HB2 one year later: The struggle grows and continues

By L.T. Pham
March 28, 2017

Durham, N.C. – One year ago on March 23, the North Carolina General Assembly called a special session to fast track HB2, a bill that would be called the “most anti-trans bill” in the country. It was moved through committee hearings and both House and Senate votes in less than 12 hours.

The resistance that followed, led by Black and Brown trans and queer youth, students and communities across the state, will go down in history. Within a day, over 1,000 people from across the state rallied at then-Governor Pat McCrory’s mansion in Raleigh to shame him and all the politicians who dared to come after the humanity and livelihood of trans people.

Trans and queer people of color called for our own People’s Special Session to lift up the communities threatened by HB2 and address other pressing issues, including health care, jobs and safety from police brutality. The NC Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition said in a statement:

“The General Assembly and Governor McCrory chose to criminalize trans and gender nonconforming children and youth, and to scapegoat trans women and other trans people for rape by passing NC HB 2. House Bill 2 bars city and county governments from raising their municipal minimum wage, as well as prohibits anti-discrimination policies that account for gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation. Lawmakers were given only five minutes to review the bill and it passed within a 12-hour period without a single trans person of color being allowed to speak.

“This bill reinforces the school-to-prison pipeline that trans and gender nonconforming students of color already face by making their choice of toilet grounds for suspension or arrest.

“This bill rolls back decades of hard-won progress, and will harm our whole state. It undermines municipal democratic control, advancements in anti-discrimination policy, and further prohibits wage increases. This is a direct assault on working families and particularly working women of color who are most likely to be paid poverty wages. LGBTQ folks of color are workers, and we are worth more!”

Five trans and queer people who committed civil disobedience were arrested. It was only the beginning.

What we won

McCrory came under fire from many. The National Basketball Association relocated its All-Star Game. PayPal released a statement boycotting North Carolina. The Department of Justice threatened to withdraw federal funding from the state if the General Assembly did not move to repeal the law.

The actions of these corporations and bourgeois government entities, while somewhat superficial and full of contradictions, reflected the tremendous power exerted by trans and queer people of color coming together with others to protest heinous acts of the state.

We were able to galvanize thousands of people into action. Demonstrations, student occupations, forums and community trainings sprung up across the state. People from Fayetteville to Boone rose up to protest the bigoted law. Thousands convened again at the state Capitol on April 25, demanding the full repeal of HB2.

While the scapegoating of trans people was glaringly obvious, organizers and community members fought to ensure that the story being told about HB2 wasn’t just about bathrooms but went deeper. HB2 was a classic divide-and-conquer strategy to isolate trans people, as if trans people were not also people of color, low-wage workers, women or sexual violence survivors. We had an obligation to each other to tell the full story.

The fight continues

McCrory’s special session came after the Charlotte City Council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that would have protected trans people accessing public facilities. McCrory and the Charlotte mayor engaged in a political circus that didn’t actually address the harm caused by HB2. They got the Charlotte City Council to repeal its anti-discrimination ordinance in “exchange” for a repeal of HB2. To no surprise, that didn’t happen and now there are no legal ordinances to protect trans people in Charlotte.

United Electrical Workers Local 150, the union representing public service workers in North Carolina, continues to bring attention to the attacks on workers embedded in HB2. Recently, the union organized a rally at the state Capitol demanding the state overturn HB2 and restore labor rights in the cities.

In last November’s election, McCrory was ousted as governor and replaced by Democrat Roy Cooper, who promised a full repeal of HB2. While the repeal has not yet happened, McCrory’s loss in the gubernatorial race shows the power of trans and queer people to influence the political landscape. The resistance to HB2 exposed the deeply rooted bigotries of McCrory and his General Assembly whose reactionary anti-trans, anti-worker and anti-poor policies date back to before HB2.

Trump can’t change things; only we can

The struggle against HB2 began as racist, misogynist Donald Trump was vying with warmonger Hillary Clinton to become commander in chief. This makes both the passage of HB2 and the resistance that followed all the more significant.

Now the Trump administration has revoked the section in Title IX safeguarding trans students from discrimination. The reality for many trans youth, under any administration, has been grim and full of harassment and violence.

So far in 2017, nearly 10 trans women have been murdered by vigilantes — the majority being Black trans women who experience disproportionate rates of homelessness, joblessness and violence from the state and its extrajudicial bodies.

While Trump presents new challenges for our movement, the position from which he governs and the conditions that gave rise to him are not new. We should rapidly respond to the attacks under this new administration while never forgetting that capitalist democracy could not protect trans students or Black trans women; capitalist democracy provided no protection from the HB2 bill; capitalist democracy has allowed the bourgeoisie to take advantage of contradictions within the working class to further its profits and political power.

That said, capitalism is crumbling internally. The actions of the Trump administration show that the profit-hungry ruling class will use extreme and bigoted measures to win over desperate workers whose economic insecurity makes them vulnerable to reactionary demagogy.

Building our class struggle

Many tremendous lessons have emerged since HB2 was passed in North Carolina. First and foremost, the South will continue to live up to its legacy of struggle and resistance, forged by the Civil Rights and Student Sit-In movements, the environmental justice movement along the coast of North Carolina and the massive Charlotte Uprising against police and state violence in 2016. “As goes the South, so goes the country” remains true, whether it’s to the reactionary right or the revolutionary left.

Second, LGBTQ people are on the frontlines of every struggle in the U.S. This did not start or end with HB2.

During the Charlotte Uprising and the Black Lives Matter movement, trans and queer people led the demonstrations that won the release of the video footage showing the police shooting of Keith L. Scott and continued the jail and legal support for hundreds of freedom fighters facing state repression.

It was trans and queer people who initiated the first North Carolina solidarity caravans to Standing Rock to protest the pipeline. Now, as immigrants across the country face raids and checkpoints, trans and queer people are taking urgent action to organize a radical response that throws no one under the bus. The leadership of trans and queer people must not be underestimated, nor should the attempts of LGBTQ organizers to build across identities within our class be taken lightly.

As repressive attacks intensify against Black people, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ people, women, and other workers and oppressed people, we have a duty as organizers and revolutionaries to intervene in meaningful ways: meeting our class where it is and pushing to elevate its consciousness; recognizing that hundreds of thousands of people are being pushed into action like never before; supporting the leadership of the most oppressed; not relegating the struggle against sexism, racism, homophobia or transphobia to secondary status, while also remembering that there are only two sides in this struggle — the multinational, revolutionary working class against the ruling class.

Our side is the working class. None of the contradictions within our class are irreconcilable; we must struggle to unite our class across identity, geography and experience. We cannot be idle while the ruling class attempts to paint different sectors of the working class as each other’s enemies. If we do not take responsibility for our class, reactionary and opportunistic forces like the Democratic and Republican parties will attempt to divert its revolutionary potential into yet another election cycle, and the workers and oppressed people will be sold out yet again for the benefit and interests of the rich.

Many more HB2s are on the horizon. We must believe that we will win and fight accordingly. Across our movement, workers and oppressed people need each other now more than ever. Our sights should be set on unity, solidarity and rejection of bourgeois politics that divert our movement from naming capitalism as the real enemy to us all.

Black trans women matter! Protect trans youth! Black Lives Matter! Indigenous sovereignty now! Stop the ICE raids! End the attacks on Muslims! Fight for revolutionary socialism!