Fortson: North Carolina law discriminates against transgender individuals, shows progress we’ve yet to make

Lyric Fortson

On Feb. 22, the city council of Charlotte, North Carolina voted on a measure that would put the LGBT community under protection of discrimination by businesses in the same way race, age and religion are protected, and, among other things, would grant transgender individuals the ability to legally use the designated bathroom of their identified gender.

Changes were to be implemented according to the new law on April 1, but the General Assembly decided that April Fool’s Day was coming early and the joke was on the LGBT community.

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A new bill was proposed that would nullify the measure that legally protected the LGBT community in Charlotte. For the first time in 35 years, the NC General Assembly rescheduled their special session to be on a Wednesday — the Wednesday before April 1 — for the sole reason of making sure this measure was killed before it was given life. 

North Carolina Governor Patrick Lloyd McCroy had 30 days to sign or veto this new bill against the measure. 

He signed it Wednesday. 

Transgender individuals cannot use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify unless their gender is legally changed on their birth certificate. According to the Charlotte Observer, critics say this is to better “protect the safety of women and children.” On top of that, the law also restricts public schools and universities from being able to install transgender-friendly bathrooms on the account that it’ll hinder federal education funding.  

But this isn’t where it stopped.

The bill also squandered any possible implementation of new discriminatory protections for the LGBT community in Charlotte or any other municipality at all, not that there were any to begin with. Before the law that was supposed to go into action in Charlotte on April 1, there were no legal protections for LGBT individuals in North Carolina at all. 

This roughly translates to the fact that any private business can refuse service to LGBT people or refuse to hire them. And because of the 84-25 vote in the House, the 32-0 vote in the Senate after Democrats walked out in protest, the General Assembly and the signature of Governor McCroy, this is how things will remain in North Carolina. 

It’s 2016. And in a lot of ways, we’ve made huge advancements. But this bill has once again set us far back, not only for those in the state of North Carolina, but for everyone as citizens of the “Land of the Free.”

Transgender individuals are arguably one of the most targeted demographics when it comes to discrimination. Studies have shown this particularly in regards to housing, healthcare and in the workplace for these individuals. These individuals also have one of the highest suicide rates of any demographic in the United States. The suicide rate for the general population is 1.6 percent. The transgender community is sitting at at 41-percent suicide rate.  

These numbers speak for themselves. This demographic is clearly one that struggles with society and suffers unfair consequences because they made an incredibly brave decision to answer a calling in their heart about who they truly are.

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It’s laughable to say that these laws in NC are being put in place to ensure the safety of women and children. There’s no need for euphemisms and if people are going to discriminate, they might as well do it blatantly. Transgender individuals often look very much like the gender they identify with. A young child probably wouldn’t even be able to decipher the difference between a transgender woman using the women’s bathroom and the other women in the women’s bathroom.

What they would notice is a man who is biologically a woman that is forced to use the women’s bathroom when they look like a man, have a hormone-induced beard, talk like a man and act like a man. That would be a much different conversation to have with your child, and I bet McCroy supporters would leave out the part where the transgender people are in there because Mommy and Daddy made it illegal to use the bathroom with the gender they look like. 

Why don’t we just tell them they can’t drink out of the same water fountains, too, since we’re begging to bring up the same kind of discrimination issues we faced as a nation before the Jim Crow laws?

No one thought of a bearded man walking into the women’s bathroom because they legally can’t use the men’s when this law was being passed. I would venture to bet that this issue is going to arise, and soon there are going to be complaints that these people shouldn’t be able to use public bathrooms at all. That, or they should have their own designated bathrooms. But wait — they can’t have their own designated bathrooms. This law made that illegal too — at least in public schools K-12 and public universities, which is also absolutely disturbing to me.

Kindergarten ages to even maybe after college graduation is when kids and adolescents are struggling most with fitting in with other people, not to mention themselves. The prohibition of gender-inclusive bathrooms is one more slap in the face to kids trying to figure out who they are and if they belong in their own skin.

If we can’t, as a society, support kids in feeling like they belong in their own skin, we should stop wondering why some kids feel like they don’t belong on this earth.

It’s not them or a phase or a mistake. It’s social norms and cultural taboos. It’s laws like the one that was passed in NC that put one more source of stress on gender-confused children and tells them it’s not going to get better as they get older — because even once they’re out of the public schools, businesses are legally allowed to turn down their work.

People say that America has come so far, and it has. But turn on the news and southern states stuck in their ways will show you all the reasons we haven’t come far enough. MLK said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The law passed in NC is just that. 

Collegian Columnist Lyric Fortson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @lfortson927.