Durham, N.C. — On March 23, the right-wing North Carolina Legislature fast-tracked HB2, an anti-trans* and anti-worker bill, in an attempt to divide the working class. The bill was signed into law in less than 12 hours, with many lawmakers spending only 10 minutes reading it. Since then, demonstrations and teach-ins have been organized across the state in opposition to the new law which scapegoats trans* people in order to make broader attacks on the working class.
Protests have ignited on several college and university campuses and in cities. From Winston-Salem to Raleigh, Charlotte to Boone, youth and students have the led the charge against HB2. Queer and trans* youth of color in particular have displayed a high level of militancy in leading this fightback.
In cities like Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte, organizers and communities have occupied intersections at rush hour, taken over administrative buildings and filled the streets to disrupt business as usual and bring attention to the sweepingly broad impact of the new law.
In Boone, Appalachian State University students organized an occupation in mid-April of the administration building to demand the chancellor come out against HB2. This action immediately followed a memo from the new Board of Governors’ president Margaret Spellings, who is tasked with leading North Carolina’s public university system. Spellings’ track record of participating in for-profit college boards, privatization efforts and crafting the federal “No Child Left Behind” education policy has provoked protests for several months. Upon learning about Spellings’ memo to university leadership that compliance with the new law is required, many students and youth saw the direct connection between the right-wing takeover of the state with the right-wing takeover of one of the largest public university systems in the country.
It became very clear to activists that this attack on the trans* community is also an attack on higher education, particularly Historically Black institutions under constant threat of defunding. Key reactionary players in both the Legislature and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors are seeking scapegoats in the working class in order to implement policies that endanger all oppressed people and workers.
In Charlotte, three queer Black activists engaged in direct action and took the intersection of Trade and Tryon, the busiest intersection in downtown Charlotte, at rush hour. Charlotte is the second-largest banking city in the United States, following New York, and home to the headquarters of such major banks and corporations as Bank of America and Duke Energy.
The General Assembly’s HB2 law was in some ways a direct response to Charlotte’s local nondiscrimination ordinance that was scheduled to go into effect April 1. The ordinance would have protected trans* people from discrimination in public facilities.
Take a good look at corporate ‘solidarity’
This spring we have seen such corporations as PayPal, Dow Chemical and American Airlines come out against the state of North Carolina and condemn the attacks on LGBTQ people. While many are excited to see these corporations pick a side in this battle, we should be critical of the contradictions in their stances and practices.
PayPal, for example, came under fire in 2014 when it looked to fill major positions in the company via unpaid internships — essentially searching for free labor while the company made millions and reaped the benefits of tax breaks. (thejournal.ie, July 10, 2014)
In 2012, a Dow Chemical worker died of severe acid burns from an explosion because a unit casing was old and the company discouraged any repairs, claiming high expenses. Dow Chemical did not report this incident to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration until the worker died. That means many more incidents like this have probably occurred that have been overlooked or brushed over because the workers do not have a union. (houstonpress.com, June 13, 2013)
In 2011, American Airlines filed for bankruptcy in order to clear itself of debt. Millions of dollars of this debt was pushed off on its workers who became unemployed, their contracts and pensions slashed while the corporation got a fresh start. (reuters.com, Nov. 29, 2011)
While these corporations came out against HB2, their anti-labor and anti-worker practices cannot be ignored, despite media propaganda that paint them to be defenders of justice.
On the ground we know who the true fighters and warriors are; they are queer and trans* youth and students of color who have courageously confronted this law and drawn sharp connections among anti-trans* bigotry, the fight for Black Lives and, more broadly, the contradictions of corporations and politicians denouncing HB2 while having a hand in electing and campaigning for the reactionary state General Assembly. It is very clear who is under attack and who is initiating the attacks.
Call grows for a ‘People’s Session’
Trans* people are not to be blamed for sexual assaults in restrooms or stripping local government power to determine living wage standards or acting on discrimination complaints (other reactionary parts of HB2). It is the politicians, the banks and the bosses who fund them that have decided to unemploy, underemploy and underpay workers and launch another war against working-class and oppressed people.
The fight continues in North Carolina to repeal HB2. On April 25, the first day of regular legislative sessions, many groups descended on the Capitol to demand a repeal. The session convened at 7 p.m., and by then, many had engaged in a sit-in in the Capitol building, while others held a disruption at the entrance. Loud chants echoed throughout the chambers as queer and trans* people warned the General Assembly that we were ready for this battle and we were coming.
The call for a People’s Session continues to grow as organizers recognize that HB2 is just a small, while significant, piece of the larger fight to build a pro-LGBTQ and pro-worker society. Organizers are looking to longer-term strategies to build people’s power through teach-ins and assemblies across the state. While the violence trans* people face in restrooms is urgent and crucial to address, we also know that trans* people are workers, are Black and Brown, are youth and students, and belong to other oppressed communities facing vicious attacks. If HB2 had not passed, we could easily expect another reactionary law that would also demand a united front to defend the gains of the civil rights, labor, women’s and LGBTQ movements.
HB2 has galvanized thousands of people in North Carolina who are eager to take action as well as develop an analysis of the material and political conditions of this time. The work of countless grassroots groups and organizations such as the NC #BlackLivesMatter Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition is at the helm of this growing movement. Radical and militant organizers are coming together to build a distinctive anti-racist and anti-capitalist fightback. It is the bold leadership of these queer and trans* youth of color that has reshaped the public narrative on what the struggle against HB2 truly means.
Trans* is used with an asterisk to indicate the spectrum of all the different genders of people who do not conform to the either/or of male/female or masculine/feminine.