Bathroom Panic Brings Down a Charlotte Law Protecting Trans People

The North Carolina legislature has passed a law that leaves the state's gay and transgender residents unprotected against discrimination.
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The North Carolina legislature has passed a law that leaves the state's gay and transgender residents unprotected against discrimination.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Just one week before an ordinance protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination by businesses was set to go into effect in Charlotte, North Carolina, the state legislature effectively overturned the measure. North Carolina's General Assembly convened a special session on Wednesday to introduce a new non-discrimination law that supersedes local measures, National Public Radio reports. While the statewide measure covers race, religion, nationality, and biological sex, it leaves people discriminated against for their sexual orientation and gender identity unprotected.

It was not an altogether surprising piece of news. In fact, Melissa Gira Grant predicted the potential downfall of the Charlotte ordinance just yesterday in Pacific Standard. But what could possibly cause North Carolina lawmakers to overthrow a more comprehensive non-discrimination measure? The fact that it would allow trans people to use whichever bathroom fit their gender identity. This bathroom panic is nothing more than thinly veiled transphobia, Gira Grant reported, and it's certainly not new. So where does the idea that trans rights somehow impinge on the rights of cisgender people come from?

Gira Grant traces its roots back to the rise of what she calls "feminist transmisogyny":

Feminist transmisogyny was not a given. In those days, Sandy Stone was a music engineer with the separatist collective Olivia Records. "We were already in clear communication about the fact that I was trans," she recalled in an interview, "and they were very open to working with me. They mostly wanted to know if our politics agreed and whether or not I could work with a lesbian separatist collective." It was a group of "essentialists" led by feminist author Janice Raymond, who began a campaign targeting the collective and Stone, that was disruptive and threatening within the women's community, not Stone (who did finally leave the collective over the abuse).

Raymond deserves singular credit for her work in this area, purveying transmisogyny under the banner of feminism in publications like her 1979 book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. "Using male pronouns for trans women throughout," Juliet Jacques wrote in her 2014 assessment of Raymond and feminist transphobia in the New Statesman, "Raymond concluded that 'the problem of transsexualism would be best served by morally mandating it out of existence,' advocating 'consciousness-raising therapy' as an aversion to the existing system where possible."

But Raymond also has the distinction of having her ideas baked into trans-exclusionary policy.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, who signed the bill later that same day, essentially echoed Gira Grant's reporting in his own prepared statement.

"The basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte," McCrory said. "This new government regulation defies common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman's bathroom, shower, or locker room."

The idea that cis women are somehow threatened by trans women persists today, and drives efforts lobbying against equal protections for all Americans. It's beyond troubling to reflect on the fact that lawmakers in North Carolina (and elsewhere) buy into these flawed arguments, purposefully leaving a vulnerable portion of the United States' population unprotected.