Photo by AxelBoldt
North Carolina’s deeply problematic “bathroom bill,” which stipulates that individuals must use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate, may run afoul of a new federal court ruling in a Virginia case. That decision states that Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination and harassment in schools, protects the rights of students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The ruling means that some $4 billion in federal funding to education, housing, and transportation in North Carolina—located in the same federal circuit court district as Virginia—could be cut if the state is in violation of Title IX.
The North Carolina bill was passed during a special session after the city of Charlottesville enacted a LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance. State Republicans described the ordinance as overreach by local government. In the House, every Republican and eleven Democrats backed the bill. In the Senate, Democrats walked out, leaving Republicans to pass it on a 32-0 vote.
Gov. Pat McCrory promptly signed the bill into law and North Carolina rocketed into the headlines as major corporations like Paypal scuttled plans to relocate to the state, prominent artists like Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam canceled shows there, and cities across the country issued non-essential travel bans to the Tar Heel state.
The bill was passed under the guise of protecting the safety and privacy of women and girls. But there are already laws on the books that prevent and punish perpetrators of assault and invasion of privacy. That argument is a smokescreen for what these bills really aim to do, which is to further harass and intimidate transgender and gender non-conforming people.
In fact, there are no documented cases of a transgender person attacking someone in a bathroom. Transgender people are, by and large, already on high alert when using public restrooms, since it's far more likely that they will be (and have been) harassed for doing so.
North Carolina is part of a troubling trend nationwide. Houston voters overturned a non-discrimination ordinance in November 2015, and South Dakota passed (although the governor vetoed) a narrower bill that would have required students to use the bathroom that matched their sex assigned at birth.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, which is tracking bathroom bills and other anti-trans legislation, some forty-nine bills have been introduced in various state legislatures that include provisions targeting transgender people, thirty-two of which deal with bathroom access. Just over a third of them are still being actively considered, while the rest were either killed in committee or put on hold.
Illinois is considering HB4474, which would require students to use single-sex facilities according to their sex assigned at birth, and for schools to segregate all multi-use facilities by sex. Kansas's HB2737 does all that and allows students who encounter a trans person in a bathroom to sue the school for $2,500 for each time this occurs. How a person would prove that someone is transgender isn't specified.
Similar bills are under consideration in Massachusetts, Missouri, and South Carolina, which would also deny transgender people in prisons access to medically necessary transition care. Tennessee is considering bathroom bills as well as bills to void any vital records (like marriage licenses and birth certificates) if they have a gender marker that doesn't match a person's sex assigned at birth.
Mississippi recently passed into a law a sweeping bill that allows people and businesses to discriminate against transgender people and same-sex couples based on religious or moral beliefs.
Bills in Wisconsin requiring students to use single-sex facilities based on sex assigned at birth failed to move out of committee before the end of the legislative session, but could re-emerge.
Anti-LGBTQ bills are not just a relic of a more conservative era. They are a new strategy to rally Republican voters through discrimination, fear, and hate. Targeting LGBTQ people may hurt business and everyday people, but state legislatures across the country seem to think it’s good politics.
Emily Mills is the editor of Our Lives Magazine, a musician, and a roller derby athlete. Her freelance writing has appeared inThe Progressive, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (where she currently has a weekly opinion column), Isthmus, Wisconsin People & Ideas, and Autostraddle.