It had been six years since I stepped foot at North Carolina’s legislative building when HB2 was signed into law by former Governor Pat McCrory. This bill restricted transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender. On the outside, the building seemed too small for the gravity it demanded. I could feel the heat on my skin; the weather was a sweltering 92 degrees, which seemed too hot – even for the first day of June.
It wasn’t just from the weather; it was from ralliers who had gathered on the sidewalks and grounds of the building.
I discovered how long six years could be. There was a time when I was an energetic 23-year-old protester demanding justice for the LGBTQ community.
By 29, I realized I had become quieter, more observant, and more worried than my early 20s had allowed. I stood and watched, ralliers to my left, my right, the legislative building to my front, and I thought to myself – “here we are again.”
Last Wednesday, North Carolina’s Senate passed HB 755, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill. The measure would prohibit elementary schools from teaching K-3 students about gender identity or sexuality. The bill passed on a 28-18 margin on the first day of Pride month.
Opponents of the legislation in the gallery yelled in protest, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going anywhere.”
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper opposed the bill later that day, stating its similarity to Florida’s controversial law.
Governor Cooper also worried about what it would mean for the state following former Governor McCory’s signage of HB2 which resulted in several organizations backing away from North Carolina.
“The last thing our state needs is another Republican political ploy like the bathroom bill, which hurt our people and cost us jobs,” he said. “So let’s keep the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ culture wars out of North Carolina classrooms.”
Something that Kendra Johnson, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina, who organized last Wednesday’s rally, agrees with.
“HB 755 is a dangerous and deplorable bill which puts our LGBTQ+ young people at risk,” she said in a statement to GLAAD. “Our schools should be a safe space for trans and queer youth, and we stand with parents, teachers, employers, and young people in urging the NC House and our Governor to reject this bill.”
Katie Jenifer, the mother of a 14-year-old trans daughter, said the bill would negatively affect both teachers and trans students.
“Having this bill just opens up a whole massive pile of problems from teachers being afraid of what they say and what kids say to them and having to out them to unsupportive families,” she said.
“I feel like the whole process of how it came to be is suspect. We know that queer and trans students populate all the kids in our state. Why are we targeting them? Don’t we have other things, better things to do with our time and resources?”
According to a study by the Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ youth considered suicide in 2021, and 14% attempted suicide. Bills like HB755, which targets LGBTQ youth, only increase these statistics.
Sitting in the gallery, filled with the familiar dread I carried six years ago, I watched legislators discuss why such actions were reasonable.
State Senator Michael Garrett (D-Guilford) spoke from the Senate floor before the vote.
“Unfortunately, this bill before us now is nothing more than HB2, classroom edition. And we know all too well the impact of state-sanctioned bigotry.”
I cover state bills as part of my job – I never expected how close to home I would find them for myself.
According to GLAAD’s media guide for covering state legislation targeting LGBTQ people, as of April 2022 – more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed this year, outranking last year’s record. Five states have “Don’t Say Gay” bills canceling school conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This is a devastating blow to LGBTQ+ students and an attempt to codify “Don’t Say Gay” ideals in North Carolina as they have been in other states,” Vanity Reid Deterville, Director of Gender Advocacy and Support at LGBTQ Center of Durham, a grantee of GILEAD’s Compass Initiative said in a statement.
“We know this fight isn’t over, and we are deeply hopeful that the people in the General Assembly will choose progress over misinformation and ensure the youth of our state see a world where they are welcomed. The South is home to more LGBTQ+ people than any other region, and North Carolina should be the leader in the fight for progress. Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is not shameful. Our youth need us. They deserve happy lives.”
Despite Governor Cooper’s allyship to the trans community, the worry remains if a veto is enough. Since Cooper’s time in office, tension has remained between him and the Republican-controlled general assembly. A strain that has resulted in a series of veto overrides.
HB 755 was scheduled to be heard in the House Thursday afternoon but wasn’t voted on. According to Equality NC, there may be alterations to the bill before receiving a house vote.
Serena Sonoma (she/they) is the Communications Coordinator and Media Lead, U.S. South for GLAAD. A writer by way of North Carolina Sonoma has focused on intersectional feminism from an LGBTQ lens, specifically in its relation to cissexism and transmisogyny, since 2016. She attended Chowan University with a focus on Creative Writing and Drama. Serena also received a reporting fellowship with the now-defunct Everyday Feminism. During her time as a journalist, she has focused extensively on amplifying the stories of triply marginalized communities, such as transgender women of color.
Her work has appeared in Vox, Out, Teen Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and various other news publications.