This is not a column about HB2. Well, sort of. But don't freak out.
In the two weeks since HB2's passing, I'm sure you've read plenty about what the law does, what it doesn't do, the debate around restrooms and the debate on transgender rights. Some of you are probably sick of hearing of the issue.
For those who have been living under a rock, here's the short version: Charlotte City Council appproved a LGBT-inclusive public accommodations amendment to the city's non-discrimination ordinance, among other changes. The radical right freaked out in a panic over transgender people's use of bathrooms. The state legislature went into special session to override Charlotte's non-discrimination ordinances, but ended up doing a lot more than that. The law strips away LGBT non-discrimination protections, including the right of trans people to use the restroom corresponding with their gender identity, along with a slew of other regressive measures, like restricting municipal authority on minimum wage laws.
But, again, I'm not hear to talk about the law. Not directly at least.
It's time we actually have a conversation about visibility; in particular the visibility of transgender people. They've been at the crux of the debate over HB2. Their lives, lifestyles and even their bodies have been held up to public scrutiny and scorn. Most of this discussion has been absent of any true understanding of who transgender people are, what they want or what they experience.
Transgender people's rights and lives are beginning to take center stage in the LGBT civil rights movement. Many LGB people, though not all, have come to deeply understand and know their trans siblings. That's helped usher in a wave of better allyship among some LGBT organizations, as they begin to tackle trans-related issues they had rarely, if ever, advocated for before.
But among the general public, and even among LGB cisgender people uninitiated in community organizing work, trans people remain a mystery. People just don't understand. The concept of gender as wholly unrelated to physical, sexual anatomy is foreign to many; that a person's gender identity might actually conflict with their physical, sexual anatomy? Well, forget trying to explain that to most.
The same can't be said for LGB people any more. The overwhelming majority of Americans know and love people who identify as gay — sons, daughters, parents, co-workers, etc. This level of familiarity and comfort with the gay people in our lives has helped push gay rights issues like marriage equality from a far-off dream to a nationwide reality in a single generation.
Today, trans people find themselves and their issues as difficult for people to understand and as socially verboten as gay people found their lifestyles in the 1970s and 1980s.
But that is starting to change — and change rapidly. In the past two weeks, I've seen trans issues take off as the full-on centerpiece of public discourse like never before. HB2 has been in the news every day and perhaps for the first time ever, trans issues have been at the forefront of a two-week news cycle.
More people now are hearing of transgender people's lives and the issues they face. The visibility is here. Understanding will soon follow, especially as more and more trans people feel empowered to come out and stake their claim to full human rights and dignity.
What you're witnessing is the beginning of a coming tidal wave of change. More and more of us will come to know trans people. It's already happening. According to a recent survey from the Human Rights Campaign, 35 percent of Americans say they personally know or work with a trans person, more than twice the figure who could say as much two years ago.
I believe most people are well-meaning, good-hearted folk. Perhaps they don't understand trans people. Perhaps there's some fear. But, ultimately, they want to be on the right side of history.
If that describes you — if you've been among the many confused by or questioning what it means to be transgender — it's time for you to listen, to explore, to engage. Because as fast as gay rights progress has moved, it won't be long before trans people have their rightful seat at the table, too. Don't be left sitting in the past with Pat McCrory and our state's legislative leaders. Take a stroll into the future with the rest of us, will you?