Civilities: The ACLU, GLAAD, and a trans man talk about NC's sweeping anti-LGBT law

Mar 29, 2016

Every other Tuesday, Steven Petrow (the author of "Steven Petrow's Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners") addresses questions about LGBT and straight etiquette in his column, Civilities. In between, join Steven for his chat about everything that's on your mind.

Here's more about Steven's "Civilities" column and what makes him the person to dole out advice.

You can also reach Steven on Facebook at and on Twitter @stevenpetrow.

Welcome to this live chat which is about the wave of anti-LGBT legislation throughout the country, with a focus on North Carolina's HB2, passed last week with just 30 minutes of debate and then signed into law late at night by Gov. Pat McCrory (R). The new law dictates that transgender people use the public restrooms corresponding to their "biological sex" and not their gender identity. It also wiped out local protections for gays and lesbians throughout the state.


My special guests today are: Returning to the chat, Chris Brook, who is the legal director of the ACLU of North Carolina and one of the architects of the legal challenge to HB2. He joins us from Raleigh.


Nick Adams, also a chat veteran, is the director of transgender media with GLAAD and he's in Los Angeles.


And James Parker Sheffield joins from Atlanta. I'll give you his full bio shortly but you know him best from the tweet he sent Gov. McCrory soon after the bill became law. (See the photo of his tweet above).


Before we get going, a reminder that it's not too late to send in your questions.


Welcome to you all.


Chris, I'm going to start with you. (And for those of you following at work or home, here's a video clip of Chris from yesterday's announcement of the federal lawsuit).



Chris, Yesterday the ACLU of North Carolina, along with Equality NC and Lambda Legal, filed a federal law suit against Gov. Pat McCrory among other NC officials and institutions. For those who have not read the complaint, tell us about its major provisions and what you all hope to achieve. And why did you file in federal court?

Good afternoon! Yesterday we highlighted the stories of two transgender individuals who are no longer have a restroom they can use in their workplace and at their school.


These provisions impact their ability to contribute to our state and, relatedly, violate the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection and due process. In addition, we highlighted the story of a gay law school professor who moved to NC because of its welcoming environment. HB2's presumption of local nondiscrimination ordinances and prohibition on future ordinances not only made her feel less welcome in our state but also stymied her political engagement. The Supreme Court struck down a similar local preemption provision in Colorado in the 1996 case of Romer v. Evans.

As for why we filed where we did, each of our individual plaintiffs live in central North Carolina. And we have also sued the UNC system pursuant to Title IX, which is based in Chapel Hill within the Middle District of North Carolina federal court.

We're having some tech difficulties so let me ask Nick this question: Are you surprised by what’s happened here in NC, especially after successes in South Dakota and just yesterday, Georgia (when Gov. Deal vetoed the latest anti-LGBT bill).

Hi Steven. I am surprised...and especially surprised that the North Carolina Governor and legislature would go out of their way, in a special session, to pass a piece of legislation designed to harm LGBT people in North Carolina. However - in another way, I'm not surprised. Sadly, these types of bills are being introduced in states all across the country.

Chris, What happens next in the courts? Were you surprised that NC's Attorney General Roy Cooper said he wouldn't defend the new law?

We are currently weighing whether to seek preliminary injunctive relief, which would stop the anti-LGBT portions of HB2 dead in their tracks. As for AG Cooper, I can't say I was surprised. This impacted his non-discrimination ordinance and is pretty plainly at odds with how the Supreme Court has interpreted the 14th Amendment.

Chris, The law, formally known as the "Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act," was introduced by State Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Charlotte) who criticized the Charlotte City Council, which extended protections to transgender individuals, as "kowtowing to a small group of radical LGBT activists." He added: "A small group of far-out progressives should not presume to decide for us all that a cross-dresser's liberty to express his gender non-conformity trumps the right of women and girls to peace of mind."


If you had the opportunity now what would you say to Rep. Bishop in response?

I would ask him to sit down with our individual transgender plaintiffs, Joaquin and Payton, and hear more about their stories. This is not about far-out progressives. This is about people trying to hold down jobs, get an education, and succeed in North Carolina. I would also ask him whether he thinks it is a best practice to give his fellow legislators five minutes to review a bill before voting on it!

