Today we will be in federal court in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, seeking to put North Carolina’s anti-trans law, HB 2, on hold while the case heads to trial later this year. The law, rushed through the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) in March, forces people to use restroom and changing facilities based on the sex listed on their birth certificate regardless of how they live and identify. It was an undisguised attack on trans people and part of a long legacy of expelling trans communities from public space.
Like so many anti-trans laws, policies and messages we are confronted with, HB 2 was animated by the lie that the state needed to protect women from men in women’s bathrooms. As I have said elsewhere, of course, “when a transgender woman uses a women’s restrooms there are still zero men — biological or otherwise — in that restroom. Transgender women are women; transgender men are men.”
When pushed on the reality that there are no public safety risks to extending legal protections to trans people, anti-trans lawmakers have made clear that the core of the problem is just the very existence of trans people in single-sex spaces. There is, they contend, a privacy interest for non-transgender people in not seeing and not being seen by a trans person.
It is that premise that is so dangerous. The idea that trans people should be shamed into self-exile or government imposed banishment from public life is what teaches us all — trans and non-trans — that it is okay to mock, dehumanize and in too many cases, hurt and even kill trans people.
That is unacceptable and we are in court fighting this law and the anti-trans premise that fueled it.
This morning, Paul Smith, a lawyer from the law firm of Jenner & Block will present our case for why the explicitly anti-trans components of HB2 violate federal statutory and constitutional law. On the other side, lawyers for the University of North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory, and legislative intervenors will argue that the law is necessary and should stand. It will be a critical day in the legal fight to hold back against efforts to further institutionalize anti-trans rhetoric and policy into law.
I am honored to be a part of this fight.
Fighting HB 2 is my job as a lawyer but as a trans person, it also feels deeply personal. When I fly to North Carolina to work on this case, I, like my clients, don’t know which restroom to use at the airport. My birth certificate classifies me as female but the last time I used a restroom or changing facility designated for women was in 2009. I have become an expert at compartmentalizing, but no doubt it takes a toll to hear again and again how the bodies of trans people — how my own body — are so disruptive to society that we must be legislated out of public spaces. And the toll on my white, transmasculine body is nothing compared to the violent toll levied upon the bodies of Black and Brown women and femmes who are primary targets of this anti-trans rhetoric.
The pain of knowing how deeply this law and its animating principles destabilizes and demoralizes my community is what fuels my relentless desire to keep fighting, moving, creating, building.
I bring to this struggle the awareness that it is not just an anti-trans law that we are fighting but a legacy of violence directed most aggressively and dangerously toward the bodies of trans women and femmes of color.
I hold, honor and support the queer and trans organizers of color who are ultimately holding down against the systems that decimate communities of color in this country. Our job as lawyers is to hold back this insidious system to give space for our leaders to survive, lead and transform. Today in court, that is what we do. We hold the state back from further encroachment while recognizing that this lawsuit will not free our communities from the daily and systemic indignities of trying to survive in a fundamentally anti-trans, anti-Black, anti-immigrant system.
Today in court I will be thinking of my clients, Joaquín, Payton, and Hunter who inspire me so much and have literally put themselves on the line for this case and these principles.
I will be thinking of Chelsea Manning, my friend and client, who is struggling to survive in the military prison where she has been sentenced to serve 35 years.
I will be thinking of my own kid and hoping that her four year-old vision of the world and of justice can teach us to be imaginative and thoughtful about the kind of world we want to build for each other.
I will be thinking of the women and femmes of color who literally transform the vision of what we think is possible in our movements. Leaders like Reina Gossett, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Isa Noyola, Micky Bee, Elle Hearns, Miss Peppermint, Ashley Diamond. These leaders give life to our movement and our hope. They keep us alive and hold us to a truly transformative notion of justice.
As I prepare to head to court, I am reminded again of my favorite speech that political scientist Vijay Prashad delivered at the Riverside Church in Harlem several years ago. Speaking of our global carceral systems he said, “The State has no future for its people; it can only offer incarceration of one kind or another. Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”
But I want a world where my beautiful community of people — and so many others — can live. The stakes are high and we won’t give up.
“We live in freedom by necessity.” Prashad closed. “We must reshape our world. We must love one another, or die.”