North Carolina’s new, controversial law – which some are calling state-sanctioned discrimination – has a broad coalition of opposition: Fortune 500 companies, the NBA, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, small businesses, and the North Carolina LGBTQ community, among others.
“There’s a deep commitment to fighting this until it’s overturned,” Serena Sebring, a campaign organizer with SONG, Southerners On New Ground, said of HB2.
The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act – HB2’s official name – stunts the reach of North Carolina discrimination laws by limiting protected identities to race, religion, color national origin, age, handicap and “biological sex” as “stated on a person’s birth certificate.”
“Republicans push for small government at the same time that they’re expanding it,” Sebring said. “Consistently, when it comes to issues of discrimination, they continue to grab larger swaths of power.”
Less than twenty-four hours after HB2 was on the books, 500 people rallied in front of the governor’s mansion in Raleigh, N.C. to confront the man who signed the bill into law directly.
“No hate in my state,” read one protester's handwritten sign.
Five people were arrested that day for civil disobedience after chaining themselves together in the street.
And above a diverse, dancing crowd rose their chants:
“We have nothing to lose but our chains”
“It ain’t over.”
“This current moment of backlash might seem swift,” Hermelinda Cortés, SONG Communications coordinator and organizer, said. “But for us, for our communities, it is just another escalation of the conditions we have been surviving and fighting. It really kind of encapsulates what this legislature has been doing for the past four years.”
That steady legislative build-up includes measures that outlawed sanctuary cities for undocumented workers, limited public food assistance, slashed teacher pay and blocked a federally funded expansion of Medicaid.
“All these things are interconnected in this giant web of oppression,” Holden Cession, a black gender non-conforming trans organizer, said. “And trans people, specifically trans people of color, are smack dab in the middle of it.”
The final seeds for HB2 were sown in Charlotte, N.C.
“The vast majority of my fellow colleagues in the House and I believe the ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council poses an imminent threat to public safety,” North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said in a statement, according to WNCN.
That “imminent threat” referred to an ordinance passed by the Charlotte city council banning discrimination against the LGBTQ community in places of public accommodation, according to Fox 8. This included allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their choice.
Republican lawmakers pinned their opposition to the need to protect women and children from sexual assault – a charge that perpetuates a widely debunked myth, demonizes the trans community and has no practical basis. No problems had ever been reported in Charlotte or any of the 200 other cities across the country that support trans bathroom use, according to the Charlotte Observer.
“He's revving up this age-old fear of people who are different..and offering up trans bodies,” Cession said.
A one-day, emergency session of the North Carolina General Assembly was convened. In the span of that day HB2 – known colloquially as the the state’s Bathroom Bill – was passed by the legislature and signed into law just hours later by Gov. Pat McCrory.
“When I went to bed, it was an ugly idea. By the time I woke up it was law,” Rachel Smith, a North Carolina resident, said. “I was disgusted and heartbroken.”
“Nobody expected that it would happen in the way that it did,” Sebring said. “in particular, that it would be as sweeping as it is.”
HB2 also prohibits cities from expanding state discrimination laws, thereby nullifying the Charlotte ordinance along with other standing expansions from other cities. The ability for cities to raise their own minimum wages was shut down as well.
“We can say that it's about bathrooms, but we can also say that it's about workers and it's about the working class,” Cession said.
Because the law’s language is so all-encompassing, Sebring says stakeholders are still not clear how far or wide reaching its impact will be, adding that local governments are “scrambling” to look at how this affects their many municipal ordinances.
“These legislators are trying to punish progressive grassroots and advocacy organizations for the campaigns fought for and won at the local municipal level,” Cortés said.
HB2’s provisions do “create statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations,” as the law boasts, but what is now consistent in North Carolina is a legal standard with no room for LGBTQ neighbors.
And so a fight has begun – in the courts, in the communities, and online.