Nick, What is this obsession about where people pee? It seems to strike a nerve – just as it did during the Jim Crow years when blacks were forbidden to use “white only” restrooms.

I don't want to make a comparison to segregation in the Jim Crow years. However, there are politicians in this country who want to encourage discrimination against people who are transgender. And part of how they do that is to stir up fear about transgender people using public bathrooms. But it's important to remember that non-discrimination laws, like Charlotte passed and the Governor overturned, are about much, much more than bathrooms. Non-discrimination bills protect people from being discriminated against in housing, employment and in public places where they go every day - like restaurants, movie theaters, hospitals, and public transportation.

Here's a brief bio of James Parker Sheffield: James is a trans man, Georgia native, and proud graduate of the Fulton County Public School System. During his years at the University of Georgia, he threw himself into a variety of activism and advocacy work that lead him down this path of deep-south-rabble-rousing nonprofit work. James is a firm believer in health care as a human right and is excited to ensure quality care options for all LGBTQ Georgians. He’s currently director of organizational development at Georgia’s Health Initiative.

You’ve become famous overnight (as the “hillbilly superhero”) … or since Wednesday night when you tweeted Gov. McCrory a photo of yourself with these words: “It's now the law for me to share a restroom with your wife.” What prompted you to tweet the governor? Were you surprised it went viral?

Hey y'all! Yes, to say I was surprised would be an understatement. I think I had about 100 followers, all (or most) of them people I know. I'm honestly still surprised by it, but happy that the joke (and message) landed for so many. Humor has always been the tool I’ve turned to get me through rough patches. I survived high school by reenacting SNL sketches with my best friend during classes. (My apologies to the teaching staff of the late 90’s at Creekside High) When I read that the Gov. had signed the bill, I was honestly just looking for a way to make myself feel okay enough to go to sleep.  I picked out my best “grumpy hillbilly” pic and did what I could land a joke with 140 characters. I was pretty shocked to see how things had exploded by the time I woke up.


Chris, I saw this post on the ACLU’s Facebook page. “So roughly translated, the ACLU and every liberal bullying this state and others like it into compliance is saying only one group gets to have any rights-and that's the one THEY alone deem worthy. How hypocritical that they claim transgender's rights are being infringed on while they infringe on the rights of those with 1)sincerely held religious convictions and 2) those who's gender matches the one on the door. I cannot even fully fathom that we have reached a point in this nation that we are fighting for the right of a man to use a woman's restroom, and vise-versa.”


How do you respond?

First, transgender men are men. Transgender women are women. Second, how does the cisgender community lose anything from the transgender community using the restroom compatible with their gender identity and expression? We have all been in the restroom with transgender folks. We (of course) just didn't know it! I think what comments like these highlight is we need more education surrounding these issues, which is why we are so happy to be able to tell our plaintiffs individual stories.

Nick, I’ve heard from a good number of good hearted people this week that they just don’t understand why there’s so much attention being paid to trans issues, especially since you all are such a small percentage of the overall population. The most accurate number is about 700,000 in the US, right?

We don't know for certain how many transgender people there are in the United States, because no surveys or census records count us. But 700,000 is our best estimate based on statistical analysis. However, regardless of whether there are 700,000, or more, or less -- everyone American deserves to be treated equally. As Americans, we don't decide whether or not you deserve to be treated fairly based on whether there are a lot of you or a few of you. Nor should our treatment be based on where we happen to live. I live in California, where we have protections against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations for trans people. There's no reason why I should have those protections, but someone who happens to live in North Carolina doesn't.

Chris, This is another post from the ACLU Facebook page:


"Unconstitutional" law? Where, in the Constitution, is there any protection for "transgender" people? Or gay behavior, for that matter? However, the Constitution is very clear about protecting religious rights -- the very first part of the very first Amendment."


I've heard sentiments like this frequently. How do you answer?

