Because legislators sometimes forget it's 2016 and not 1916, on Wednesday North Carolina passed a bill that repeals LGBT nondiscrimination protections in the state and bans transgender individuals from going to the bathroom per their gender identities. Gov. Pat McCrory signed it in reaction to an earlier ordinance in Charlotte, North Carolina, that would have protected LGBT people from facing discrimination in public facilities. The new discriminatory bill was introduced and passed within the span of 10 hours.
Yes, people's right to go to the bathroom was the subject of a special legislative session.
Though the bill is only the newest addition to a prolific canon of prejudice and harm enacted toward transgender individuals, this election season has disturbingly glossed over most trans-related issues. None of the candidates have mentioned the North Carolina bill at the time of writing. Certainly, candidates have spoken out about LGBT rights this season, but the "T" part of it has been generally overlooked.
When the candidates have acknowledged that "T," they only gave brief nods. To be fair, Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have sparingly tweeted in support of equal treatment for transgender individuals — and both tweeted in support of trans rights on Thursday, presumably in response to the North Carolina law. That is certainly a lot better than their Republican counterparts. However, trans individuals deserve far more than just 140 characters of lip service.
On the Republican front, Donald Trump has touted transphobic views, including his refusal to allow a transgender woman to participate in Miss Universe (he did relent after legal action). Ted Cruz isn't much better and has stated that transgender soldiers shouldn't be allowed in the military. So, much of transgender individuals' airtime during the elections has been lukewarm or decidedly negative.
That's a terrible thing, considering all the bills similar to North Carolina's that are trying to sneak into fruition. Nine other states have "bathroom bills" pending, and 44 anti-trans bills have been introduced in 2016 so far — more than double the number of bills filed in last year's legislative session. And let's not forget a more sobering statistic: Violence towards transgender individuals is on the rise, with the number of trans people murdered in 2015 at a historic high.
Even though the anti-trans bills are often specific to the state and local level, presidential candidates have a responsibility to be far more vocal on trans rights. Even if they're not directly questioned about it (and it's shameful they're not pressed on it more), they should be speaking out. Not only can candidates shape the public's view of transgender individuals and their rights, but they can also bring awareness to the fact that it's an important issue at all. The presidential candidates stand on a platform of influence. The amount of misunderstanding surrounding and hate towards trans individuals are inversely proportional to how often candidates positively address them — and that says something.
How did North Carolina's "bathroom bill" become a reality? Gov. McCrory stated that passing Charlotte's nondiscriminatory ordinance would "create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals." Heinous, deviant actions indeed, such as peeing in a toilet and washing one's hands.
Rep. Frank Artiles of Florida, who proposed a similar bill last year, said such measures are necessary to prevent men from assaulting, raping, and spying upon women in bathrooms. That logic is wrong and offensive in too many ways to even explain in this article. But, at the very least, it's a flimsy, euphemistic excuse to pass a bill that paints transgender individuals as sexual predators. By the way, it's already been widely reported that there are no known examples of trans individuals using bathrooms of their assigned genders in predatory ways.
North Carolina's bill does not actually mention transgender people at all, which may have been a loophole that helped it pass and potentially allow legislators to claim it doesn't technically target or discriminate against transgender individuals. It's a twisted example of legislators sticking their fingers in their ears and singing, "Can't hear you!" at trans issues and trans rights. By not specifically naming or acknowledging transgender individuals, they also exacerbate the community's invisibility — an invisibility that is only confirmed by presidential candidates' relative silence.