What North Carolina’s HB 2 Means for Lesbian America, One Woman’s Story

What North Carolina’s HB 2 Means for Lesbian America, One Woman’s Story

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Katie Benfield/PrideBy Katie Benfield

On Wednesday, March 23, the state of North Carolina passed House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which bans transgender people from using the public bathroom that matches their gender identity. However, what a lot of people don’t understand, or are failing to recognize to the extent that they should, is that the HB 2 has a lot more adverse effects than what it originally seems.

HB 2 is being portrayed in the media as being put in place to protect innocent people from experiencing “perversion of the transgenders.” The state of NC is still under the impression that transgender people are perverts, rapists, and child-molesters, and by banning their ability to use the bathroom that correlates with their gender identity, they believe they will further protect these citizens from experiencing any kind of perversion. In all reality, however, transgender people are just trying to use the bathroom, and they should, by no means, be seen and stereotyped in such a way that couldn’t be more inaccurate.

Even my grandmother, a woman of 78 years who is a Southern homophobe born and raised, brought the HB 2 to my attention on my last visit home to a small town in North Carolina. She looked me in the eyes and she said, “Honey, I just don’t understand this bill. These poor people just want to go where they feel they belong.” She did admit that she feared a man using the bathroom in the same facility as her, even if he did identify as a female, but she offered the solution that transgender people should just have separate single stall bathrooms. “That way, they’ll feel safe and protected, and so will everyone else,” my grandma said. Even though this does exclude transgenders from the general population, my grandma said it in a way that was absolutely free of hatred or discrimination—something that a homophobic Southern Baptist Christian (who believes that all LGBT people will end up in hell—don’t worry, I’m working on changing her mind!) can accomplish but an entire state, which is built on a constitution of freedom and equality, cannot.

Although I go to school in NC, the campus I’m involved in is fairly liberal. It has a strong LGBT community, as well as a women’s center and constant rallies to confront issues involving racism, sexism, and homophobia. It’s interesting to note that there are single stall bathrooms in the student union on my campus—if you ask the management of the school, they will tell you they were placed there for transgender and gender queer usage. However, nowhere in or around these bathrooms, or anywhere on campus for that matter, does it tell the population that these are for transgender individuals. The campus itself has not confronted the issue of transphobia; in fact, they have avoided talking about it almost completely. Just adding a single-stall bathroom isn’t enough. If you’re going to have a single-stall bathroom for transgender and gender queer folk, make sure it is known to them that these bathrooms are for them specifically, for their comfort and acceptance. If you were to ask the general campus population if they know that there are single-stall bathrooms, and if they are aware, if they know what they are for, almost all of them would say no to the first, and even more would say no to the second. The campus is not creating a safe and welcoming environment to its transgender and gender queer students—it’s simply providing them with the tools to build their own.

It’s nice to know, however, the HB 2 is raising resentment, even in the hearts of my friends and family who don’t necessarily approve of transgender people. Just the other day, I was speaking with my sister, who has become more accepting of LGBT people since I came out to her last July, and she told me that she was very upset about the bill because “it was stopping people who already have enough discrimination and bullying from doing something that every person should have the right to do” meaning going to the bathroom in the facility where they feel most comfortable, the one that matches their gender identity.

This Bill was passed in order to ensure the safety of cisgender men and women all over the state, but what about the safety of the transgender men and women? By making it illegal for transmen and transwomen to go into a bathroom that matches their gender identity, it raises the likelihood of hate crimes, especially for men (whose gender identity is female). Men, historically, have been more transphobic than women, especially towards men who identify as women. By forcing transwomen who haven’t had sex reassignment surgery to enter into a male bathroom, the state has single-handedly upped the chances of death, harassment, and other violence towards these trans-people. I can practically see the headlines now: TRANSGENDER FOUND BEATEN TO DEATH IN PUBLIC BATHROOM BY THREE MEN.

Katie Benfield
Katie Benfield

There should never be a bill passed that endangers the lives, minds, and bodies the way that this bill does, regardless of what gender identity someone has. Not only does this bill reinforce the general idea that transgender people are “perverted rapists and child-molesters” but it also negatively affects every person that identifies as a gender opposite of the sex they were assigned at birth. So, really, who is this bill helping?