Well, this is the same argument used against us in the marriage cases. "The Constitution doesn't protect gay folks." We all know how that turned out. In regards to religious liberty, how does someone using a restroom compatible with their gender identity and expression interfere with religious beliefs? And are we really comfortable with encouraging private business to engage in discrimination in 2016? Does that allow a business to turn away African-Americans? Muslims? Where does it end?

James,  You said in an interview late last week: "It's super funny to think about some bearded hillbilly in a stall next to the governor's wife while she clutches her pearls. But it would never play out that way in reality."  How would it play out?

The much more likely scenario would be something like this: I stop at a rest station on a road trip and, if I follow this law, I HAVE to go to the women's room. Now, are the people who see me go in there going to stop and think, "Oh, he must be trans" or are they going to think, "Why is that man going in there with women?" The end result of that could mean life of death for me in an open carry state with a "Stand Your Ground" law on the books.

NC's new law appears to require schools to violate Title IX, a gender law protecting gender equity in education and requiring trans students to have access to the bathrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity (see the Arcadia Settlement). Will schools be losing funding? Will this law be found unconstitutional as applied to schools accepting federal funds? -- @Sejal_Singh_

HB2 does bring North Carolina into conflict with Title IX and its prohibition of sex discrimination, inclusive of discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. I have been hearing from school board attorneys throughout the state in recent days trying to figure out how to follow HB2 without violating federal law. In short, HB2 jeopardizes $4.5 billion in educational funding our state receives from the federal government.

James, as a transgender man, is it tough to reconcile what's going on with North Carolina vs. what's going on in Charlotte? Many are calling for a travel boycott of North Carolina, but the people of Charlotte (and particularly that city's mayor) have made it clear they're sickened by this new law. Is there a way to support them while still making clear your disappointment in the state as a whole?

That's really tough and a great reason for citizens to talk to their lawmakers. These types of actions have economic backlash that end up hurting all citizens. I think the only thing we can do is be united in our support for Charlotte getting this overturned. Also, we need to support those NC businesses taking it upon themselves to create safe spaces in light of this.

Any chance that Gov. McCrory is having signer's remorse over this bill? If so, is there any way he can un-sign it? If not, can the state not fight too hard against the ACLU lawsuit, in hopes of getting out of it?

Well, the Governor is obviously reeling at present. He plainly did not understand the bill he signed or anticipate the firestorm that ensued. There is not a way he can un-sign it. And, even if he had vetoed it, the legislature could have overriden his veto.

How many of these laws are currently in the works and why now is this an issue?

This year, several bills targeting transgender people have been introduced across the country. The National Center for Transgender Equality has an Action Center where you can track these bills and find out how you can get involved if there's one in your state or town. I believe this is an issue now because we are seeing a growing acceptance of transgender people and there is a backlash from those who do not want trans people to be accepted and treated equally.

As we saw in North Carolina and previously in Houston, I think the current flashpoint with the LGBT community is the "T". To many folks, gender is binary: male or female. You're one or the other and it is tied to biology. The problem we have is when we hear of stories of a persons with the biology of one gender "identifying" as the other -- without the necessary procedures to make that happen having occurred. So why do I get called a hater and a bigot for holding these views that have been around for millenia?

I think it's important to remember that there are no "necessary procedures" involved. A person's gender identity is their own. Some decide a medical intervention is needed, other don't. We have to respect that. I would also say that the issue isn't always about what someone's beliefs are as much as it is about what they DO with those beliefs. Using fear to legislate is DOING the wrong thing with one's beliefs and that can be considered hateful and bigoted.

Hi Chris -- thanks for taking questions today. I'm a college professor teaching a course about civil rights and we've been talking a lot about what's happening in NC and GA the last few days. My students, for the most part, are incredulous about the whole thing...there's a clearly a generational divide here on these issues. What's your take on that, and if you agree, how do we overcome that?

Yes, there is absolutely a gender divide at play here. Protections for the LGBT community are absolutely uncontroversial with younger folks. I think we need to ensure young people know these issues are on the ballot and then educate persuadable, older folks about these issues.

