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Meet the Transgender Student Suing North Carolina over Its Anti-LGBT “Bathroom Bill” (Part 2)

Web ExclusiveMarch 29, 2016
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Last week, North Carolina enacted a sweeping anti-transgender law, 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 Part 2 of our interview, Payton McGarry, a transgender student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, talks about why he became a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit challenging the North Carolina law.

Watch Part 1 of our interview here.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m 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, known as House Bill 2, commonly called the “bathroom bill,” is widely considered to be the most wide-ranging anti-transgender law to take effect this year, introduced after the city of Charlotte in North Carolina passed its own ordinance seeking to protect the right of transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Well, Payton McGarry joins us now. He’s a student at UNC-Greensboro. He’s a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed to challenge the new North Carolina law. Also with us, Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the ACLU.

So, Payton, if you would tell us your story, how you ended up being a lead plaintiff, what this law means to you? You’re a 20-year-old student at Greensboro?

PAYTON McGARRY: Yes, I am a 20-year-old student at UNCG in accounting and business. Give you a little bit of backstory, I grew up in a small town in North Carolina. At about the age of 15 or 16, I started feeling different. You know, something just felt a little bit off. I started coming out to my family, my friends, and seeing a therapist based on like gender and all that good stuff at 17 years old, and started hormone replacement therapy at 20—18 years old, sorry. And here we are. So, it means a lot to me that this lawsuit is taking place just because of my own experiences with opposition to my gender. And I’ve experienced a lot of just distressing discrimination in North Carolina. And I can’t believe that we’re passing laws now that actually not only enable it, but in some cases require it.

AMY GOODMAN: Payton, can you talk about how HB 2 will affect you directly?

PAYTON McGARRY: Well, first and foremost, I mean, everybody calls this the bathroom bill, so let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. It’s requiring me to use the female restroom, is essentially what’s happening. And this is distressing because I used the female restroom until it was not feasible for me to, until I was getting pushed, shoved, slapped, screamed at every time I went into a female bathroom. So, now, it’s putting me in a tough situation, because it’s putting me in a situation where I have to choose between going into this distressing situation where I know harm to my well-being could come—you know, I could be screamed at, I could be shoved, slapped, beaten to a pulp, essentially—or I can break the law. And that’s not who I am as a person. More so than that, though, by excluding LGBT from your discrimination ordinance, which is now the statewide discrimination ordinance, you’re allowing that kind of discrimination to take place, that already takes place in so many places. You know, my—I could be kicked out of my housing. I could be fired from a job. I’ve already been denied employment before this law passed. And now people know that it’s legal. So, what adverse effects will that have on my life, in the lives of so many other LGBTQ students or just people in general?

AMY GOODMAN: After HB 2 was passed, the North Carolina governor, Governor McCrory, said he signed the bill to, quote, “stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms.” If you could speak to the governor directly, what would you tell him?

PAYTON McGARRY: I would tell him to go speak to the professionals in this field, go speak to people who study gender and sexuality, and study these types of things, and maybe have a little bit of empathy. Go talk to the community. Go talk to the people who suffer directly from this bill, which was based largely upon the idea that I, as a transgender person, can cause harm to somebody else in a bathroom just by simply being there, which is a—it’s a hurtful and unfounded statement based on bias and animosity towards the LGBT community in North Carolina. So I would tell him, “Learn a little bit about these issues. Learn a little bit about who we are as a people. And learn a little bit more about our background and the things that we go through.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, Payton, when you describe being harassed and kicked and beaten trying to go into a women’s room, because—well, that’s now the law, that you must go into a women’s bathroom. What are people saying to you?

PAYTON McGARRY: Well, quite frankly, I haven’t used a women’s room since I was 18 years old and two or three months on hormones. But I remember experiences in high school where I would walk into a women’s restroom full of freshman and sophomore girls, and I would be screamed at, told to get out. I’d be called a predator. I had the SRO called on me one time. And it became such a problem that I had to go speak with a counselor and get approved to use faculty bathrooms. But that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is that I could be denied access to programs. I could be denied access to housing. I could be denied employment. You know, what kind of life effect is this going to have on me, past just using bathrooms?

