The recent passage of House Bill 2, the North Carolina law that includes a provision preventing trans people from use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, has been met with an avalanche of protest. So far the conversation has largely centered on the devastating effect the law has on transgender North Carolinians — and rightfully so. Based on zero evidence, legislators framed trans people as predators, a smear that protects no one while harming many. One transgender woman in Greensboro, N.C., told PBS, “Being out in public now, I feel like I might have a target on me.” A suicide prevention hotline serving transgender people reports that the number of calls has doubled since HB 2 became law.
There’s no question that this shameful law targets trans people, and it’s impossible to overstate the harm of that dehumanization. But what has been largely missing from the discussion are the ways in which this is also about disability justice, about economic justice, about families, and much more. Quite simply, this fight affects everyone.
Consider its implications for disability rights, for example. In addition to its impact on trans people who are differently abled, this law also has implications for cisgender people who require different accommodations. As Disability Rights North Carolina points out, there is no exception to the bathroom requirement “that allows a person with a disability to enter a restroom in a public agency that is assigned to the sex of his or her caregiver.” The organization’s public policy director recently noted that before HB 2, people with disabilities within the state “made the decision that makes sense to them,” but they no longer have that choice. People who are differently abled already face environments each day that are ill-equipped to accommodate their needs; needlessly piling on additional restrictions is unconscionable.
This is also about families. The law specifies, for example, that children age 8 and older can’t accompany a parent of the opposite sex into a public bathroom in a government building. If a mom is out with her 8-year-old son or a father is out with his 8-year-old daughter, under the new law the parent is forced to leave the child outside the bathroom, unattended, when they go in. For a law claiming to be about safety, it seems instead to be creating a potential public safety hazard — taking away parents’ ability to make choices with their children — while “solving” a problem that doesn’t exist in the first place.
The law also has huge implications for economic justice. Though it has garnered less attention than other parts of the law, HB 2 blocks local governments from regulating wages, benefits, or work hours. This means that cities can’t take actions toward economic justice such as setting a higher minimum wage or requiring paid sick leave. Minimum wage and paid leave laws are directly related to basic economic survival for many economically disadvantaged people, particularly people of color and immigrants, who are one health crisis, one layoff, or one accident away from the brink of deep poverty. But HB 2 prevents local towns and cities from easing the burden of economically disempowered workers by raising the minimum wage.
The “bathroom” law is about much more than bathrooms. It’s about economic survival, about the rights of people with disabilities, about the necessary choices parents should be able to make for themselves and their families. It’s about policing all people’s bodies, including those who don’t identify as transgender but may be gender-nonconforming. It’s about targeting people who are already disproportionately affected by structural violence and making daily life that much harder for them.
As an undocumented transgender Colombiana, I know that justice for transgender people is not limited to our access to a bathroom but also access to housing, employment, health care, education, and all basic rights that people should enjoy by virtue of their humanity. The realities for transgender people are far too pressing for public discourse to remain at the surface level, ignoring the erasure, persecution, neglect, and targeted killing that transgender people face on any given day. We are all affected by the affront to dignity and basic rights created by laws like HB 2 — and it falls on all of us to shift the conversation and policies to those that adequately addresses the root causes of oppression for transgender people, people who are differently abled, families, and everyone.
CATALINA VELASQUEZ is the director of People for the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program. Follow her on Twitter @ConsultCatalina.