When I told my 11-year old daughter about House Bill 2, she said, “That doesn’t make any sense.” She was thinking about people in her life – friends of hers and friends of ours who are transgender or have gender expressions that don’t fit neatly into a box – who are being told by North Carolina legislators that either they don’t exist or they are not worth protecting.
A lot has been written about HB2. I am grateful for all of the outrage and that my children hear the chorus of those calling for equality.
But I’ve also been listening to children’s reactions to the bill. And some of these are breaking my heart. A child recently asked my friend, her mom: “If those lawmakers had a child who turned out to be transgender, would they love that child less?”
Kids in this state are hearing lawmakers digging in, fighting passionately to “protect our children” (great!) – from an imaginary danger (what?!). I’m not the first to point out that there have been zero cases of “sexual predators” as a result of the ordinances passed in 18 states and over 200 cities – similar to the one Charlotte passed – allowing individuals to choose the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.
Instead of using their platforms and power to address the very real dangers of underfunded public schools, gun violence, environmental hazards, job losses, income inequality and lack of access to health care, our lawmakers are showing our kids that they are willing to fight for discrimination, even if it doesn’t make any sense.
This isn’t the first time a Southern state has justified blatant discrimination by invoking the protection of women and children. And once again, it’s clear that in the eyes of lawmakers, only some women and children are worthy of protection. I worry our children are hearing loud and clear the message that the privacy and safety of LGBTQ North Carolinians, including children, are not worth protecting.
If we are actually going to talk about danger in bathrooms, we should address the fact that bathrooms often are dangerous places for transgender and gender nonconforming people. So far, bathroom police are only Facebook memes, but bullies will use this policy to justify their bad behavior to adults – and to children – who don’t fit neatly into gender norms. Even worse, these bullies may get so riled up by having the law on their side that they hurt someone. Nationwide, 1 in 4 trans people reports having been physically assaulted at least once because of anti-trans bias. And the risk is even greater for transgender individuals of color.
The children who really need more protection are LGBTQ children. The reports on bullying and harassment of LGBTQ kids (or those who are perceived to be) are already overwhelming. These children – our state’s children – are four times more likely to attempt suicide. Trans youth, in particular, report even higher rates of suicidal thoughts – between 38 and 65 percent have thought about suicide. Policies like HB2 clearly exacerbate this crisis. A national suicide hotline dedicated to the well-being of transgender people reported that crisis calls have doubled since the passage of the bill.
Our children are watching. They will learn, if they haven’t already, that it’s dangerous to be nonconforming. Maybe that it is dangerous to be yourself.
Pro-HB2 parents say they want to protect their children. I get it. I want to protect my children, too. But not from imaginary dangers. That’s not “common sense.” Let’s protect all of our children from the actual dangers that public policies can address. Let’s protect our children from environmental hazards, gun violence and underfunded schools. Let’s make sure all parents can afford to put food on the table when they work full-time, can rely on a safety net when they get laid off and can access health care when they get sick. And let’s protect our state’s children from the very real dangers of discrimination and the hateful, limiting messages about who they can be and who they can love in order to be accepted and honored and safe.
Our children need brave role models who live honestly and wholeheartedly, not more adults acting like bullies out of fear.
Sabine Schoenbach of Durham is a mother of two and a North Carolina MomsRising steering team member.