In North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging a sweeping new law banning local governments from passing laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in public accommodations. The law, House Bill 2, commonly known as the "bathroom bill," is widely considered to be the most wide-ranging anti-trans law to take effect this year. It was introduced after the city of Charlotte passed its own ordinance seeking to protect the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. In response, the North Carolina Legislature convened an emergency one-day session, at the cost of $42,000, to push through the statewide law HB 2. Within hours of its introduction, the bill was pushed through both the House and the Senate, despite the fact that Senate Democrats walked out in protest. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed the legislation late Wednesday night. On Monday, the ACLU announced it was challenging the law’s constitutionality.
We speak with ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio about the law’s impact in North Carolina. "It means, first and foremost, that trans people have to live in a state in which they know that their government is willing to actively participate in the harassment and bullying of them," Strangio says. "But it also means that trans people are now completely unable to participate in public life, because trans people have no idea where they’re supposed to go to the bathroom." We also speak with Payton McGarry, a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a plaintiff on the ACLU lawsuit against HB 2.
Watch Part 2 of our interview with McGarry and Strangio here.
AMY GOODMAN: In North Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging a sweeping new law banning local governments from passing laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people in public accommodations. The law, House Bill 2, commonly known as the "bathroom bill," is widely considered to be the most wide-ranging anti-trans law to take effect this year. It was introduced after the city of Charlotte passed its own ordinance seeking to protect the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. In response, the North Carolina Legislature convened an emergency one-day session, at the cost of $42,000, to push through the statewide law HB 2. Within hours of its introduction, the bill was pushed through both the House and the Senate, despite the fact that Senate Democrats walked out in protest. Senate Democratic Leader Dan Blue issued a statement saying, "This is a direct affront to equality, civil rights and local autonomy." North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory then signed the legislation late Wednesday night.
On Monday, ACLU North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook announced the organization was challenging the law’s constitutionality.
CHRIS BROOK: We are asking the court to overturn House Bill 2 because it is unconstitutional, because it violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment, because it discriminates on the basis of sex and sexual orientation, and because it is an invasion of privacy for transgender men and transgender women. The law also violates Title IX by discriminating against students on the basis of sex.
AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, the NBA released the following statement. They said, quote, "The NBA is dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for all who attend our games and events. We are deeply concerned that this discriminatory law runs counter to our guiding principles of equality and mutual respect, and do not yet know what impact it will have on our ability to successfully host the 2017 all-star game in Charlotte," they said.
The passage of HB 2 in North Carolina comes amidst a spate of similar bills being introduced in state legislatures around the country. South Dakota, Tennessee, Kentucky, Minnesota, Washington state, Wisconsin and other states are all considering similar bills aimed at prohibiting transgender students from using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities.
For more, we’re joined here in New York by Chase Strangio, staff attorney for the ACLU.
Let’s start in North Carolina. The significance of this bill being put into effect and the ACLU now suing?
CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, thank you, Amy, for having me. I think, first and foremost, I just want to say what an honor it is to continue to have these conversations and to be in a position to tell a legislature and a government, like North Carolina, "You pass an unconstitutional law Wednesday night, we’re going to sue you on Monday morning." And that’s what’s happening here. And it’s important that we have this tool.
But the larger context in which these laws are playing out is deeply disturbing, and the North Carolina law is almost, you know, a greatest hits of all of the terrible things we’ve seen in the almost 200 bills that have been introduced targeting LGBT people this year. And the law, as you note, strips away legal protections for LGBT people in jurisdictions across the state and mandates discrimination against transgender people. So we filed this lawsuit to basically say this law is unconstitutional and this law violates federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions receiving federal funding, so that’s a Title IX claim, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: So, last Wednesday as the North Carolina Legislature convened the emergency session to push through HB 2, transgender rights activist Lara Americo spoke out.
LARA AMERICO: The true emergencies in North Carolina are subpar public schools, gerrymandered elections and the need for clean drinking water. This special session is hindering my rights as a transgender woman and the rights of the LGBT community. It’s also hindering Charlotte’s ability to govern itself. This is not how taxpayers’ money should be spent.
AMY GOODMAN: So that was Lara Americo. Chase Strangio, talk about how this law was pushed through—I mean, the emergency session spending $42,000?
CHASE STRANGIO: Yes, so this is—it was incredibly anomalous with a just unbelievable amount of procedural irregularities. Many of the Democrats in the General Assembly in North Carolina didn’t have a chance to see the bill until it was right before them and they were charged with voting on it. And I think, in addition to all these procedural irregularities, the discourse around the Charlotte ordinance and this law really are incredibly harmful for transgender people, because they rely on a myth and a lie about who trans people are and what it means to actually prohibit discrimination against trans people.
AMY GOODMAN: After House Bill 2 was passed, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory tweeted, quote, "I signed bipartisan legislation to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms." Chase?
CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, so that’s a complete lie. I mean, he did not do it for that reason. It does nothing to protect privacy in bathrooms. It does nothing to protect the public safety. Experience has shown that in the 200 cities and other jurisdictions that prohibit discrimination against trans people, there has never been a single incident of anyone, trans or nontrans, using a law to go into a bathroom to harm another person, which would already be illegal. Experience has also shown, however, that these conversations actively harm the trans community, who are vulnerable to violence, who do have rates of suicide attempts close to 50 percent. So, while our public conversations are distorting the reality of what these laws are doing, they are also contributing to an epidemic of violence that trans people are living under across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened in Georgia?
CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, so, I think, you know, as I mentioned, there have been many bills targeting the LGBT community that have been introduced, and Georgia passed through their Legislature another sweeping piece of legislation that would have authorized discrimination against LGBT people in a host of contexts. It’s one of those license-to-discriminate bills that allowed religious bases for discrimination. And that governor, under pressure, actually decided to veto that piece of legislation.
AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to Georgia Republican Governor Nathan Deal announcing he would veto the so-called religious liberty bill critics said would allow discrimination against LGBT people.
GOV. NATHAN DEAL: I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives. Our actions on House Bill 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing business-friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. I believe it is about the character of our state and the character of our people.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Georgia Republican Governor Nathan Deal. Now, the NFL had weighed in on Georgia, as well.
CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, I think what we’re seeing is that businesses and sports—the NBA, the NFL—are saying, "We are not going to tolerate this type of discrimination." And that affected the Georgia governor, clearly. The problem with North Carolina was they had no interest in hearing from other people. They had no interest in assessing what it would mean for their state. They just wanted to pass through, in a matter of 12 hours, a sweeping piece of legislation that actively harmed particularly trans people, but the entire LGBT community.
AMY GOODMAN: So, the North Carolina bill goes into effect immediately. What does it mean for trans people?
CHASE STRANGIO: I think it means, first and foremost, that trans people have to live in a state in which they know that their government is willing to actively participate in the harassment and bullying of them. But it also means that trans people are now completely unable to participate in public life, because trans people have no idea where they’re supposed to go to the bathroom. Are they supposed to go use the bathroom that is listed on their birth certificate, that in no way matches who they are, which will be uncomfortable for them and others? Or are they supposed to risk potential arrest, potential other adverse consequences, by continuing to use the bathroom that accords with their gender, which is now illegal in North Carolina?
AMY GOODMAN: The North Carolina General Assembly’s passage of HB 2 came the same week the city of Charlotte was marking the first anniversary of the death of transgender student Blake Brockington, who was the first openly transgender homecoming king in a North Carolina high school. This is Blake speaking in a short documentary about his life.
BLAKE BROCKINGTON: I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, in a Southern Baptist home. I’ve always been kind of different, and it was always a bad thing in my family, but they never really said anything. Then, when the homecoming stuff happened, it was—they were like, "You’re still not a guy to us." Like Guys and girls, you know. And it’s been really hard. High school has been really hard. To me, personally, it made me feel like, for once, I could just be a normal teenage boy, just a normal teenage boy just doing normal teenage guy things, like being homecoming king. That’s a normal teenage boy thing. We all want to do it, kind of.
AMY GOODMAN: So that was Blake Brockington. Chase, what happened to Blake?
CHASE STRANGIO: You know, so, seeing this is just so heartbreaking, because Blake, like so many trans young people, took his own life. And it’s in part because of the ways in which society is continuing to tell the horrible distortions about trans people, that really cut us out from public life and make vulnerable trans young people, vulnerable trans young people of color, like Blake, who are such beacons of hope and light for our community, end up dying by suicide. And so many other trans people are being murdered on the streets. And this is the context in which we’re having these conversations, and these conversations are impacting the opportunities for young trans people like Blake to survive.
AMY GOODMAN: We just got this news from down the street, actually, from the Stonewall Inn, this iconic place where the—the bar that really launched the modern-day gay and lesbian, trans movement, that a young trans woman was reportedly raped there this past weekend. What do you know about this? She was 25.
CHASE STRANGIO: You know, I am also hearing that a young trans woman was raped in a bathroom at the Stonewall Inn, and I think this is a reminder, as if we need any more, of the vulnerability of transgender people, particularly transgender women, to violence. And yet, here we are with officials across the country talking about how somehow allowing trans people to live our lives is going to threaten the public safety or the privacy of others, and meanwhile it’s trans people who are being assaulted on the streets, raped in bathrooms and otherwise experiencing terrible harms.
AMY GOODMAN: Chase Strangio, you just wrote a piece, "Don’t Forget, Trans People Are Loved."
CHASE STRANGIO: I mean, you know, I came on the show to talk about what happened in South Dakota and listening to all the young people who are mobilizing to stop a terrible anti-trans bill that was ultimately vetoed by the governor there, and I was in Tennessee also working with young people there to lobby against their legislatures. And, you know, every time the lawmakers make these horrible statements that impact young people, that impact trans people, we have to listen to these distortions. And I think it’s important that we have lawsuits and that we have advocacy, but at the same time I think we’re ultimately going to be more transformative if we just continue to tell our stories of love for each other.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn very quickly to Payton McGarry, who we just got up in a studio at Duke University in North Carolina, the student at UNC-Greensboro, plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed Monday to challenge the new North Carolina law, HB 2. Can you talk about your own story, Payton, why this means so much to you? And what do you think of the law that was passed?
PAYTON McGARRY: Yeah, absolutely. First and foremost, thank you for having me. My own story, so I’m a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Greensboro—University of North Carolina at Greensboro, rather. And I started my transition while I was in high school. I realized pretty early on, through puberty at the age of 16 years old, that something wasn’t quite right. I came out to my family and started undergoing therapy at 17 years old. Eighteen years old, I started hormones. And here we are. And it means a lot to me just because of the experiences that I have had with opposition to my gender, particularly in bathrooms. And even more so, I’ve been fired from jobs for being transgender. I’ve, you know, witnessed all kinds of discrimination just based on my gender identity.
AMY GOODMAN: Payton, we’re going to leave it here, because this is the end of the show. We just got you up. We’re sorry we weren’t able to get that satellite a little before, but we’re going to continue this conversation and post it online at democracynow.org. Payton McGarry, thanks so much for being with us, plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed against North Carolina, and Chase Strangio with the ACLU.