The Latest in Trans Panic

It’s almost as if some states in the US are having a contest to see which can be the most oppressive toward people who aren’t a threat to anyone.

Today, in a fit of pique against the city of Charlotte daring to not be a completely bigoted hellhole, the legislature of North Carolina passed (and the governor signed) a new law declaring that state laws override local ones when it comes to anti-discrimination measures. This might sound like a good idea if you were to assume that the state was attempting to drag a stubborn city forward, but alas, it’s the opposite: state lawmakers were upset that Charlotte was set to enact an ordinance meant to protect people from discrimination in housing and public accommodations on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. In order to stop Charlotte from treating gay and trans people with basic human dignity, the Republican-led state house rushed through a great big “fuck you” to prove North Carolina can still bigot with the best of ’em.

As if this wasn’t bad enough–and in case it wasn’t entirely obvious what this law was designed to do–it also includes language to bar transgender people from using public restrooms based on their gender identity. Instead, they must use restrooms based on the “biological sex” stated on their birth certificate.

It’s hard to know where to even begin the criticism. Is this remotely Constitutional? No. These laws will (eventually) be struck down. Are they enforceable? Not really. Police forces have better things to do than check people’s birth certificates outside of bathrooms. Kansas came up with a novel solution to this “problem,” though: offer $2500 bounties to people “caught” using the “wrong” restroom. Are these laws actually addressing a real threat? Quite the opposite.

Broadly speaking, these measures have nothing to do with public safety, and aren’t even about creating actionable laws that can be realistically enforced. Their purpose is twofold:

  1. To make gay and (especially) trans people fearful and uncomfortable, and to allow landlords, business owners, and others to discriminate freely in the guise of “religious freedom.”
  2. At a more ideological level, this is part of the overall pushback against so-called “political correctness.” Conservatives are enraged that they keep losing on “culture war” issues like same-sex marriage. Laws like the one just passed in North Carolina represent little more than temper tantrums in the face of social progress. Unfortunately, many innocent people will end up paying the price for Republicans’ petulance.

Transgender people face enough difficulties and barriers to public understanding without government officials going out of their way to make things worse. The outrages generating these draconian laws are motivated by varying combinations of ignorance and hatred. There is certainly a tremendous irony in a political movement that derides accommodating people based on their “feelings”–the way “political correctness” is always mocked and dismissed–simultaneously demanding that their own feelings of discomfort take precedence. But people–all people–have the right to access housing, employment, public accommodations, and other necessities for living, free from bigotry, harassment, and discrimination. One’s religious beliefs, while also protected by law, have no right to become law, and where the two conflict, protecting individuals’ freedom to live their lives as they see fit must supersede accommodating others based on their ignorance and bigotry. This should really go without saying, but clearly some lawmakers need to be reminded.

One of the most troubling political developments of the last several years has been the right-wing refusal to accept changes in both the law and society. I suppose that is, by definition, conservatism, but the level of intransigence on display is truly staggering. The Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have worked tirelessly to kill, has been wounded multiple times–yet far from killed. There have been protracted budget battles and shutdowns. Conservatives utterly lost the fight against same-sex marriage, though they continue to battle at the state and local levels to keep gay people from getting married, as if allowing it would represent the doom of society. It’s frustrating, but also more than a little pathetic. What more can be said about people who work day after day, year after year, to do little besides deprive others of their liberty and basic human dignity?

Still, the news isn’t all bad. Much of what is happening now is a response to the greater visibility of trans people in our society. At this moment, there is a backlash. That backlash must be fought and subdued for progress to made. I am confident that these petty bouts of vindictive behavior will appropriately smacked down. In the meantime, however, anyone who wants to be helpful can do the most good by supporting the trans people in your life, discouraging transphobic statements and behavior in your friends and peers, and donating your time and money to one or more of the numerous organizations dedicated to combating these regressive, hateful policies and building a society more inclusive of trans people. A brief (and by no means exhaustive) list:

Other advocacy and support organizations focused on LGBT issues may exist in your area, as well. It doesn’t hurt to look them up and see what you can do to help.

This country and the world can be made a better place for those currently facing so much hostility and aggression. We can all do at least a little to speed things along.

Update (4/27/2016): A list of resources were passed along to me by PublicHealthCorps to be shared here. While not necessarily trans-specific, they pertain to LGBT issues in general. They are:

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James
James runs this blog and likes to write about society, culture, politics, science, technology, social justice, and pretty much anything else. Rumor has it people read his posts sometimes.

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The Latest in Trans Panic

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