By Elizabeth Thompson
North Carolina was one of many state legislatures across the country that filed bills targeting transgender people. Even though the two proposed North Carolina bills failed to become law this year, advocates say the damage has been done in the Tar Heel state and across the country.
Since the beginning of 2021, at least 35 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been fatally shot or killed across the U.S., according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).
Three of those people were killed in North Carolina — Jaida Peterson, a 29-year-old Black trans woman, and Remy Fennell, a 28-year-old Black trans woman, both killed in Charlotte, and Jenna Franks, a 34-year-old white trans woman who was killed in Jacksonville.
On the coattails of the 2020 elections, when transgender and gender non-conforming candidates made history with record-breaking wins, more than 250 bills targeting the LGBTQ community were filed in state legislatures throughout the country, according to the HRC.
In the North Carolina General Assembly, a House bill that would ban transgender students from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity and a Senate bill that would ban treatment and therapy for transgender people under 21 were introduced but did not make it to either chamber’s floor for a vote.
“When our community sees a win, we see an increase in representation in positions of leadership, positions with government, in the media, in pop culture and celebrity culture,” said Bethany Corrigan, executive director of Transcend Charlotte, an organization dedicated to equity and social justice for trans and gender-nonconforming people.
“We always tell people, the unfortunate thing about representation is that visibility brings vulnerability,” Corrigan said.
Alphonso David, then-president of the HRC, called the deluge of anti-LGBTQ bills “an unprecedented war on the LGBTQ community,” in an HRC press release in May.
“Some of these bills are similar to or even worse than anti-LGBTQ legislation that has been rejected in previous years, including the Indiana religious refusal bill of 2015 and North Carolina’s infamous HB2,” David said.
Memories of the ‘bathroom bill’
In 2020, 56 percent of trans homicides occurred in states that attempted to pass anti-trans legislation, the publication The 19th reported using data from the ACLU and the HRC.
There isn’t enough data proving a direct link between the increase in anti-trans legislation and trans homicides, but advocates in North Carolina say they’ve seen an uptick in anti-trans violence starting when the state’s “bathroom bill,” House Bill 2, passed. Signed into law in 2016 by then-Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, the bill legislated what bathroom transgender people could use.
HB2 made the state into a late night comedy punchline and drew backlash from businesses and sports institutions. The move cost North Carolina the NCAA championships, along with other conventions and tournaments, with economists estimating the legislation cost the state economy some $500 million.
From HB2 to the present increase in anti-LGBTQ legislation, propagating bills with harmful language about transgender people has caused “devastating effects,” Corrigan said. “Legislation influences behavior, it influences cultural sentiment, it influences the atmosphere in larger cities across the state.”
“It gives validation. Even the drafting of anti-trans legislation will validate transphobic and homophobic sentiment in communities.”
Ivy Hill, community health program director at the Campaign for Southern Equality, an Asheville-based organization advocating for full LGBTQ equality across the South, said even just filing anti-trans bills adds a “governmental legal stamp of approval on discrimination and harassment and violence.”
“It’s really difficult to untangle where one starts and the other ends, because they’re so tied together,” they said.
In the HRC’s 2020 report on fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S., it found that from 2013-2020, there were six trans homicides in North Carolina. Including the deaths from this year so far, there have been at least nine trans homicides in North Carolina the past eight years.
These numbers are likely not the full picture of transgender or gender non-conforming people killed in the U.S., the HRC said in a report.
“Data collection is often incomplete or unreliable when it comes to violent and fatal crimes against transgender and gender non-conforming people,” the report said. “Some victims’ deaths may go unreported, while others may not be identified as transgender or gender non-conforming.”
Increasing protections for LGBTQ people
On Aug. 10, the Charlotte City Council voted unanimously in favor of an ordinance that would forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, natural hair style and more in public spaces as well as employment.
Other communities across North Carolina — Apex, Asheville, Buncombe County, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, Hillsborough and Orange County — have passed similar ordinances.
Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, said the vote against discrimination in North Carolina’s largest city “will double down on that undeniable momentum for LGBTQ equality,” in a statement at the time.
“The passage of these protections, which include provisions for natural hair, sexual orientation, and gender identity, indicate strong progress for racial and social justice,” Johnson said. “Small towns, mid-sized cities, counties, and now the largest city in North Carolina have all taken steps to protect LGBTQ people and illustrate that NC is ready for these protections statewide.”
Axios Charlotte reported that Charlotte was the U.S. city with the one of the worst cities for fatal anti-trans violence from 2016-2021 using data from the HRC, with six trans people who died from fatal violence, just one death behind Chicago, where seven people were killed.
Attacking transphobia and homophobia starts with people addressing their own ignorance, Corrigan said. But that doesn’t mean asking trans or gender non-conforming people to justify their existence.
“You’re talking about other human beings,” Corrigan said. “Human beings with lives, with different experiences than you or maybe similar experiences to you, but that’s the point — you don’t know — as trite as it sounds, when we treat people like people, it goes a long way.”
For children and youth who feel targeted by anti-LGBTQ legislation, Hill said “I want you to know that you’re not alone.”
“There’s a whole bunch of people out there who love you and support you and have your back, and even though it’s really scary and exhausting, you don’t have to do it by yourself,” they said.