Nick and Steven- When a similarly discriminatory bill passed in Indiana, their tourism revenue took a major hit. Do you expect to see the same happen to North Carolina and do you think travel boycotts are effective. And to Steven, as someone who lives in North Carolina, do you understand the urge from LGBT people to boycott your state?

It's heartening to see so many businesses (large and small) expressing their support for LGBT people and refusing to condone the type of discrimination being proposed in Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina. I don't know for certain that the statements by Hollywood companies threatening to leave Georgia if the Governor signed the bill had an effect - but I suspect it did.


Steven adding on: Many businesses have said the right things here in NC as elsewhere but it's also critical that they do the right things. Whether we like it or not money talks in politics, and I'd hope that NC's will listen to that if they won't to reason and decency.


I have to say kudos to the mayors of San Francisco, Seattle, and New York City who have all said travel to the Tar Heel State is temporarily suspended.


Haven't there been other laws in other states that their respective AGs have refused to defend? I think there's a potential precedent here.

Yes, a number of state Attorney Generals refused to defend their state's marriage bans. AG Cooper originally defended our state marriage ban, but he ultimately abandoned that defense after the 4th Circuit invalidated North Carolina's similar ban.

What happens when someone who looks and dresses like a woman goes into the men's room? Think the other guys in the room are going to be accepting and open-minded? And when someone who looks and dresses like a man walks into the woman's room? Will women be alarmed? Because this is what North Carolina's law insists upon. Seems the people and their lawmakers are blinded by hate and fear and ignorance and really haven't thought this through. Oh, and when was the last time a woman was assaulted by a transgendered person in the rest room? Kind of like voter "fraud." A "solution" in search of a problem.

Everyone is concerned about privacy and safety in public bathrooms. Transgender people are very concerned about that too! That's why it's important that trans people be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity and how they live every day. When trans people are protected and able to use the correct bathroom - that doesn't change the fact that there are already laws in place that make it illegal for anyone to enter a restroom to harm or harass people, or invade their privacy. In fact -- laws like the ones in North Carolina actually make everyone less safe. Who's going to be standing at the bathroom door checking the gender of everyone trying to pee? Who's going to do the gender inspections to make sure everyone is following this draconian law? The type of law North Carolina passed is unnecessary and actually decreases public safety.

James, You’ve described yourself as "a white guy with the privilege of a stable roof over his head." And a job. You’ve also pointed out that for many trans people, especially trans women of color, laws like HB2 will have a much more severe impact. Talk with me about how race and income inequality play into this equation?

First, please note that this is a very brief answer to a much larger issue: As we know people of color experience higher rates of unemployment do to a variety of things tied to institutionalized racism, that fact becomes even more pronounced for trans people of color. Think about what you encounter when going to get a job. They want to see your ID and if the gender marker doesn't match what they are seeing, you may not be getting that job. SO: It's already more difficult to get the interview and even tougher to actually get the job. When you can't get employment or are underemployed, relying on public accommodations, such as restrooms and transit, can be a necessity. If you'd like to learn more about issues for trans people of color, especially in NC, I HIGHLY recommend following Southerners On New Ground (SONG). They do amazing work and are telling the stories of trans people of color impacted by this law:

There was a comment on a Facebook posting of a photo Kroger's unisex bathroom (I've seen this often as a 'family bathroom') which got me thinking. The comment basically said - use the stall, what's the big deal? It was longer and had a slightly impatient 'why is this even an issue' tone. The person could have been clueless or the person could think too much is being made of the issue - but he did go to trouble of posting a several sentence long commnet. I'm not sure if I have a question - I guess I wonder if there's anything an average person like me, who sees it as obvious why it's an issue do in my daily life, as I go about my business? What can we as a society do?

Hi, I'm not entirely sure if you have a question here, but you do raise an interesting point. In some places single-user bathrooms are designated as "male" and "female." There's really no reason for that. For single-user bathrooms, it just makes sense for everyone if they are designated as gender-neutral or family bathrooms. Many people find those type of bathrooms helpful: people with small children, people with disabilities, people who are caregivers for elderly parents. Making all single-user bathrooms gender neutral makes everyone's life easier! Including trans people who may feel more comfortable using a restroom like that - because they experience harassment when trying to use a men's room or women's room.

