With the governor’s race in North Carolina looking increasingly close, the state’s debate over the rights of transgender people is hotter than ever. Last week started with a stark new ad from Gov. Pat McCrory that implies that all trans people are child molesters and rapists. It ended Friday afternoon with a ray of hope for opponents of an anti-LGBT law, known as House Bill 2, when U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder blocked a key portion of the law. Among its provisions: Transgender people must use public restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates. The UNC school system is now prohibited from enforcing the restroom portion of the law for the three transgender plaintiffs in a pending lawsuit.
Schroeder, generally known for more conservative stances, wrote: “There is no evidence that transgender individuals overall are any more likely to engage in predatory behaviors than other segments of the population.” He said point-blank: Trans people don’t “pose any threat to public safety.”
Amen, Judge Schroeder.
In such a toxic political environment, this is a key message to North Carolina’s GOP leaders and political consultants who have steadfastly relied on anti-trans fearmongering, which drove passage of HB2 and has led to the governor’s incendiary new TV spot. Please: Tell the truth. Rely on the facts.
The ad showcases a woman named Gina Little. She gazes directly into the camera and says: “At 9, I was molested by a teenager. …. When I found out that President Obama and Roy Cooper want to force schoolchildren to share the same locker room, shower and restroom with someone who claims to be the opposite sex, I was horrified.”
My heart breaks for Little’s sexual assault as a young girl, and not just because I, too, was molested at about that same age. However, according to Charlotte’s NPR affiliate, WFAE, Little’s “assault did not take place in a school or locker room. But at home. And the assailant wasn’t a stranger, but a brother.” Indeed, she was targeted by the most common type of molester: men who identify as heterosexual.
If the governor of our state couldn’t find a single person who had been molested by a transgender person in a restroom to make his case, who can?
After Friday’s ruling, I decided I wanted to know more about its impact on individual trans students at UNC. At the invitation of Brennan Lewis, a sophomore on the Chapel Hill campus, I visited their dorm early Saturday. Lewis identifies as genderqueer and uses gender-neutral pronouns. In high school, Lewis told me how they’d been “degraded like I was just a piece of meat. People called me ‘it,’ sometimes.”
Once we sat down, we talked about their experiences at college, but to start I went to the heart of the matter.
Petrow: How is it using the restrooms at UNC?
Lewis: I try to use the bathrooms designated as gender-neutral, but they’re not accessible a lot of the times. In all the classes I go to, I have … an internal map of where the bathrooms are and which ones will probably not have other people in it. I haven’t had very many bad experiences on campus, but there’s always that fear. It takes just one person who will say something or do something to make me feel unsafe.
Petrow: What was the impact of HB2 on campus?
Lewis: For a couple of weeks (after its passage), everything felt harder. I didn’t understand why I was so upset all the time. Then I realized it was related to the number of people saying such terrible, terrible things. Things like “What’s wrong with these child molesters?”
Petrow: What are you most worried about now?
Lewis: I’m terrified of the impact that HB2 is having on middle and high school LGBTQ students on a day-to-day basis, when other students are harassing them. Things like this cut really deeply because so many of them don’t know a world where things are different. I don’t know that any of us do, but when your whole life is, like, 15 years, a few months is a long time. I don’t want more students to harm themselves or die because of this ruling.
McCrory would do far better to heed Schroeder’s words and focus an ad on an individual such as Lewis who has genuinely been terrorized in a public facility simply for being transgender.
McCrory needs to put the anti-trans rhetoric aside and show some empathy for all his constituents, especially those who live in legitimate fear of being victimized simply for who they are. As Lewis reminded me: “Trans people are just trying to live their lives and be happy.”
Steven Petrow addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities, for the Washington Post. He lives in Hillsborough.