Why North Carolina’s New Anti-Transgender Law Matters – to Everyone

One month ago the North Carolina state legislature passed the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. The bill was then signed into law by Governor Pat McRory. This Act, known informally as HB 2, seeks to “provide for single-sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities in schools and public agencies and to create statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations.

HB2 is dangerous and offensive. This law doesn’t just allow for discrimination based on gender identity, it also diminishes the rights of people to fight claims of discrimination “with respect to race, color, religion, sex, marital status, familial status, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or national origin.” This law, while seemingly designed to “protect women and children” only serves to ostracize men, women, and children alike who identify as transgender, as well as members of our community who do not identify on the gender binary (i.e. male or female).

The harmful effect of systemic discrimination and stigmatization on the mental health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people has been documented. Youth who identify somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum are six times more likely to experience symptoms of depression than their cisgender* counterparts, and just under half of all transgender people report attempting suicide at least once — a rate that is almost ten times the national average. Furthermore, trans women, and trans women of color in particular, are murdered at alarmingly high rates as a result of violence and conditioned hatred brought about by ignorance and intolerance.

Laws like HB 2 only make it easier to discriminate against this already marginalized population. I recently finished a qualitative study on access to trans-related health care in North Carolina. None of the participants were able to find care that was both accessible and affordable within their home city. Almost all reported experiencing some form of trauma — physical, mental or both — at the hands of various health professionals. As a proud Jewish nurse and midwife, I work every day to fight the disrespect and abuse shown against women and girls of all ages. I believe that we as human beings are more than just the sum of our (body) parts. We should not be solely defined by our reproductive anatomy.

Last week, as we observed Passover, we remembered the Exodus from Egypt. We are told, “And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23: 9) It doesn’t matter whether or not you are transgender or whether you don’t (think you) know anyone who is; when we fail to fight prejudiced and unjust legislation like HB 2, we allow systematic oppression to continue against a group who ask only for support and acceptance. Discrimination like HB 2 is not solely a transgender or LGBTQ issue anymore than feminism is a women’s issue or anti-Semitism is a Jewish issue. All human beings are created equal and have a right to dignity, respect and equal protection under the law.

Join me in speaking out against this harmful law:

  • Check out the letter that a broad coalition of organizations, including NCJW, sent to President Obama in opposition to HB 2, as well as a letter signed by faith leaders.
  • Find out more about the transgender community and ongoing advocacy for transgender equality at the National Transgender Equality Center. And, read this “Transgender 101” resource by Keshet.
  • If you’re unsure what you can do … ask. It’s OK not to know. E-Mail NCJW Legislative Associate Faith Fried at faith@ncjwdc.org.

*A cisgender person is someone whose gender identity aligns with that which they were assigned at birth.

Rebeccah Bartlett is a Registered Nurse-Midwife from Australia and Rotary International Peace Fellow. She holds a BA with honors in History and Anthropology and is about to graduate with her Master of Public Health from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Rebeccah is passionate about reducing health disparities and promoting respectful maternity care. She is currently working on a mobile health application for refugees in Europe. Follow her on Twitter: @beccahbartlett