James, Do you mind telling us a little about your marriage and what’s your wife’s take on your role in this national debate has been? I know that it's one thing for an individual to come out as trans but such a step also impacts the entire family.

My wife happens to be the most wonderful woman in the world. She's been with me since the very beginning of my medical transition and has been amazingly supportive the entire way through. She did the work with her family to explain who I am and they have all welcomed me with open arms. Did I mention she's spectacular? She is. I can't express how great it is to have someone that loves and accepts you without condition... Everyone should have that! (but my amazing wife is taken, so you'll have to keep looking) 

But I guess Ocean City or Rehobeth or Bethany will be my new summer stop.

I think it was James who said it's very important for folks to support businesses that support non-discrimination and fairness. So, I hope more of those businesses will be vocal and that people will respond in kind.

Chris, Gov. McCrory said yesterday that news outlets like the Washington Post are “smearing our state” and “distorting the truth.” He also said that he’s not “taken away any rights that have currently existed in any city in N.C.” My understanding is that gays and lesbians, like my husband and me and the 250,000 other gays/lesbians in NC,  have lost any protections we might have been afforded by cities like Chapel Hill, Carrboro, etc.

It was a pretty amazing exchange yesterday featuring Governor McCrory. He lectured the press, claiming they were distorting the impact of HB2. McCrory basically argued no existing local protections for the LGBT community would be impacted. The press then highlighted that Greensboro, Raleigh, and others were concerned over HB2 impacting their non-discrimination ordinance. He responded by saying, "You're blindsiding me with a question. I've been traveling all day so you're telling me something I'm not aware of." That's what happens when you sign a bill into law 12 hours after it was introduced!

Ask for birth certificates from everyone who wants to pee? If I say to a cop "I think that tall husky girl is really a guy" will they detain her until she gets her birth certificate? Will they make me prove I was allowed to be in there "legally?" It's all pretty stupid and, I think, unenforceable.

Who knows what this is going to look like? HB2 does not specify how it will be enforced. You would think if there were a real problem (there isn't, of course!) that would have some enforcement provision. On the other hand, as you note, the concept of  bathroom policing around gender is pretty disturbing. (And, btw, the concept of defining biological sex by birth certificate is hugely problematic. Tennessee, for example, does not allow anyone to ever change the gender marker on the birth certificate. So a transgender individual born in Tennessee would be SOL if they moved to neighboring North Carolina.)

I'm a woman, and I guess not typical of your usual readers. I do not want a person with a functioning penis in the women's locker room. I don't care if said person claims he is really a woman; he isn't. It's amazing to me that such a person claims the men's locker room is "frightening" for him, but he doesn't care if women and girls are frightened of him. This is another example of "men's privilege," thinking his rights to be where he pleases are greater than women's rights to be undisturbed and unafraid in their private, sex-segregated, places. The Y I attend has three locker rooms: men, women, and "family." Anyone can use the " family" one (parent with opposite -gender child, handicapped person with opposite gender caretaker, etc.). That seems a more reasonable solution than allowing transwomen (I.e., men) in the women's areas, where women would normally expect gender privacy.

First: Transwomen are women. Regardless of anatomy, they are women. Now that we have that out of the way...

I think every person, regardless of identity, feels uncomfortable in public restrooms and locker rooms. It's a vulnerable place to be, especially in a society that places so much emphasis on appearance. Trans people aren't different from you in that way. We don't generally feel comfortable exposed in that way, particularly in front of strangers. Often facilities are not laid out in a way where there is a choice of gender neutral space and it is unreasonable to think we (trans people) should just not be in those spaces. We have to live our lives like everyone else and we aren't predators.


Chris, How much of the passage of HB2 is about politics and getting the base fired up? Also, is it true that the ACLU and other groups are now targeting Dan Bishop, the Charlotte state rep who sponsored HB2?