“We all recognize it’s a long shot that the same legislators who enacted this bill would undo it,” Sebring said. “But I don’t think they anticipated this kind of fight back.”
The opposition to HB2 spans multiple fronts, many share a similar battle-cry: refuse to comply.
“We support calls for national corporations to boycott North Carolina and we need individuals, faith leaders, workers, business owners, leaders in counties and municipalities across rural and urban North Carolina to disown and “break up with” anyone that defends HB2 as a way forward,” Cortés said.
Already, the NBA has threatened to pull its All-Star Game from Charlotte and the governors of New York, Washington and Vermont have banned “non-essential state travel by state workers” to North Carolina because of the law.
The ACLU is suing Gov. Pat McCrory, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, the UNC system Board of Governors, leaders identified as being enforcers of the HB2, on behalf of two transgender individuals and a lesbian law professor.
“This is about more than bathrooms, this is about my job, my community, and my ability to get safely through my day and be productive like everyone else in North Carolina,” Joaquin Carcaño, a 27-year-old transgender North Carolina resident and one of the plaintiffs, told the News and Observer.
The suit alleges that “HB2 violates the most basic guarantees of equal treatment and the U.S. Constitution.”
“If people can’t use public accommodations that match their gender presentation, that means that people are forced to be uncomfortable when they leave their homes,” Sebring said. “It sets up a kind of second class citizenship.”
Opponents of HB2 say it sets up a lose-lose scenario for trans people.
“Go into the bathroom that's right for you? Get chased out. Go into the bathroom assigned to you by the law? Get harassed for looking/sounding/acting like the wrong sex anyway,” Smith said.
“As a trans person I feel victimized by this law,” Cession said. “If I walk into a women's restroom, I'm worried about how that's going to be triggering and traumatizing to the women in that bathroom.” And beyond the safety of others, Cession of course worries about their own safety.
"I'm just trying to use the bathroom," Cession said.
Local businesses have fought HB2 within their own walls, posting signs on their restroom doors urging customers to use whichever facility makes them most comfortable.
“Until we can overturn this [law], it’s crucial for trans and gender nonconforming people to not be marginalized,” Sebring said. “‘We will not comply’ is a really powerful statement and a harm reduction measure that people can take on their own.”
On social media, the sentiment #IllGoWithYou, a campaign organized by non-binary identified individuals, seeks to break that divide down further. The hashtag encourages active allyship and was sparked by the #wejustneedtopee campaign that addressed similar laws in other states.
“As a bisexual, the removal of discrimination protections affects me too, but at least I don't have to worry about being harassed while I'm trying to pee. The trans community is obviously being hit the hardest,” Smith said, who purchased #IllGoWithYou buttons for herself, her roommate and some friends. “Participating in a community buddy system is something I can do to show up in the flesh and actively protect my trans sisters, I'm all for it.”
These tangible acts of solidarity ring true to the hashtag trending in North Carolina – #WeAreNotThis – a reminder to the outside looking in that many in the state oppose HB2.
No outpouring of solidarity or community support can protect North Carolina residents to the same extent as justly-written laws. And so still there is fear – not just in bathrooms but in government offices and, for people like Cession, at workplaces. HB2 ensures that there are no rights guaranteed to the LGBTQ community in these spaces.
“This legislation doesn’t just harm LGBTQ people but opens the door for the kind of discrimination that was taught to us as history lessons in school,” Cortés said. “We want people to talk to their own neighbors, parents, lovers, friends, and peers. We want people to be more courageous, to put more on the line and to risk more – knowing that our people are worth the risk.”
And so it all continues – the lawsuit, the hashtags, the calls to legislators and the organizing of communities demanding basic rights and protections in their state.
The sentiments from that first convergence on the governor’s mansion still echo throughout North Carolina.
“We saw people saying ‘We’re fighting for our lives, we won’t be pushed back into the closet,’” Sebring said. “They’re talking about toilets, but really this is to push people back into the shadows.”