Dozens of LGBT activists and allies came out in spite of the rain on Thursday, March 31, to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility and to protest the discriminatory House Bill 2 (HB2) passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.
Holding signs with messages including, “Flush McCrory out of NC” and “God Is Trans,” those who felt moved to speak took turns telling their stories and calling on North Carolina lawmakers to repeal HB2.
The bill requires transgender individuals to use the bathroom that correlates with the gender on their birth certificate, not the gender they identity with, as well as stripping all existing non-discrimination ordinances from cities and municipalities in the state.
That means that anyone wishing to sue for discrimination must now go through the federal court system instead of the state, which is a more costly and lengthier process.
North Carolina’s HB2 also prohibits cities and municipalities from passing their own employment discrimination laws, as well as preventing them from increasing their minimum wage, which is $7.25 in the state, the same as the federal minimum wage.
It was a chance to protest these changes, but also it was a time to be seen.
“I’m so glad that you guys are out here in the rain, because we’re here because we’re visible,” said Che Busiek, who like many at the rally had symbolically adorned his clothing with high-visibility tape.
“We’re here because we’re not going to be quiet anymore,” he went on, without the aid of the bullhorn he had been handed. “What I want to say to you today is that my mother, for the first time ever, has seen what is going on here, and she lives in West Virginia…and she actually posted the other day to say, ‘In West Virginia, we see what’s going on, we’re upset about it. I’m a Christian, we’re upset about it. We’re rooting for you guys.’ My mom has never acknowledged that I’m a trans man, and that’s what happened, because McCrory decided to be dumb.”
Alele “AJ” Williams, an organizer with the Freedom Center for Social Justice, pointed out that one group was underrepresented.
“Our trans sisters of color…I look around the crowd (and they are) not here. Simply because it’s not safe, and they’re being murdered,” Williams said. He added that while he had not planned on speaking initially, “This is not a time to be introverted.”
Williams also shared the anxiety felt simply for using the bathroom in public, and that the trans community and their allies must stand up for themselves, because no one else is going to do it for them.
Many speakers pointed out that the real threat of violence and aggression is to transgender individuals, in spite of the rhetoric from the other side, who used “men in dresses” wishing to gain access to women’s bathrooms as the boogeyman to push through this discriminatory bill.
HB2 was signed into law one year after the death of Blake Brockington, who made headlines when he became East Mecklenburg High School homecoming king as a trans man. Brockington died as a result of suicide.
Elisha Walker’s name was also spoken at the event. Walker was a transgender woman from North Carolina who was murdered last year — one of a record 20 plus trans women killed in 2015, most of them women of color.
At least two politicians were in attendance, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham and Charlotte City Council member, and soon to be N.C. House District 100 representative, John Autry. Both pledged their support for the LGBT community.
Autry voted in favor of expanding Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance to include LGBT protections. He also voted in favor last year, when it was narrowly defeated. He and fellow council member LaWana Mayfield voted against an amended ordinance that would have removed transgender protections, both stressing that no part of the LGBT community should be left behind.
“One of the most disgusting things to me is to hear people say, ‘Well why did you do this? Why did you do this for such a small percentage of our population?’ My rebuke to them is, ‘At what level should we set the bar before we do anything to protect the most vulnerable in our society?’” Autry said to the cheers of the crowd.
Event organizer Lara Americo closed out the event by expressing her appreciation for the show of support and solidarity.
“I spent 30 years of my life thinking I was alone and that I was less of a human being because I was transgender. Right now, more so than ever in my life, I see that I was wrong, and that I was never alone and that we are not alone,” Americo said.
“I’ve been doing a lot of traveling around North Carolina, seeing all the protests like this,” she continued. “They shut down the intersection [of Franklin St. and Columbia St.] in Chapel Hill with 700 people. We are definitely not alone, even in a state like this, we are not alone.”