The day before the North Carolina legislature entered a special session to deny more forward-thinking governments the ability to provide protections for the LGBT community, leaders in that community came together to talk about their experience dealing with the exact kind of discrimination the Charlotte ordinance in question was designed to stop.
On an ACLU and Equality NC conference call with reporters, More Light Presbyterians executive director Alex McNeill, Equality NC executive director Chris Sgro, and ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio all talked about their personal experiences and the wider experience of Americans who deal with discrimination. All stressed that the narrative that this ordinance simply deals with bathrooms plays into the conservative legislature’s argument.
At the beginning of the call, ACLU communications director Mike Meno cited the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which found that 50 percent of North Carolina respondents reported being harassed or verbally abused in a place of public accommodation, while 8 percent reported being physically assaulted in a place of public accommodation.
McNeill, a transgender man working to become an ordained minister, grew up in North Carolina, and while in college at “a North Carolina state school”, experienced housing discrimination and had a close friend who wassucker-punched while coming out of a restroom for their perceived gender identity. He moved away to escape the discrimination, but after moving back because he thought North Carolina changed, said he was “keenly aware that I am in a state that offers no protections for me as a transgender man.”
Sgro stressed that many cities and municipalities have adopted similar laws to Charlotte, and that the special session was “unique and radical”. A press release from Speaker Tim Moore and Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest on Monday said they called the special session to “address a radical Charlotte City Council ordinance allowing men to share public bathrooms and locker rooms with young girls and women.”
Most North Carolinians, it would appear, agree with Sgro: a PPP poll released today found that 51 percent of respondents opposed the special session, while only 25 percent supported it. Even a plurality of Republicans – 45 percent opposing to 38 percent supporting – believe that the special session is a complete waste of taxpayer money.
Sgro said that a transgender woman friend of his, who travels a lot from Wilmington to Charlotte, often carries a cup because of her fear that she’ll be denied bathroom access. He also noted that Charlotte city councilman John Autry, a supporter of the bill, received a call from a constituent threatening to “break bones” and “smash the faces in” of transgender people who used the bathroom associated with their gender identity.
Strangio pushed back on the idea that this is an issue where both sides have equally valid points, saying it “contributes to a climate where transgender people are dehumanized.”
“We all have a responsibility to push back on false narratives and these attempts to push anti-discrimination measures as anything but what they are,” he said.
ACLU of North Carolina acting executive director Sarah Preston stressed that the “bathroom” piece of the Charlotte ordinance is a small part of the whole law, as the ordinance covers all places of public accommodation (including bars or restaurants) where patrons could be refused entry based on their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation. She admitted that no one knows just how far the legislature will go, but she expects to see a “broad pre-emptive bill” that will keep other cities from enacting similar non-discrimination legislation.
It bears repeating that in the over two-hundred cities and municipalities with full LGBT non-discrimination protections (plus nineteen states and Washington, D.C.), there has never been any evidence to suggest that these laws have produced a spike in sexual assault or harassment in the bathroom.
It wasn’t all bad news for the LGBT community on Tuesday: Tennessee announced that its own version of an anti-discrimination bill had died in committee. This makes Tennessee the second diehard red state to balk at codified discrimination this year, after South Dakota governor Denis Daugaard vetoed a horrible bill earlier this month.
Strangio said that Tennessee lawmakers were “moved” after hearing testimony from actual transgender people who deal with discrimination. “We’ve seen an incredible shift in some of the most conservative wings of the most conservative legislatures” once they actually talk to transgender people, he said hopefully.