I probably should have given up on 2016 long before disgraced outgoing North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory convened yesterday’s fifth special session of the North Carolina General Assembly to ostensibly follow through on an agreement with the City of Charlotte to repeal the state’s anti-trans law, HB2. But I still had faith that the year would end with some positive news and perhaps in 2017 trans people in North Carolina might wake up to a slightly less hostile world.
I was foolish.
This was another lesson in staying vigilant, distrusting those in power, and holding on to our collective vision for justice rather than relegating our survival to the power brokers in government who care little about our interests.
So what happened this week in North Carolina?
On Monday, Governor-elect Roy Cooper and elected officials in the City of Charlotte announced a “deal” whereby the City of Charlotte would repeal its non-discrimination ordinance that protected LGBT people from discrimination and, in turn, the North Carolina General Assembly would convene another special session to repeal HB2. From the outset this deal was problematic as it only legitimized the North Carolina General Assembly’s faulty narrative that HB2 was a necessary reaction to a basic set of legal protections enacted by the City of Charlotte.
Make no mistake, HB2 is a mean-spirited, discriminatory mandate that is unprecedented in scope and impact and has nothing to do with the existence of civil rights protections in Charlotte or anywhere else. The only connection between Charlotte’s non-discrimination law and HB2 is the distorted narrative crafted by GOP leadership in North Carolina that claimed that protecting trans people from discrimination (in Charlotte) opened the door to “men in women’s restrooms.” This is false. And when Governor McCrory and legislative leadership in North Carolina rushed to convene a special session in March of this year to pass HB2, they did far more than simply nullify Charlotte’s ordinance. HB2 prevented localities, like Charlotte, from passing more expansive protections than those that existed at the state level but it also went further and mandated discrimination against transgender people in every government building in the state from schools to rest stops to the halls of government. This wasn’t about Charlotte’s ordinance, it was about a fear and distrust and hatred of trans people.
But HB2 had cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business, jobs, and revenue, trans people were suffering, and there was a chance to get rid of the law — or so people believed. The City of Charlotte repealed its ordinance on Monday morning in exchange, in theory, for the repeal of HB2 before December 31st of this year. The repeal of the Charlotte ordinance was at first explicitly contingent on a full repeal of HB2.
Governor McCrory called a special session for Wednesday, December 21 — the General Assembly’s fifth of the year — to consider repeal of HB2. There was posturing and finger pointing from McCrory and GOP leadership about how Cooper and the Democrats were to blame for HB2 and the harm to the state. Given the Republican super-majorities in both chambers of the legislature and the aggressive defense of HB2 by McCrory and his friends in the state house, it took a lot of smoke and mirrors to craft that narrative but they tried. Then, on Wednesday morning, Republican leadership accused Charlotte of not fully repealing its ordinance and claimed the deal was in jeopardy. Acting quickly, the Charlotte City Council convened an emergency meeting fully repealing the ordinance but this time without the contingency provision. This meant that no matter what happened with HB2, Charlotte’s ordinance would be gone (of course it had been nullified by HB2 but remained on the books and would go into effect when HB2 was eventually repealed or struck down in court).
From the start of the special session at 10 A.M. on Wednesday morning, it was clear that the North Carolina GOP was playing games. First, lawmakers claimed that the special session was unconstitutional because they had convened too many special sessions. They are, after all, the party that convened a special session to pass HB2 in March and then convened another session shortly after the gubernatorial election to strip incoming Democratic governor Roy Cooper of power. Selectively concerned with rules, process and democracy, the party appears to follow one basic principle which is to maintain its own power and repress the power and diminish the survival opportunities of the state’s most vulnerable and targeted communities.
A lot happened over the course of the day but in the end nothing really happened. The North Carolina GOP spent most of the day on recess. The House barely convened at all. In the Senate, leadership introduced a partial repeal that would have put a “moratorium” on the passage of new non-discrimination ordinances for a period of six-months. What Senator Phil Berger kept referring to as “cooling off period” — like a “time out” for the jurisdictions so bold as to believe in protecting their residents from discrimination. It was a farce and in the end no repeal was passed. It was another day of taxpayer dollars wasted, of trans people demonized, of the government of North Carolina acting to instill fear and distrust about the existence of trans people in public space. HB2 is still intact. Charlotte’s ordinance is gone.
In short, it was heartbreaking.
When it became clear that HB2 wasn’t going anywhere and that the lives and bodies of trans people were again the subject of state-sponsored disdain and derision, I started to hear from trans people in despair. Even though HB2 is by no means the only source of discrimination for trans people in North Carolina, it is a legal mandate of discrimination and a message of rejection of trans existence. The idea that it would go away caused many to breathe in much needed hope about their prospects for survival. But that hope quickly turned to fear and desperation. Trans people question whether they should exist at all when lawmakers are so invested in erasing us.
For my beloved trans community, I want to say this:
- You are loved, perfect, beautiful, and magical just as you are.
- The lawmakers in North Carolina who are targeting your bodies and souls will not win.
- We are challenging HB2 in court and we will fight every proposed bill like it. When we lose, we will keep fighting.
- Trans people come from a long line of resisters and dreamers and builders — particularly the trans women and femmes of color who have been leading survival movements for generations. Draw strength and vision from those that came before us.
- Your bodies are not a threat to anyone.
- Your gender is yours and it is real.
- I love you.