By Heather McKee Hurwitz
The latest threats to feminist and LGBTQ movements are North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (HB2) and a lawsuit by eleven states against the Obama administration’s guidelines to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice in school.
“Bathroom backlash,” such as HB2 and the lawsuit, oppose lesbian, gay, transgender, and contemporary feminist movements. Bathroom backlash attacks transgender persons’ rights, such as the widespread acceptance of transwomen Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, among many others. The tactics seek to limit transgender persons’ hard won legal gender reclassifications. Also, bathroom backlash undercuts advocacy by parents of transgender children for a safe educational experience for their children. In addition, HB2 and the lawsuit are backlash against the legalization of marriage equality that allows marriage between two people of any gender identity, instead of strictly defining marriage as between man and woman.
In contrast, feminists and LGBTQ activists value people of diverse gender and sexual identities and embrace the idea that gender identities should not be determined by assigned sex at birth. The majority of feminist organizations today advocate gender equality including transgender rights and support a range of lesbian and gay causes.
LGBTQ and feminist movements are protesting bathroom backlash in a variety of ways. Protesters have marched and rallied in front of the North Carolina Governor’s mansion and other government buildings. Just a few of their signs have read “I am not a second class citizen,” “Genitalia ≠ Gender,” “Trans and Proud,” and “Flush HB2.”
Reminiscent of anti-Vietnam War protesters who burned their draft cards, Laura Jane Grace of the punk rock band Against Me! burned her birth certificate to protest her gender identity assignment. Also, Beyoncé performed a concert in North Carolina wearing an anti-HB2 T-shirt and issued a statement denouncing HB2.
Protesters have created widespread unity, especially with civil rights groups, by framing HB2 as “Hate Bill 2” and with the hashtag #WeAreNotThis. Activists from the Black Lives Matter movement have supported transgender activists by performing civil disobedience and with slogans such as “Trans Lives Matter.”
From May 16-18, the TurnOUT! North Carolina (NC) coalition held a series of press conferences called “Women for the Repeal of HB2.” A few of the many groups that spoke out at the press conferences included North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NC CASA), Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, SisterSong, the Human Rights Coalition, Equality North Carolina, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Using a range of creative actions, activists are protesting to stop HB2 and restrictions on transgender students.
Laws that discriminate against transgender persons are part of a long history of homophobia, transphobia, and anti-feminist backlash. But the rapid shift in public opinion against transgender discrimination is part of a recent history of social media fueled activism. The momentum to stop bathroom backlash has been swift and infectious akin to the spread of Occupy and the 99%, support for the legalization of same-sex marriage, and outrage against police murder.
The range of diverse activists challenging HB2 reflect the breadth of contemporary feminist activism that that spans LGBTQ issues and anti-racism. The coalitions formed between LGBTQ, feminist, civil liberties, and civil rights activists for the shared goal of transgender rights are extraordinary collaborations.
Heather McKee Hurwitz, Ph.D., is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Barnard College in Sociology and the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College (Columbia University) in New York City. She studies gender, social movements, and globalization using qualitative and quantitative methods. Her research focuses on the Occupy Wall Street Movement, global feminisms, and activism using new social media.