AMY GOODMAN: So, Payton, how are people organizing on your campus at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro?

PAYTON McGARRY: You mean in support of the lawsuit?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, yes, both for and against. Do you find you’re getting much support?

PAYTON McGARRY: I have gotten nothing but overwhelming support from my campus. Several administrators have emailed me, saying, “If there’s anything I can do, if there’s anything you need, let me know.” I’ve been approached by many students who tell me that they are extremely proud of what I’m doing. All of my professors have had nothing but gratitude, and they’re very thankful that somebody is standing up for the rights of an already marginalized group in North Carolina.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Chase Strangio, what do you tell trans people to do right now? You’re a lawyer. You’re with the ACLU. Yes, you have—you’re part of this lawsuit against the state. But what should Payton do? What’s your advice?

CHASE STRANGIO: I mean, I think, first and foremost, I tell Payton and other people how courageous they are for standing up and living their truth and continuing to tell stories. And we believe that this law is unconstitutional and that it violates at least 12 federal laws. And so, our position is that, you know, of course, first and foremost, trans people should do what is safest for them, because it doesn’t matter to some people that a law may be unconstitutional, so people should act in the safest manner for their safety. But at the same time, we believe that people should go about living their lives, because, you know, it is already illegal to discriminate in employment under federal law, it is already illegal to discriminate in housing against trans people under federal law, all these prohibitions on sex discrimination. So, even though there are no explicit protections and even though North Carolina is trying to take away rights from LGBT people, federal law and the Constitution continues to protect us, and we will continue to fight for people in all of the different circumstances of their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Would a police officer have a right to say, if you were going into the men’s bathroom, “Pull your pants down”?

CHASE STRANGIO: I mean, you know, I would think not. But again, we know that the police do many things that they are not entitled by the Constitution to do. And I think one of the things that is concerning about this law is that it authorizes even worse behavior where we know there is bad behavior and bad actors already when it comes to trans people. So, it is concerning. Do we want a society where people are forced to undergo genital inspections or have to carry their birth certificates around, or if you don’t look feminine enough or masculine enough, you’re going to have to prove what your body characteristics are? I don’t think we want that, and I don’t think lawmakers are thinking this through.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, another one of the co-plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit, transgender rights activist Joaquín Carcaño, spoke out against HB 2.

JOAQUÍN CARCAÑO: Yes, I’m a transgender man, but I am a man. My family, my friends, my co-workers and many more in the state affirm my male identity. That is not something that can be stripped away by a bill such as this. But what has been attacked is a basic right, a right to feel protected and safe. As a male, I use the men’s restroom, as I should. And through this bill, I have been denied a fundamental right that impacts me and many more in the state multiple times a day in our place of work and daily life.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s transgender rights activist Joaquín Carcaño speaking out against HB 2. You represent him, Chase Strangio. What’s his story?

CHASE STRANGIO: So, Joaquín, like Payton, is a plaintiff in our lawsuit against—challenging the constitutionality of HB 2. And he is a transgender man. He works at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the HIV services program, actually works on behalf of the transgender community. And, you know, he’s a man. He has been using the men’s restroom for years. And this law is now all of a sudden telling him, like it’s telling Payton, that he has to use the women’s restroom. So he’s fighting back as part of this lawsuit and also part of the public conversation in which all trans folks are standing up, where they’re able, to say, “This is who we are. We are not scary. There is no public threat to anybody by allowing us to exist in public life.”

AMY GOODMAN: Payton McGarry, did you go to the HB 2 hearing when it was before the North Carolina Legislature?

PAYTON McGARRY: No, ma’am. I did follow it online, though.

AMY GOODMAN: Uh-huh. And what was your response? And what would you have said if you were there? Who testified?