It’s also interesting to note that, the media, from what I have seen thus far, is simply brushing over the other facets of the bill. According to them, the bill only affects whether transgender people can go into the bathroom that correlates with their gender identity. However, the bill does much more than that. The passing of this bill makes it now legal to discriminate against all LGBT-identified people—whether that means refusing to hire or promote us, choosing to fire us, or refusing to serve us is in the hands of the one’s in power: cisgender heterosexuals.

Basically what this means is that I could walk into a restaurant with my girlfriend, and the two of us could be refused service due to our being gay and in a relationship with one another. I’m honestly a little hesitant to even put that I’ve written for The Seattle Lesbian on my resume, simply because of the fact that a company or boss could take one look at that and decide not to hire me because of it.

While the bill is detrimental for transgender people and what they do and don’t have the freedom to do in public, it is also damaging for all the rest of us in the LGBT community here as well, and a majority of people don’t even realize it. I have talked to friends and family that care deeply for me, who are not part of the LGBT community, and not a single one of them knew that it affected anyone other than transgender individuals. I don’t mean to say that this negative impact on the rest of the LGBT community makes the passing of the bill more important than if it was just against transgender individuals, because that isn’t the case at all. The bill is incredibly important because of what it means for transgender individuals. The bill is also incredibly important because of what it means for the whole of the LGBT community.

I can already see the shift in my life that was caused by the HB 2. Out in public with my girlfriend, I used to have no problem holding her hand or kissing her on the cheek—you know, basic lovey-dovey couple stuff. However, because of the bill, I am constantly on alert and on edge because I now know it is legal for any business to kick us out or refuse us service, and I don’t want that for either of us.

I only recently came out to all of my family in November (except for my grandma, and that’s simply because we think the shock would induce a stroke), and that on top of the new marriage laws made me feel more free and accepted than ever before. When I first realized I was gay, it took a long time to even picture myself telling anyone, and an even longer time to picture myself being fully out, not only with my family, but in public and at whatever job I end up having. Now, with this bill being active, I can no longer imagine being open with my co-workers or even staying in NC, just because of the range of horrible outcomes that could occur. Who knows if my girlfriend and I would even be able to get married in NC, the way we had planned?

All of this stuff may seem trivial, but it plays a role in a bigger, more important point. The House Bill 2 is forcing LGBT people back into the proverbial closet. LGBT people have fought for decades to be accepted and granted the same rights as everyone else, and as soon as we get them, they get taken away from us once more. Not only is it now legal to discriminate against us, but it has created an unsafe environment in what we consider our home.

LGBT people struggle to be open about who they really are. It took me a good three years to even tell my siblings, who I know love me unconditionally always. Coming out is an almost daily thing when they meet new people or gain different opportunities. For some people, it takes years, or maybe even a lifetime, to gain the confidence to come out and share who they are with everyone, friends or family or strangers, and now because of the HB 2, they are being forced back into a closet that has been constructed by the state. It’s not that we can’t come out to co-workers or bosses, it’s not that we can’t show affection to our partners in public. It’s that we are now at risk if we do; it’s that we are putting our hearts and mental health on the line if we do. Showing affection to my girlfriend can end in my mental health being hurt by a business owner blatantly refusing to serve me, successfully isolating me from the general public, highlighting my differences and punishing me for them. Being open with who I am in my work environment can lead to me being jobless or not having the same opportunities as my cisgender, heterosexual counterparts—as if it isn’t hard enough to find a job around here to begin with. With this bill, the state allows us to be open with who we are, but they’ve put a price on it, and for some, that price may be too expensive.

The state wants us to be ashamed of who we are—our sexuality, the ones we love—and each other. This bill robs of us our pride and our right as human beings to love who we want, to marry who we want, and to show it and tell it to whoever we want. This bill threatens every LGBT person in NC in a mental, societal, and emotional way.

While I can’t speak for the entire LGBT community as a whole, I can speak as a person in the LGBT community and what this bill means to me. I identity solely as a lesbian, so I can only imagine what this bill means for transgender people. My heart hurts for every single one of them that is forced into uncomfortable and damaging situations. My heart also hurts for all of my fellow LGBT people in North Carolina who feel threatened, unsafe, and unloved in this state that we call home.

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