As we remembered the Stonewall Riots and the violence and discrimination that necessitated them, this Pride Month we faced a renewed push to erase LGBTQ people from public life. During what should have been a moment of celebration and gratitude for those who came before us, the strength and resilience that our community has built over generations was tested once again.
2021 broke records for introducing and enacting anti-LGBTQ legislation on the state level, but 2022 has already surpassed it. As of March, according to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 313 harmful bills had been introduced in 2022 nationwide, more than the 290 total introduced in 2021.
The majority of these bills discriminate specifically against transgender people, including restricting trans participation in sports, limiting access to gender-affirming health care, and targeting trans students in education.
We are no strangers to anti-LGBTQ discrimination in North Carolina.
In 2012, NC passed Amendment 1, which amended the state Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Just a few short years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, overruling Amendment 1. However, the 61% of voters who supported the amendment left many LGBTQ North Carolinians feeling unsafe and unsupported.
In 2016, NC passed House Bill 2, encouraging state facilities to restrict their single-gender restrooms to only allow people to use them if the sex listed on their birth certificate corresponded to the restroom’s gender marker. The bill was repealed in part due to nationwide backlash and boycotts from businesses and entertainers that cost the state millions.
Unfortunately, the fight continues. On the first day of Pride Month this year, legislators introduced House Bill 755, the so-called “Parents Bill of Rights.” If signed into law, the bill would prevent teachers from discussing gender or sexuality with K-3 students. While the 2022 short session ended without passing the bill, legislators demonstrated some of the hateful rhetoric to advance anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The narrative in HB 755 implies that discussion of LGBTQ identities is inappropriate for children. While the bill was moving through committees, NC legislators chastised a preschool teacher for using flashcards depicting LGBTQ themes, including a pregnant man. The teacher ultimately resigned, though it is unclear whether she was motivated by the backlash.
Let’s be clear — there is nothing inherently adult about being LGBTQ, just as there is nothing inherently adult about being straight and cisgender. The fact that a man can get pregnant and have a baby is no more of an adult concept than a woman doing the same. Trans men and nonbinary people, including children exist, and they deserve to do so publicly. LGBTQ identities are not a threat to children, and inclusion of LGBTQ themes in educational curriculum benefit and represent the children of LGBTQ couples, not to mention those who are curious about their gender identity and orientation.
Amidst this rhetoric around protecting children, LGBTQ North Carolinians have faced violence and intimidation at Pride celebrations. At Apex Pride, organizers removed the Drag Queen Story Hour from the event’s schedule after they received threats of violence. The event only continued when Equality NC decided to sponsor the event instead of the Apex Festival Commission. In Wilmington, a reading at a local library in celebration of Pride was disrupted by Proud Boys, a national white supremacist organization.
Children deserve safe spaces to learn about LGBTQ identities and to develop their own sense of gender identity and sexual orientation without the fear of violence.
One of the other provisions of HB 755 would require mandatory reporters (such as teachers and school counselors) to inform parents if their kids change their name or pronouns at school. Being outed to parents can increase an LGBTQ child’s risk of abuse, homelessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide.
These are risks our youth cannot afford — According to the Travor Project’s 2022 survey, 45% of LGBTQ young people seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 14% made an attempt.
As we move forward in the wake of a Pride Month full of disappointments and challenges, it is imperative that we show our young people that they are not alone, and that we will fight for their rights. We can make a difference in their lives now, and the future of our community depends on it. June may be over, but our advocacy and solidarity will carry on.