In a week that saw Chicago elect its first openly gay mayor and heard Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) oppose transgender equality by saying that it could allow Donald Trump to declare himself “the first female president”, it is clear that with every step forward many in our country seem to determined to anchor themselves in the past.
The North Carolina legislature is not known for its progressive attitude towards the LGTBQ community. “Crimes Against Nature” is still a statute in our laws. Amendment 1, which banned same-sex marriage, was passed by the voters of this state in 2012. Three years later the United States Supreme Court nullified that amendment when it made marriage equality the law of the land, but the Legislature refuses to give up. Just this session a group of GOP legislators filed HB65, the Marriage Amendment Reaffirmation Act; however, the right to marry is not the only battle the LGTBQ community and their allies have fought and continue to fight here and throughout the nation.
On March 23, 2016, the NC General Assembly passed HB2 in response to a Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance that gave protections to the LGBTQ community which also included the right to use the bathroom that corresponded with their gender identity. In a stunning example of legislative overreach into local government, HB2 required transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex listed on their birth certificate and nullified existing local LGBTQ protection laws. The “Bathroom Bill”, as it became known, shone a bright light on discriminations faced by the LGBTQ community in our state. The national outrage resulted in companies refusing to do business in NC, entertainers cancelling performances, and the NCAA relocating a championship tournament in 2016-2017. The financial pressures and bad PR led to the passage of a so called compromise bill, HB142, which reset the bathroom policies to pre-HB2 standards but still prevents municipalities from passing any anti-discrimination policies until at least 2020. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said “This new law does not repeal HB2. Instead, it institutes a statewide prohibition on equality by banning non-discrimination protections across North Carolina and fuels the flames of anti-transgender hate. Each and every lawmaker who supported this bill has betrayed the LGBTQ community.”
Other Ways in Which NC Does Not Value Its LGBTQ Residents
- North Carolina’s Domestic Violence laws do not offer equal protections to same sex partners. Chapter 50B only applies to people whose abusers are “persons of the opposite sex”. We are the only state that considers the sexual orientation of a victim when they seek a protective order against an abusive partner. In 2017 South Carolina and Louisiana extended equal protection for same sex domestic violence victims, placing NC shamefully last in how we treat the LGTBQ community. “In North Carolina, it’s not particularly a secret that state lawmakers have not valued the safety of the LGBTQ community,” said Ames Simmons, a policy director at LGBTQ rights group Equality North Carolina.
- Another example of how the state does not value the safety of its LGBTQ residents is in the case of Kanautica Zayre-Brown. For two years Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a trans woman, has been trying to persuade the state to move her from a men’s correctional facility to a facility that houses women. Ms. Zayre-Brown began her surgical transition in 2012. She spent the last two years at Harnett Correctional Institution where she shared sleeping quarters, showers, and bathrooms with 37 men. The ACLU has demanded that she be housed in a facility that will provide her with safety but the Department of Public Safety instead moved her to Warren Correctional Institution, a men’s facility, where she is now housed in a single cell.
- The North Carolina State Employee Healthcare plan will no longer pay for hormonal treatments and surgeries for trans people. Lambda Legal has filed suit stating that “exclusion of coverage for transition-related treatments violates the federal Title IX education law, the constitution’s equal-protection clause, and the federal Affordable Care Act.” The state health plan covered the medical needs of trans employees for just one year, 2017. After Republican State Treasurer Dale Folwell took office in late 2017, he did not renew the coverage for 2018 or 2019.
- PReP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, is an HIV prevention medication that when taken daily lowers the chances of becoming infected with HIV. PReP is covered by most health insurance plans but not available for people in North Carolina who are uninsured. The South has seen the highest rates of new diagnosed cases of HIV. In North Carolina 1,310 people were newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2017. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. AIDS Action Network announced the N.C. Ending the Epidemic Plan, which will facilitate communication between healthcare providers, people living with HIV, and their friends and family to help direct North Carolina’s strategy to end the HIV epidemic in our state. There are an estimated 5,000 North Carolinians who are infected but do not know. HIV testing is free at public health centers and PReP should be made available to the uninsured through the public clinics as well.
Three years after the passage of HB2, NC Democratic Representatives have filed three bills aimed at bringing protections to the LGTBQ community.
- HB515 would fully repeal HB2, and allow local municipalities to enact anti-discrimination laws.
- The Equality for All Act, HB514, would codify equal access and protections for the LGTBQ community in the areas of housing, employment, public accommodations, credit, education, insurance, and jury service. Equality NC called the bill “the most comprehensive nondiscrimination bill ever introduced in the state of North Carolina.” HB514 would also add language to existing state anti-discrimination laws and would prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, military or veteran status, and genetic information.
- The Mental Health Protection Act, HB516, would prohibit licensed mental health practitioners from subjecting minors to harmful “conversion therapy” practices that attempt to change their sexual orientation or gender identity using psychological or spiritual means. In many cases, the practice of conversion therapy can be extreme, causing profound harm to those who are treated by such – including dramatic increases in suicide attempts. You can learn more about conversion therapy and the harm it causes by visiting Born Perfect.
In addition to the House protection bills, Senate Democrats have introduced SB209 this year, The Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would include sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, ethnicity, and disability in existing state hate crime laws. This bill, like the others we’ve mentioned, has been filed and sent to committee to languish. Unfortunately, a small number of conservative leaders have the power to decide which bills are heard in committee, and these particular bills are unlikely to come to the floor for a vote due to the current leadership.
North Carolina should not be known as the state to boycott for its treatment of the LGTBQ community. With the introduction of bills that support and protect all of our neighbors we have the opportunity to change our reputation, to hold ourselves to higher principles, and to treat everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, with equality. We ask the NCGA to fully repeal HB2, to give equal access and protection to all citizens of our state, to provide the same protections to victims of domestic violence regardless of sexual orientation, and to provide funding for PReP to public clinics.