Transgender rights – the latest expression of the Stonewall resistance

Around 3:00am on the morning of June 28, 1969, New York City police officers stormed into the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, and began arresting gay and lesbian people. It was the latest in a series of raids intended to harass and intimidate New York City’s lesbian and gay community.

This time, however, things went differently. As police officers hauled people out of the bar a crowd gathered outside and threw bottles at the police.   The lesbian and gay community had finally reached its breaking point and defiantly pushed back. Although additional police were called in to break up the crowd, the riot sparked several days of protests in which demonstrators argued for the rights of lesbian and gay people.  The battle for LGBT equality was joined.

June is “LGBT Pride Month” in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots. Cities all across the country will hold Pride festivities including parades, block parties and other events.   These celebrations will give thanks for the historic battles that have been won, including President Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” opening up the American military to out LGBT persons, and the United States Supreme Court’s decision striking down DOMA, thereby mandating federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Unfortunately, however, the war for the full recognition of LGBT rights rages on.

Nowhere is that more evident than in North Carolina.

Earlier this year, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance that affirmed the right of transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their gender identity. It was right and fair.

Yet, the North Carolina General Assembly responded to the ordinance with shock and horror. Rushing into a special session at tax payer expense, the General Assembly quickly passed legislation not only overturning Charlotte’s ordinance, but eliminating all existing municipal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people and preventing such ordinances from being passed by cities in the state in the future.

In signing the hastily drafted legislation into law, Governor Pat McCrory tweeted: “Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance. That’s why I signed bipartisan bill to stop it.”

House Speaker Tim Moore defended his legislation by claiming that Charlotte’s ordinance: “would have allowed a man to go into a bathroom, locker, or any changing facility, where woman are – even if he was a man. Obviously there is a security risk of a sexual predator.”

Charlotte City Councilman Kenny Smith put it most bluntly. “I think someone who wants to be up to no good could put on a wig and a dress, claim to be transgender, and go in a bathroom for whatever reason.”

Ridiculous and shameful statements.

Under the thin veil of “public safety,” their true motivations are the same fear, prejudice, and meanness that led the NYPD into gay bars fifty years ago: to harass and intimidate members of the LGBT community.

If the Governor and Legislature were really only concerned about protecting women and girls from men using the law to invade their bathrooms, then why the wide-ranging law striking down all current municipal LGBT non-discrimination ordinances and preventing cities from passing them in the future?

That’s because North Carolina’s new law is not about public safety. It is about raising an intentional middle finger at the progress made by the LGBT community since the community first started pushing back at Stonewall.

It is the same response of fearful, small-minded, and timid people in power using the brute force of the law to intimidate, harass, and threaten a vulnerable group. This time, not in gay clubs in the middle of the night, but in bathrooms throughout North Carolina at any time of day. This time, harassing and intimidating transgender people when all they want to do is pee in peace and safety.

Tragically, their response is physically dangerous for transgender persons.

In research for the ordinance, Charlotte’s attorney’s office found that while there was no increase in sexual assaults in bathrooms where similar laws were enacted, there were several reported incidents where transgender women, forced to use men’s restrooms, were victims of sexual assault and bullying.

That is worth repeating. There were NO reported incidents of children being abused when ordinances like Charlotte’s went into effect. There were, however, reports of transgender people being sexually assaulted and bullied, especially transgender women, when forced to use men’s restrooms.

Where is the General Assembly’s mad dash into special session to address this danger? Where is Speaker Moore’s recognition that, in fact, it is HIS legislation that poses the very real security risk for tax paying and law abiding citizens of his state? Where is the Governor’s tweet that, on second thought, it actually is HIS legislation that defies common sense in mandating that some people who look like, and self-identify as, women must use the men’s restroom, and other people who look like, and self-identify as, men must use the women’s restroom?

But there hasn’t been, and won’t be any new special session, because the first special session wasn’t really about public safety. It was about aggressively and punitively pushing back against the progress made by LGBT people.

During this LGBT Pride month, my faith as a Christian leads me to see the victories enjoyed by the LGBT community as the work of God in Christ Jesus leading people from death to life. I celebrate the advances as the way Christ is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy in proclaiming release to the captives and letting the oppressed go free. (Luke 4:18-19).

Inspired and grateful for the courage of the gay and lesbian people who stood up at Stonewall, let us join ourselves to the work of equality, which is the work of Christ. Let us be people of courage who stand up and push back against oppression in its many sinister forms. Let us continue the work begun at Stonewall by relentlessly working for the full worth and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. And finally, let us be the ones who hold open doors for transgender people to whichever restroom they feel most comfortable and safe using.