March 31 marks the seventh annual International Transgender Day of Visibility, which honors the transgender community and helps raise awareness of the discrimination and the social barriers faced by transgender people. But this year, a wave of protests has overshadowed celebrations in North Carolina, where state lawmakers recently signed off on one of the most restrictive anti-LGBT laws in the country.
The North Carolina law, House Bill 2 (HB2), limits the use of multi-occupancy bathrooms, locker rooms, and shower facilities to a person’s “biological sex” and excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from the list of groups protected from discrimination in public accommodations.
“The government’s priorities are the protection of its citizens, especially its women and children,” said North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest during a recent interview with CNBC’s Squawk on the Street. Forest went on to describe transgender and gender non-conforming people as sexually deviant and dangerous. The move by state lawmakers denies legal protections against discrimination to transgender women, men, and children and also manages to resurrect the oft-repeated (and depressingly effective) “bathroom predator myth” that helped facilitate the overturning of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance last fall.
Transgender advocates say the measures are expressly designed to further marginalize and demean transgender people. LGBT activists and their allies in the Tar Heel State and across the country have banded together on social media, especially through outlets like Twitter, under the hashtags #WeAreNotThis and #RepealHB2, to show solidarity with the transgender community.
A coalition of civil-rights groups has also announced a lawsuit against the state, arguing that HB2 is “explicitly writing discrimination against transgender people into state law.” North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, the likely Democratic challenger to Republican Governor Pat McCrory in the state’s 2016 gubernatorial race, recently announced that he would not defend the law in court.
The national backlash has forced state legislators to reach out to national media outlets in an attempt to control the fallout. But the explanations did not come soon enough to save the state from serious political and economic repercussions. Earlier this week, the governors of Vermont, New York, and Washington state (and a number of other state and local leaders) banned all nonessential government travel to North Carolina. Several national companies have also publicly objected to the law, which may open the door to boycotts unless unless the law is repealed.
Following McCrory’s signing of HB2 on March 23, protesters held rallies in opposition to the law across the state. Photographer Jenny Warburg documented the protests in Raleigh on March 24 and Chapel Hill on March 29.