It’s been six years since I returned home from Iraq. In that time I’ve transitioned and changed my name. I’ve been living happily as Vivian Taylor since 2012 or so.
In that time, I’ve been blessed with opportunities to take part in LGBTQ advocacy during an important turning point in American culture.
I’ve recently moved back to North Carolina. I’m starting Duke Divinity School in the fall, and I’m working on getting settled in back in my beloved home state.
What a time to be trans in North Carolina.
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I was there at the legislature the day House Bill 2 passed. It was a painful and surreal experience listening to my elected officials imagine horror stories about trans women being sexual predators.
I’d spent the past few years in Massachusetts working in the Episcopal Church. In 2012 I was part of a group that helped to convince the church’s governing body to add gender identity and expression to the church’s non-discrimination rules. From then on trans folks were officially guaranteed the opportunity to fully participate as lay people or clergy. It felt like a huge win; we got talked about on CNN and everything.
Here four years later that victory feels much more hollow.
The cold, hard facts are that before 2012 only one out transgender person had been ordained to the priesthood and two out transgender people had been ordained as deacons. Since 2012, no transgender people have been ordained despite a number of trans people trying.
There are around a dozen transgender priests and deacons who transitioned years after being ordained or were ordained by another church becoming an Episcopal priest later. But none are currently employed full time in the church. One priest who came out two years ago was immediately rejected by her congregation; despite applying to every parish with an opening she can find in the midst of priest shortage, she is scrubbing toilets to support herself. These are hard working, long-serving ministers who have earned a supported place in the establishment of the Church. They do vital ministry, often to people otherwise left behind.
This handful of trans ministers, unemployed and underemployed though they may be, occasionally credential the Episcopal Church as being progressive and enlightened. The reality, though, is that these non-discrimination changes haven’t actually improved the lives of trans people in the church significantly. Despite that reality, many feel the victory is won and are satisfied and unwilling to invest further time and attention toward ensuring that transgender people have fair access to employment and space in the community.
The U.S. Justice Department says HB2 violates federal law, and unless we repeal it North Carolina faces the potential loss of federal funding. Numerous conventions and events that have canceled their plans for North Carolina, and hundreds or thousands of jobs that have been pulled out of North Carolina. Goodness gracious, even the NCAA is threatening to move next year’s tournament games out of the Old North State.
I was recently invited to visit the White House, and when I stepped off the train I had taken home in Durham one of the first things I saw was a sign in a restaurant window proclaiming that HB2 would not be enforced within the establishment. It has done my heart a monumental amount of good to see, according to polling, that the majority of North Carolinians reject HB2. I hear people rejecting HB2 wherever I go in the state.
A bill has already been filed in the state legislature to repeal HB2. I firmly believe that we can be rid of this awful mess in the near future. It is within our grasp if we keep pushing. But please, do not let that victory be the end of the work for trans people in North Carolina. Transgender North Carolinians disproportionately face unemployment and poverty. Transgender North Carolinians disproportionately face homelessness and violence. Let us as a state use the ugliness of HB2 as an opportunity to remember to do the work of including trans people, of giving trans people a chance to be employed, to be educated, to have access to housing and medical care.
Let us not settle for a half victory where we knock down HB2 and feel satisfied. Let us keep going and honestly and willingly address the burdens that transgender people in our home state bear.
Viv Taylor is a UNC graduate and former columnist for The Chapel Hill News, who sent essays from Iraq as Sam Taylor, a chaplain’s assistant. Write to her in c/o firstname.lastname@example.org