BY IVY HILL
House Bill 2 is about so much more than restrooms. We could talk about the other public accommodations it can deny folks access to, or how it gives businesses the right to discriminate, or how it takes away municipal power to protect local citizens, or how bad it is for business. But I think there’s a deeper issue to talk about here.
As a transgender person, I know how painful it is to have your identity up for debate in the public square. That feeling of shame is so hard to overcome when you turn on the news and hear personal attacks on your community and unfounded stoking of fear. But that’s exactly what’s happening right now with HB2, a dangerous and discriminatory new law that attacks the LGB — and especially transgender — community in North Carolina.
Gender is not only a deep piece of our personal identities; it’s also deeply ingrained in nearly everything we do both consciously and subconsciously. Think about what happens when someone says she’s pregnant — invariably, one of the first questions is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”
The answer shapes the way you think about that child. What toys should you buy? What careers will he or she be interested in? What will he or she wear on his/her wedding day?
We socialize folks to fit in these two neat little boxes of “male” and “female” from inception all the way through the end of life. Gender affects nearly every aspect of our lives. For many people, that works out just fine, and they may not even think about it very often. But for me and many other transgender folks, that’s not the case — we are constantly navigating a rigid gender binary many of us do not fit into.
It’s exhausting (think about having to explain the most basic parts of who you are many times a day), and it’s often scary (the real issue with bathrooms is the high rate at which trans folks are harassed and attacked in them). This is part of why transgender folks disproportionately experience disparity in so many areas from housing to employment to suicide rates to violence, to name a few.
Research shows that 41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide – a staggering rate compared to the national average of 4.6 percent, according to a January 2014 study by researchers with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. New research shows that invalidation of identity is one of the leading causes of suicidal ideation/attempts in the trans community.
Why does that matter so much right now? Because anti-trans bills and laws like HB2 have a teaching effect, and they sanction bias and even violence against trans people. That threat to people’s physical safety and their mental health grows exponentially when such laws are implemented. It’s no wonder that the Trans LifeLine, a suicide hotline, has seen double its typical call volume from North Carolina since HB2 was introduced.
Conversely, we also know that trans children who receive support and affirmation of their gender identity from their families experience significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety. A University of Washington study that was published in February shows that these children’s risk of suicide is comparable to their nontransgender peers.
Knowing all this, what can we do? What can you do? We can listen to trans folks and our stories about how HB2 affects our lives, and the danger it puts us in. We can listen to the stories of trans children and how this legislation targets them and puts them in jeopardy.
We can speak out. We’ve been trained not to talk about gender variance or trans folks’ existence. It’s easy to let the fear of saying something wrong paralyze us to a point where we remain silent, because it feels like the safer thing to do. But remaining silent is the furthest thing from safe.
Yes, these can be complex concepts. Yes, you’ll fumble over pronouns and make mistakes. Yes, it’s not always going to be comfortable. But we have a responsibility as a community to show up for each other and to speak up when someone is in danger. Our transgender community is in danger. As long as we center our words and actions on these principles, we don’t need to be afraid of saying the wrong thing. What we need to be afraid of is saying nothing, of doing nothing.
Ivy Hill commutes to Asheville from the Greenville, S.C., area to work as LGBT Rights Toolkit coordinator for the Campaign for Southern Equality. Hill also serves as program director of Gender Benders, based in the Upstate.