Sunday, April 3, 2016

Sunday Long Read: The Hateful Eight

Emily Perper over at Longreads has put together eight stories about North Carolina's ridiculously savage HB2 law, and these are all excellent reads.

Two of the best of these are from Alania Monts at Atuostraddle:

The danger of the discourse surrounding “biological sex” comes from the fact that it paints while it’s harmful to all trans folks, in the discussions around public restrooms, it usually paints all trans women as rapists and sexual assaulters. Trans women become perpetrators of violence in the restroom when in reality, trans women are much more likely to be the victims of violence, both in public and in restrooms. Bills like this get passed because their proponents suggest that trans women are going to go into women’s spaces and attack women. Like the writings of Janice Raymond in the early 1970s, this sort of talk paints trans women as monster-men who are trying to infiltrate women’s private sphere and commit acts of violence, ignoring the fact that trans women are much more likely to be at the receiving end of violence, especially in bathrooms. “Biological sex” is an insidious way to be transphobic under the guise of working for women’s rights. Men are all rapists, and trans women are men according to this false logic; to protect women, “biological sex” discourse says that it is okay to harm a trans woman. This is dangerous. It’s untrue, it’s old, and it’s got to stop.

This law also creates a situation where in North Carolina it is now legal to police the bodily appearance of people whose gender doesn’t conform to normative standards of being. North Carolina’s lawmakers have given cisgender people the power to attack trans people—to demand their birth certificate even—if they don’t believe that they belong. This hostile environment privileges the privileged over those who need protection the most. When GLAAD reports that 38.7% of students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression and that 61.6% had no teacher intervention when they reported bullying, this law puts people in danger. I also want to point out that in North Carolina, the only way one can change their “biological sex” is through changing their birth certificate which can only happen through surgery–an intervention that isn’t always wanted or affordable for trans people, especially trans children.

It also works very hard to maintain the status quo in North Carolina. By refusing to allow the minimum wage to be raised unless the whole state raises it, North Carolina has effectively prevented liberal pockets of the state from enacting policies to keep their constituents safe. It furthers the school-to-prison pipeline by telling trans and gender nonconforming students of color in North Carolina that their options are limited: come to school and be disrespected by your government and peers, come to school and use the restroom that aligns with their gender identity and is arrested, or risk not showing up to school and being arrested for truancy. If you are not white, straight, cis, and well off in North Carolina right now, the government has just handed you a statement saying that they don’t care whether or not you live.

North Carolina is an interesting state to look at demographically—with 17 state funded colleges and universities, there is a highly educated and liberal population. But that population is younger, less likely to vote, and they exist in large concentrations in small parts of the state. So places like Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh, and other urban areas are trying and failing to enact legislation that reflects their progressive values because so much of the state is rural and conservative. Watching people around me react to the decision has highlighted some really unpleasant things about the way we as a state function in regards to our government.

I’ve primarily seen two reactions: #WeAreNotThis coming primarily from white communities and calls for mobilization coming from communities of color. I don’t want to imply that hashtag activism isn’t important because it is—especially from an accessibility standpoint. But it is interesting to me that most of the action coming from white people has been to distance themselves from those who put these laws into place. When I see #WeAreNotThis, I see North Carolinians doing what Southerners have been good at for centuries, hiding bigotry under Southern hospitality. #WeAreNotThis to me doesn’t do anything to for the trans youth who have effectively been expelled from school, nor does it offer solutions to communities trying to improve the quality of life. It makes me wonder about the effectiveness of separation. In a situation like this, what does separating ourselves from our lawmakers really do? Especially since in the primary election, slightly more than 17% of North Carolina’s 6.5 million registered voters voted, and that was a record high. If our communities aren’t voting, if our activism is only coming from the internet, and doesn’t participate in local government or grassroots organizing, how is it beneficial? Can wereally say that we aren’t the decision our government made if we don’t even work to change the government?

On the other hand, there are communities that are working and have been working to make North Carolina a better place to live for queer and trans people. Communities of color are calling for mobilization all across the state—on March 24th, a Black Lives Matter QTPOC rally in front of the Governor’s mansion is being organized by local grassroots organizations all over the State. Queer and trans people of color are organizing collectively to make sure that their communities are safe. They’re finding the important phone numbers to call, organizing voter education seminars for the future, and (most importantly to me at least) taking the time to honor the pain this decision has caused so many in North Carolina.

And from SE Smith at Rolling Stone:

There's a reason bathroom bills are exploding right now. It's not just about trans visibility and a growing sense of transphobia in conservative communities as they're forced to come to grips with the existence of the trans community. It's also closely associated with the 2016 presidential election, in which Republicans want to maintain their stranglehold on Congress. For them, opposing trans rights dovetails neatly with the interests of the right, allowing candidates to come out swinging against civil rights to appeal to conservative voters. Moreover, reintroducing constant fear brings voters out for downticket races, as right-leaning voters will turn out in force to prevent state houses from passing inclusive legislation and they'll also vote for Republican Congress members.

There's alarming overlap between states where bathroom access is being debated and those with contested Congressional seats: Florida, Indiana and Nevada all face open seats, since Marco Rubio, Dan Coats and Harry Reid don't intend to seek reelection. Representatives with a history of introducing and supporting bathroom bills could enjoy an edge with conservatives who want to limit trans rights.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is struggling, and Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois will be going up against Democrat Tammy Duckworth, a disabled veteran who has crushed her opposition on more than one occasion. The GOP also hopes to pick up a seat in Colorado. In all cases, nudging on a bathroom bill could help tip the scales.

In the House, Rep. Alan Grayson is fighting for spot representing Floridians, while Colorado Republicans are eyeing Democrat Michael Bennett's seat. Seats in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Nevada are also potential tossups that could turn into ferociously competitive races. Conservatives, highly skilled at crafting tight, single-issue political messages will likely engage with the subject of bathroom bills because they're so high-profile.

For some, that might mean touting voting and performance records. Others might show up in support of such bills in the hopes of being able to bask in some reflected glory, and yet others will be making campaign promises relating to bathroom restrictions. With Republicans already employing transphobic rhetoric in support of such legislation, the base is primed to fear trans people in bathrooms and to see these kinds of bills as a natural extension of American values, designed to protect people from influences that conservatives describe as predatory.

It's troubling that bathroom bills could be used in a naked ploy to dominate downticket races in this election, as it further demonstrates that American conservatives have perfected the art of striking fear into worried audiences. All it takes is the suggestion of danger to create a highly reactive response that could restrict trans rights even as the community makes its way into the daylight

A gigantic feature of American politics over the last 150 years or so has been "find a group of people to hate and then mobilize people to vote to punish them."  Expect to see more and more red states take up "common sense legislation" that "creates a statewide standard" to "protect schools, locker rooms and public venues".  The rest of the stuff that NC snuck in is just more red state race to the bottom garbage, designed to drive out those people so the electorate swings to the right.  In a state like NC, that's not hard to do at all. 

The state edged blue in 2008 and helped to elect Barack Obama. Republicans are making sure that can never happen again, and they've largely succeeded.

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