Social justice activists have organized against a spate of repressive laws introduced by the North Carolina General Assembly, including one of the worst voter suppression laws in the nation, passed in 2013. Their threshold for outrage was surpassed, yet again, when North Carolina law makers legalized transphobia through House Bill 2. This bill demonizes transgender people as criminals and sex offenders, and denies local policies to allow transgender people for using public bathrooms corresponding to gender with which they identify. This bill, derided as bathroom bill, passed after a little debate and public comment, and signed into law on the same fateful night of March 23, 2015, by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R). The New York Times editorial headline claimed that this bill made North Carolina “pioneer in bigotry”. Critics argue that this bill violates Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Atlantic labeled the bill as a “constitutional monstrosity” and could be challenged based on the Supreme Court’s 1996 case of Romers v. Evans.
North Carolina legislators have pursued a career that will be an envy of snake oil dispensers. Their rule book includes creating a paranoia against problems that do not exist and introducing bills as panaceas for these fictitious maladies. In the process, these bills attack a host of unsuspecting communities. In 2013, North Carolina legislators passed anti-Sharia law that promotes Islamophobic allegation that Muslims want to subvert the United States constitution. A version of this bill had included language against women’s reproductive rights. Voter ID law allegedly prevents the almost non-existent incidence of voter fraud. This law, however, threatens to disenfranchise many youth, elderly, indigent and people of color communities. Bathroom bill is designed to prevent mythical sexual assault by transgender people in bathrooms, when in reality, transgender people themselves are one of the biggest victims of sexual assault and attacks in public bathrooms. The Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, the official title of this bill, attempts to accomplish much more than “bathroom privacy”. It also robs municipal power to raise minimum wage, and denies local policies and enforcements against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, nationality, age or disability. A Muslim employee can face faith-based discrimination at work place and will have limited recourse in state courts.
These oppressive bills have spurred the social justice community to build grassroots intersectional movement. #BlackLivesMatter Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition led a protest against HB2 law in front North Carolina Governor’s mansion. This campaign brought together allies in the LGBTQ rights, anti-racism and anti-Islamophobia movements. LGBTQ community members, workers rights organizers, Latinx community organizers, teachers, students, prison justice organizers, anti-Islamophobia activists and people from different movements have come together in the form of North Carolina May Day Coalition to connect their struggles and fight these regressive laws. Organizers are using this opportunity to unite and strengthen their power. Many are inspired by a famous Mexican proverb, “they tried to bury us; they did not know we were seeds!”
Manzoor Cheema is a fellow at the Center for New Community.