolina governor signed it before the day was through. A direct challenge to an ordinance passed in Charlotte, which would have gone in effect on the first of this month. The defining feature of this bill was its introduction of “Article 81. Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities”—designed to keep trans women out of public restrooms.

There are a lot of things to talk about with this bill. There’s the massive backlash it has received from artists and corporations, many of them boycotting the state. There’s the fact that, despite the bill being clearly targeted at trans women, none of the plaintiffs in the forthcoming lawsuit fit that description. There’s the fact that most media outlets have framed a bill which is clearly trans-misogynist as being “homophobic” or “anti-LGBT,” and not “anti-trans”.

What interests me most, though, aren’t the particularities of the bill or the conversations surrounding it, but the complete and total lack of perspective surrounding trans rights in general, which these recent events have served to make apparent. It reminds me of the fight for gay marriage, of the widespread proclamation that “Love Wins,” even though, to this day, the fight for gay rights remains far from over.

Let’s start with some facts. According a 2011 survey, trans individuals are nearly four times as likely to be living in extreme poverty. This number becomes eight if you’re black. Trans individuals face double the national unemployment rate. This becomes four times if you’re black. Of those employed, 90 percent of trans individuals have experienced workplace harassment, with one in four losing their job as a result. Still, 31 states lack non-discrimination acts regarding employment on the basis of gender identity.

70 percent of trans and genderqueer individuals have experienced discrimination by medical providers, and for nearly half of the trans individuals surveyed, access to healthcare was their number one priority. One-fifth of trans women had no insurance at all. Still, 41 states lack bans on insurance exclusions for trans healthcare.

But it is no surprise that, in the face of these life and death issues, in the face of homelessness, unemployment, a lack of reliable healthcare and a lack of affordable insurance to help cover it, the topics that come to mind when most people think of “trans rights” are matters of pronouns and where you go to pee—in fact, it’s distressingly predictable. This is because the popular conception of the trans woman has yet to meaningfully progress past the hypothetical; the fact that human concerns like having food to eat and a place to stay might be an issue hasn’t yet crossed most people’s minds.

This is how we get company after company lining up to protest a discriminatory bill, while nevertheless pursuing their own discriminatory hiring practices and failing to contribute a single dollar to supporting actual trans lives. This is how we get interrogations into the effects this bill will have on students at the University of North Carolina, with no acknowledgement of the fact that, for many trans individuals, affording a college education was never even a viable option.

To be clear: This is not to say that this bill doesn’t pose real problems, or that they shouldn’t be talked about. Men’s restrooms are an extreme site of violence and harassment for trans women, and opposition to this bill is a matter of public safety. But when, in all of the coverage this bill has garnered, I have yet to see a single quote from an Actual Living Trans Woman, or any admission of the much larger and more essential problems that trans individuals face, it becomes apparent that something isn’t right.

It is easy to think of trans rights as only being those things that explicitly deal with gender: bathrooms, pronouns, birth certificates. But trans rights aren’t a matter of acceptance or feeling comfortable—they’re a matter of survival. These issues are much larger than one state’s discriminatory bill. It’s time our conversations acknowledged that.