In the past several weeks, the legislatures of multiple states have passed new laws to suppress and police queer people. In this piece, I focus on North Carolina’s recent “bathroom bill” as a specific instance of a trend that continues to occur across the country. North Carolina's House Bill #2 (HB2), signed by governor Pat McCrory on Mar. 23, requires that people only use public restrooms that match the gender listed on their birth certificates.
If McCrory’s government assumes the right to determine each of his constituents’ 'correct' bathroom, he must be doing so because he believes that people are unable to do so themselves. To put it bluntly: he and his legislature do not believe that trans and gender non-conforming people exist. Or, perhaps he acknowledges that they exist, but has decided that they do not deserve access to public restrooms like the rest of the population; that they’re lesser. By criminalizing the 'incorrect' use of public bathrooms, McCrory is really criminalizing non-normative gender identities, thereby exposing these identities to state punishment.
But, as pro-choice readers will recognize, policing bodies isn’t new to conservative legislators.
More insidious, though, is the rhetoric that drives these bathroom bills through legislatures. McCrory and politicians like him fear-monger incessantly, demonizing trans people and condemning them as sexual predators. Or, they claim that male predators will pretend to be transgender and enter women’s restrooms. Nevermind the fact that virtually no trans or gender non-conforming person has ever been arrested for lewd conduct in a public restroom, and that there have been no confirmed reports of any male predators posing to be trans women to gain access to women’s restrooms.
The bill’s logic is inane. It suggests that, prior to its implementation, men were pretending to be trans women to enter women’s restrooms to harass or assault the women inside. Harassment and assault are already illegal. Is McCrory suggesting that sexual predators are willing to commit felonies but are not willing to disregard his law? Or maybe he’s suggesting that the use of any public bathroom in his state should require an ID confirming that a person is using his or her 'correct' bathroom—a terrifying proposition.
The nationwide backlash against HB2 prompted the creation of www.standwithmccrory.com, which displays the governor’s (ostensibly compassionate) face directly next to a banner reading, “PROTECT OUR CHILDREN.” It’s a classic argument. Fifty years ago, for instance, we were 'protecting our children' from other 'bad' things, like interracial marriage. If McCrory is so concerned with saving kids from bad people in public restrooms, then why does he attack a community that has no record of assaulting people in public bathrooms? I’d be interested in a response to that question that isn’t transphobic.
McCrory clearly has a problem with trans people using public bathrooms even if they aren’t assaulting or harassing people. I’d like to point out to McCrory that it’s very likely that he, and everyone he loves, has already shared a bathroom with a trans person. The world didn’t explode. Morality didn’t die.T hat’s because whichever trans person that had the misfortune of sharing space with Pat McCrory probably just wanted to pee without having their identity questioned, like most people.
Sadly, the actions of McCrory and his legislature are damaging even beyond the diminishment they do to trans people. They are circulating fallacies to those that will listen. In a state like North Carolina, where the polarization between liberal urban centers and conservative rural spaces is extremely stark, fear-mongering rhetoric is especially dangerous. If the only access to discourse on these issues is through a government and media that condemn the entire queer community as a group of deviants, then naturally those that are listening will form problematic misconceptions.
And these problematic misconceptions can lead to things worse than public exclusion. Trans people, especially trans women, suffer violence at shocking rates. In 2013, 72 percent of anti-LGBT murder victims were trans women. Trans people (especially those of color) are at far greater risk of experiencing police violence than their cisgender counterparts. When people in positions of authority peddle lies about trans people, they perpetuate fear and hatred that too often finds an outlet in the harm of a trans body.
The fundamental failing of McCrory and people like him is that they construe queerness as inherently deviant. As such, in their minds, deviant people do devious things and must be stopped. But queerness doesn’t correlate to any crime.
North Carolina isn’t alone. The National Center for Transgender Equality has tracked current and recently passed bills in the state legislatures of Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee that similarly disenfranchise queer people. It’s a reminder that the fight for queer access, visibility, and safety is far from won. How can any movement celebrate when queers in so many states can be legally discriminated against?
Spencer Campbell PO '19 is an intended history major from New Rochelle, New York. He enjoys hiking, queer politics, and Frank Ocean.