Because We Like to Feel Good about Ourselves

Very recently, North Carolina passed a law, House Bill 2 (or HB2 as it has come to be known everywhere). The link takes you to the PDF of the law, so that you can read it for yourself if you like.

What is HB2?

HB2 sets out a few little provisions about a few little things for North Carolina. Specifically it says that:

  • Single-sex multiple occupancy restrooms (men’s room, women’s room) must be used by those whose biological sex (on the birth certificate) matches the sign on the door.
  • It specifies the groups that cannot be discriminated against in North Carolina. It excludes sexual orientation as a protected class and specifies “biological sex” as a protected class.
  • Prevents individual cities, counties, etc from creating protections beyond what the state provides.
  • Prevents individual cities, etc, from determining their own minimum wage.
  • Prevents individual cities, etc, from requiring anything of contractors beyond what the state requires of them. This includes stricter regulations that a city may want to require because of, say, exposure to well-water.

Why Did the State Pass HB2?

The city of Charlotte recently enacted some protections specifically for LGBT persons that were not already included in state law. Most notably was the assurance that transgendered persons could use single-sex bathrooms that corresponded to their gender identity, rather than their biological sex. The governor had threatened the city that if they passed these laws, the state would act to counter the measures. The city, however, pushed on. As a result, HB2 was passed within a day of being proposed.

Why Do People Oppose HB2?

The law reinforces discrimination of all LGBT+ people in the state of North Carolina. By explicitly leaving out sexual orientation from protected classes, it means that in the state, anyone can be discriminated against because they are, say, homosexual or bisexual. So a married couple can be evicted from their apartment if they are a same-sex couple. An employer could fire a person based on their sexual orientation. A bank can refuse to loan money to them as well.

It means that someone who is transgender cannot use the restroom that corresponds to their gender. So, a woman who looks, dresses, acts, and refers to herself as a woman, but was born biological male, must use the men’s room. Likewise, a man who looks, dresses, acts, and refers to himself as a woman, but was born a biological female, must use the women’s restroom.

Transgendered people, most especially transgender women (and very especially transgender minority women) are already disproportionately targeted for violence. This opens them up to more violence. It also potentially opens them to an invasion of privacy as the persons in charge of a public accommodation restroom would have to verify the biological sex of the person if challenged.

Why Do People Support HB2?

Those who support HB2 say that they do so because they want to protect women and children from people who would claim to be a gender they are not to gain entrance to a restroom for the purpose of victimizing those who would use it. In other words, they fear that cis-gender men would claim to be transgender women in order to sexually assault women and children in the women’s restroom.

Do People Actually Believe Men Would Pretend to Be Transgender Women in Order to Assault Women in the Restroom?

The short answer is yes, they do. The long answer is that there have been a very few isolated incidents of men dressing as women in order to gain entrance to restrooms to assault or peek on women. One article managed to find five. Others reference a case of a man claiming to be transgender to access a women’s shelter (this was before any protections were in place for transgender persons in that city).

The problem is that these confuse criminals with transgender persons. No transgender person has been reported to have attacked another person in a restroom.

Laws like HB2 assume that a criminal will obey the law in order to not commit a crime.

I will just leave that statement there for you to think about.

So If HB2 Does Not Help Anyone, Why Do People Support It?

I am not going to call out bigotry in this, as understanding gender dysphoria is hard, even for those who are transgender. Yes, there are bigots who support this law. Others who support it, though, are actually well-meaning. It is important that we who do not support the law, who are ourselves LGBT+, and those who are allies understand this.

So why do people support the law?

  1. They do not understand what Transgender means. They assume it is just a person saying “I am a man” or “I am a woman” even if they do not “look the part” or “act the part.” Sometimes, they assume it is merely cross-dressing. They also do not understand the kind of discrimination and harassment that transgender people go through every day. This is because they would never do these things to another person and are not around transgender people enough to see it happen to them.
  2. They want to help prevent women and children from being sexually assaulted.

Bridging the Gap in Understanding

Helping people understand the impact of HB2 and get over their misconceptions of the law is not easy. The first reason is only overcome through education and helping people build empathy for others. It means that we who are in the LGBT+ community need to help people see real transgender persons and see them for who they really are, rather than as the stereotypes we often see in media.

The second one, though, is more insidious.

Talking about sexual assault and abuse is not easy. It is also not easy to listen to. Think about how many times you have heard “can we change the subject” or “can we not go into details” when the topic is brought up (even when discussion is not graphic about the abuse).

It is more likely that a woman or a child will be assaulted or abused by someone close to them rather than a stranger. When I say more likely, I mean that a majority of the cases involve people that were known, often well, and trusted by the victim. The statistics on this are astounding.

The question is, how do you protect women and children from the people closest to them?

The answer is not simple and it is not quick. We hate to feel powerless, though. We want to help people. We want to prevent people from suffering.

It is a natural part of being human, since we are social creatures. The instinct to help and protect is what helped us create communities.

It is also exploitable. Most people do not understand what it is to be transgender. Some of those people believe it is confusion. Others believe it is perversion. Most are not sure what to think. When they are told that a law will protect women and children from assault, however, by restricting transgender people – that feels like something. It feels like they are doing something good when they support that law.

And we all like to feel good about ourselves.

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