For transgender people in North Carolina, it’s about more than bathrooms
Editor’s Note: Last month, North Carolina’s state legislature passed HB2 — a controversial bill that requires transgender people to use the bathroom correlated with the gender on their birth certificate. The law also excludes gay and transgender people from anti-discrimination protections. On May 4, the U.S. Justice Department said HB2 violates federal civil rights laws.
Since Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law, big-name concerts have been called off, stores and businesses have been boycotted and canceled conventions have cost the state some $8 million and counting.
Special correspondent Roben Farzad traveled down to North Carolina to cover the economic costs and controversy for Making Sen$e’s latest segment. While he was there, Farzad spoke with Rebecca Way and Payton McGarry, two transgender employees at the LGBT-friendly, Greensboro-based tableware retailer Replacements.
The following conversations with Rebecca Way and Payton McGarry have been edited for clarity and length. You can watch the full report below.
— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor
Roben Farzad: Rebecca, how does this bill affect your day-to-day? What was it like before and after?
Rebecca Way: Before, there really wasn’t a whole lot of concern. I used the bathroom, I was able to walk into facilities with my daughter and know that I could take her into that facility. Her being a 6-year-old girl, it’s important that I be with her.
This bill becomes problematic, because I cannot accompany my daughter into a women’s restroom in some facilities in North Carolina now. So it is a danger for me and my daughter at this point. And because of the attention it’s drawn, as a parent, I want to protect my daughter. Being out in public now, I feel like I might have a target on me. If I am found to be transgender, somebody might be more willing to confront me, and it’s not something I want to happen with my daughter.
Roben Farzad: Have you encountered any hostility?
Rebecca Way: For the most part, I have not. But I surround myself with very supportive people — I’ve got this little bubble within Greensboro of people who I’ve known for about two decades. And now, with recently joining Replacements, I found a new family that’s also supportive. So for myself, for my day-to-day, I really don’t have that experience. Early on in my transition, it was not as easy for me to present as female. The hormones have helped me with that, some skills that I’ve learned along the way on how to best put on makeup and how to best speak and those type of things have made my life a lot easier. But in my early 20s, I was assaulted multiple times, and I have been a victim of sexual assault. Because of my earlier experiences trying to live in the world as a woman, the biggest thing that I had to get over to transition was that fear.
Roben Farzad: Why do you see this timing now? Why is this law being pushed through in this state?
Rebecca Way: My personal opinion is that people fear what they don’t know. And recently with the Supreme Court ruling with gay marriage and gay rights, we were a soft target. We were an easy target for a group that wanted to use us as a political football. And they’re playing with people’s lives. And so it’s come about, because a group is wanting to have their agendas served, and unfortunately, it’s at the expense of people like myself.
Roben Farzad: Payton, tell me how this law affects your day-to-day? Before and after?
Payton McGarry: Beyond the thing everybody wants me to say, which is it affects which bathroom I go into, it puts me at risk of losing employment. I’ve already lost employment before. It puts my friends and family at risk of employment and discrimination. And I can walk into any business now, and they can say, “Oh! We don’t serve trans people. Sorry!”
Roben Farzad: Have you lost employment because of your trans status?
Payton McGarry: I have. I’ve lost three jobs, because I’m a transgender man.
Roben Farzad: How did that happen?
Payton McGarry: I taught a band camp for a guy, and he didn’t know I was trans, and then he found out I was trans and canceled me coming back the next week.
Roben Farzad: After that happens, do you contact the ACLU? Do you contact your congressman? I mean, we certainly saw the Supreme Court weigh in on gay marriage. This can’t be that far removed from the civil rights of transgender people?
Payton McGarry: You’re not wrong. But at that point in my life, it was one job that I was going to have for one week, and it just wasn’t worth the time or effort to go into that. And I know that as a teacher in North Carolina, you have to be outwardly conservative. You cannot have transgender people working for you and know about it.
Roben Farzad: Were you raised in North Carolina?
Payton McGarry: I was. I was raised in Wilson, North Carolina.
Roben Farzad: And now, as an adult, do you question your commitment to North Carolina? Perhaps some are thinking it’s easier to just move if you can’t beat them or change them?
Payton McGarry: There’s a saying in North Carolina, and it says, “Tar Heel born, Tar Heel bred, and when I die, I’m a Tar Heel dead.” And that’s how I feel about it. But I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’ve thought about it. You know, why even bother staying somewhere you aren’t wanted?
Roben Farzad: What other cities out there have approached the model of what you want? Do you look at the coasts? Maybe New York, San Francisco? Some of the bigger cities?
Payton McGarry: All of them. Charleston has an ordinance similar to the one that Charlotte adopted.
Roben Farzad: And that ordinance specifies?
Payton McGarry: That you cannot discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual identity. And I think that’s a really important thing.
Roben Farzad: Do you feel like you need Washington to maybe weigh in more forcefully on this?
Payton McGarry: I think we will see. I think only time will tell.
Roben Farzad: How did you end up here at Replacements?
Payton McGarry: I got fired from one of my jobs for this upcoming summer, and then I got a message from Bob [the founder and CEO of Replacements], and it said, “Hey, if there’s anything I can do, let me know.” I said, “Well, can I give you a resume?”
Roben Farzad: To what extent has the trans community in North Carolina coalesced?
Payton McGarry: So trans people make up 0.2 percent of the population by most estimations. We have strings to pull, because we are people. We deserve the same basic human rights, because we are human. And I think that’s where this is coming from. It isn’t a game of who’s trans and who’s gay. You know? It’s a game of who’s human. And you shouldn’t be able to discriminate against another human being. And I think people are really seeing that. Trans people have come together, but I think the more surprising numbers have come from the amount of community support that we’ve received.
Roben Farzad: And you’re part of a lawsuit. Can you tell us more about that?
Payton McGarry: So I followed that piece of legislation, and the moment it passed with Pat McCrory’s signature, I emailed Equality North Carolina and the ACLU of North Carolina and basically said, “Hey, what can I do?” I got a call, and they asked if I’d be interested in being a plaintiff. I said, “Absolutely,” because I was initially a stealth trans-man, which means people didn’t know that I was trans. And I felt that my personal experiences of oppression, of harassment and assault were valuable.
Roben Farzad: So it really forced your hand to come out fully.
Payton McGarry: I wouldn’t say that it forced me, I would say that I came out willingly, because I knew that I had a valuable experience to share. And people have seen me as a person, so why would that change when they found out I was trans? I’m not just this mythical trans person.