PAYTON McGARRY: I am not sure that I remember any names. I remember a lot of harmful rhetoric. I didn’t get to see everything that was said. But what I did see was very disappointing in terms of just being inclusive of the LGBT community.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase Strangio, can you talk about how the hearing took place? We, when you were last here, talked about the South Dakota Legislature. And ultimately, under enormous pressure, the governor vetoed that bill. But that didn’t happen in North Carolina.

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, I mean, I think what’s important about the—what happened at the North Carolina General Assembly is that they completely rushed it through. You had, you know, sessions that lasted a day, for—in which a bill was—went through committee on both sides and to the floor. They allowed only five people on each side to testify. There was really no study of the bill. There was really no ability to even read the bill for lawmakers in advance. So, the hearing was—the hearings were incredibly disturbing, both in terms of the procedure under which they were sped through, and, as well, what was said. And one lawmaker, I think, said something along the lines of, “You know, the $42,000 won’t cover the medical bills that will have to come when some freak comes into the bathroom with my daughter.” So we have lawmakers actually threatening, in no uncertain terms, the safety of transgender people, in veiled threats before legislative hearings. And yet here we are now with a law that actively mandates discrimination against a community that is so targeted already.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what about the movement, Payton McGarry? Do you feel that there is a movement that has coalesced around what has taken place, maybe taking many people—surprising many people, since it happened so quickly?

PAYTON McGARRY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I think there’s been a movement for LGBT rights for a really long time. And I think that now this is really bringing people together and making people realize that this is a threat to our movement to accept each other and our movement to love each other. And that’s a really scary thing for a lot of people, because there is a large movement right now to love people regardless of the circumstances of their lives. And this is a very big threat to that.

AMY GOODMAN: The issue states’ rights is also very significant here. I mean, this is all coming in response to Charlotte passing a law to protect LGBT people. And the North Carolina Legislature says, “No, Charlotte, you can’t do this.”

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things I heard over and over again in Tennessee, for example, from conservative lawmakers is that this type of legislation, that is incredibly far-reaching in scope and is trying to stop what local school boards and local cities are trying to do for their local government, is counter to many conservative principles, and yet is being pushed forth by Republican lawmakers. And I think there’s reasons to be concerned about the impact of this across the board. But again, there is such an opportunity here to fight back against what we’re seeing in states across the country and tell North Carolina that we will follow through on the threats, we’ll follow through on the threats of litigation, and businesses will pull their business from that state.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase Strangio, as we wrap up, Governor McCrory’s press secretary, spokesperson, Graham Wilson, said, “The governor looks forward to cheering for the UNC Tar Heels in the NCAA Final Four being played in Houston, a city that defeated a similar bathroom ordinance referendum last year with over 61% of the vote.”

CHASE STRANGIO: He did say that. And I think, you know, if he felt compelled to make a statement like that, then he is, of course, entitled to that. I think what it shows is that he doesn’t understand the scope of the law that he is responsible for passing and signing into law. Houston, of course, was a disappointing defeat at the ballot of nondiscrimination ordinance. But Houston did not mandate that anyone else stop passing ordinances, nor did Houston mandate discrimination in bathrooms. They simply repealed an ordinance that had been proposed and went to the ballot. Here we are in North Carolina where sweeping legislation is requiring discrimination across the state, stopping what localities can do to protect their residents. And I think it’s far worse than anything we’ve seen. And the governor should, frankly, be ashamed.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting that HB 2 is also the name of a law that’s now before the Supreme Court that has to do with choice, an anti-abortion law from Texas.

CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that, of course, is alarming about all of this are the same lawmakers that are claiming that the purpose of these laws is to protect cisgender women in a variety of ways, or nontransgender women, are the same lawmakers that are working very hard to take away the ability of nontransgender women and transgender men to access the healthcare that they need. So, it’s really hard to take seriously the claim that this is about anyone’s safety.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the ACLU, and Payton McGarry, plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed this week to challenge the new North Carolina law, HB 2, known as the “bathroom bill.” This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. To see Part 1 of this conversation, go to democracynow.org. Thanks so much for joining us.

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