Well, the ACLU is a non-partisan group so we don't target any elected officials in their races. Having said that, I do think some of this is about scoring cheap political points off of a marginalized community. As I said, if the legislature though that was a real problem (it isn't!), then why isn't there a clearer enforcement provision? Obviously, the politics of it has boomeranged on the legislature and Governor.

Nick, We've talked before about the fact that other cities that have gender-neutral or all access restrooms don't see a rise in any kind of sexual assaults. Yet, this argument persists. You must find this frustrating. What can those following this chat do to help?

Yes, 18 states and more than 200 municipalities - including places like Kalamazoo, MI, Kansas City, MO, and Gainsesville, FL - have passed laws that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public places. None of these places have shown any increase in public safety incidents. In all of those places, laws remain on the books which protect all people from being harassed in a public bathroom. If you hear this type of fear-mongering from local politicians, please use every means you have to let the public know that protecting LGBT people from discrimination is not a threat to public safety. It's just the right thing to do.


Here's a useful link from GLAAD:

Is the situation a bit analogous to that Arizona bill that would allow law enforcement to stop anyone they suspected looked like an undocumented alien?

This does put the transgender community at risk in a number of ways. Will they now have unfortunate interactions with law enforcement if they use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity/expression? Because the transgender community will certainly face problems if they use the restroom corresponding with the gender they were assigned at birth. Catch 22?!?

Are men. Now that we have that out of the way, please stop stating your opinion as biological fact, when it's not true. Also contrary to your belief that "everyone" feels uncomfortable in public restrooms and locker rooms, also not true. I feel very comfortable in the women's rooms because I am a woman surrounded by other women. That's why I don't want a person with a penis, call that person what you will, in that space.

Great news! With transwomen in the restroom, you're still surrounded by women. We can agree to disagree, because I'm pretty certain I can't move you from that space. However, I can clarify that what I mean is that we all have bathroom fears. You are expressing fear toward transwomen, which is an indicator of your personal discomfort. BUT... We don't get to segregate people based on our unfounded fears. 

What's the one thing you hope people will take away from this discussion?

I hope folks start to think about transgender individuals in a different way... In way that tells them something about the way we live our lives, because it's just like everyone else. What seems easy to write off as "common sense" and "oh, you shouldn't mind because my fear matters more" actually HARMS us. Replace the idea of "trans" in the conversation with yourself and ask, "Well, how would I navigate that?"

I hope that people will realize that trans people are not a "threat." We are simply people, trying to go about our daily lives without either disturbing others or being attacked simply for being ourselves. The majority of Americans think that LGBT people are already protected from being discriminated against in housing, employment, and public places. AND, the majority of people support us having that protection. But the fact is -- we are only explicitly protected in 18 states. In 32 states, if you simply say you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, you may be fired, denied housing, or refused service in a business or even a hospital. That's why these battles in North Carolina and other places are so important to us.

Those two other answers are spot on. I would just add that I hope other states are watching this backlash against HB2 and think twice about going down the same path.

Chris Brook, legal director of the ACLU of NC; Nick Adams, director of transgender media, GLAAD; and James Parker Sheffield, trans activist and director of organizational development, The Health Initiative.


And thanks to all of you for your questions. My last word for today: We need to talk more to each other about our questions, concerns, and fears when it comes to trans issues and trans people. What I saw in the NC legislature, and in some of today's questions, was a dearth of accurate information about gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation. In the end, we are one human family.


I'll see you here in a couple of weeks.

In This Chat
Steven Petrow
Steven Petrow is a respected journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. Petrow writes the "Civilities" column for The Washington Post as well as "Manners Hero" for Parade and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health.
Christopher Brook
Chris is legal director of the ACLU in North Carolina where he oversees the organization's legal program and its work on a wide range of constitutional law issues, including LGBT rights, racial justice, and religious liberty.
Nick Adams
Nick is director of transgender media for GLAAD. previously served as GLAAD’s Director of Communications & Special Projects, joined GLAAD's staff in 1998 and has significantly contributed to the organization’s ongoing commitment to transgender visibility.
James Parker Sheffield
James is a transgender man, whose tweet aimed at Gov. Pat McRory recently went viral.
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