Queer and trans* people of color challenge North Carolina’s repressive HB2


March 28, 2016

By L.T. Pham and Q. Wideman
Raleigh, N.C.

On March 23, the North Carolina General Assembly fast-tracked House Bill 2 in response to a Charlotte city ordinance set to take effect April 1 that would protect trans* people from discrimination.

The General Assembly called a “special session” to present the bill, whose details were not revealed to any lawmakers until that same morning. In under 12 hours, the bill was passed in two committee meetings, the House, the Senate and then enthusiastically signed by right-wing Gov. Pat McCrory.

Earlier this year, Gov. McCrory signed HB 318, a law assaulting undocumented immigrants and all workers.

HB 2 has been deemed one of the worst anti-trans* bills in the country. Now law, it is sweepingly broad and makes attacks on LGBTQ folks as well as workers and other oppressed peoples. HB 2 requires that trans* people must use the restroom that aligns with their “biological sex,” instead of the gender with which they identify. Trans* people can be denied public accommodations on the basis of their actual or perceived gender.

HB 2 also includes provisions that make it much more difficult for all oppressed workers to file state claims against their employers for discrimination. Additionally, the state can now prevent local governments from enforcing a minimum wage standard for contract workers.

This bill’s proponents, who had never before expressed concern for survivors of sexual assault, claim its purpose is to protect women and children from sexual predators. The right-wing proponents of the bill have specifically used the legislation to scapegoat trans* women, and all trans* people in general, for sexual assault.

In short, this new law is an attempt to consolidate state power in order to further divide the working class while using trans* people as a scapegoat.

A People’s Special Session

Queer and trans* people of color were present all day at the General Assembly as the bill was being pushed through. Many of us sat in on the hearings waiting for an opportunity to speak against this racist and transphobic bill, only to be told that public comment was limited.

In the first hearing, a young, Black trans* person approached the mic to speak after the committee chair had ended public comment after only 25 minutes. Immediately, they (some trans* people prefer to be referred to by the pronoun “they”) were told by a state sheriff to be quiet and to return to their seat. Instead, they said out loud that not a single person of color has been to the podium.

Following this, they were escorted out as they shouted, “Trans people are survivors too!” They were banned from re-entering any legislative building for the rest of the day.

By that night, the bill was passed into law, and queer and trans* people of color from across the state began to organize a response. Many are a part of the North Carolina BlackLivesMatter Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, a grouping of grass-roots organizations and Black Lives Matter youth organizers with a leftist orientation — many of whom organized the Pride disruption last summer.

By March 24, nearly 1,000 people had RSVP’d online to a demonstration called in front of the governor’s mansion. A statement released by the NC BlackLivesMatter QTPOC Coalition, and printed in Workers World, highlighted the disproportionate impact this bill will have on queer and trans* people, people of color, workers and other vulnerable communities.

The demonstration also called for its own “People’s Special Session” to take up the concerns and anger that queer and trans* people had been barred from expressing at the General Assembly.

Power and indignation

Nearly 1,000 people from across the state convened in front of the governor’s mansion that evening. As folks gathered, chants began that exposed the many attacks included in this new law: “Queer rights are workers rights!” and “Black lives matter!”

As the crowd began to grow, queer and trans* people of color organizers brought the crowd into the street and began the occupation of Blount Street. As the masses moved toward the governor’s mansion, arms linked and facing inward, the mansion’s police detachment became aggressive, pushing and yelling at the peaceful demonstrators. When the police realized that the group would be too large to control and had a fighting spirit of its own, they fell back.

Soon, five queer and trans* organizers took a spot in the center of the crowd, sat down and chained themselves together as a statement of resistance. The crowd built around these five and chants continued. Organizers asked that those in the crowd form a wall of protection around those who were most vulnerable at the action. What followed was a beautiful display of solidarity as queer and trans* people of color moved toward the inside of the circle, while anti-racist whites held the outside as cops attempted to look inward.

The crowd held Blount Street for over two hours as the group held space for trans* people of color to speak, sharing their stories about state violence and bathroom harassment. Some called for the ousting of Gov. McCrory, and many called to shut it all down. At one point in the evening, lights were turned on in the mansion, and McCrory himself stood in the window to witness a powerful showing of queer and trans* people who refused to be his pawns.

As the night wore on, police threatened a street sweep, but organizers were able to hold the street for another 20 to 30 minutes until those unable to risk arrest moved to the sidewalk to cheer on those committed to civil disobedience. As arrests were made, Black trans* women spoke out about the immense risks that civil disobedience and arrest hold for trans* people of color, sang and chanted the names of murdered trans* women of color, and vogued in front of stony-faced cops.

Eventually, the five who chained themselves together were slowly arrested, one by one. They were patted down, and some were inappropriately searched by arresting officers. After being transported to the Wake County Jail, they were held for more than two hours. The arrestees were released at the end of the night and welcomed by a crowd that had been rallying at the jail in solidarity.

The fight continues

The rapid passing of HB 2 into law exposes this stage of the capitalist crisis: Workers and oppressed people cannot trust politicians to prioritize human needs over profit and prestige. In fact, we should expect that as capitalism crumbles, more bills like HB 2 will be passed in order to justify the bosses’ and the politicians’ greed.

The politicians do not want to see a united front against homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ableism or any other issue plaguing the working class. They want to divide us, using lies that make us enemies of each other. But as revolutionaries, we understand that fighting for the working class means fighting back against every attack on oppressed peoples.

The actions in response to HB 2 will only grow in militancy as more and more people realize that we cannot contend with the police powers of the state on a basis of morality or conscience. A government that is so ready to deny trans* people the right to pee or self-identify, deny workers the right to fight against racism and discrimination, and prevent people from identifying with the oppression of others does not have a conscience and is not interested in one.

The March 24 demonstration sent a strong message to the ruling class: “If we don’t get no justice, then y’all don’t get no peace.” We will not stop fighting until trans* people can determine our own futures; until police violence against Black communities ends; until immigrants have freedom of movement; until women are free from the chains of patriarchy; until all working-class and oppressed communities are free from the chokehold of capitalism.
Black lives matter! Abolish the police! Defend trans* women! Protect queer youth!

Trans* is used with an asterisk to indicate the spectrum of all the different genders of people who do not conform to the either/or of male/female.