Dolores Chandler had no idea that a standard flight to New Jersey from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport would quickly turn into a nightmare. But the trip went downhill the moment Chandler tried to get through security.
Chandler — who identifies as transgender and gender nonconforming — was wearing a chest binder with snaps to conceal certain body parts, which set off the TSA alarm. Although Chandler described the garment to security, that didn’t stop TSA agents from conducting a sensitive screenings and invasive pat-downs of Chandler’s groin and chest area. Multiple supervisors examined Chandler’s body in front of strangers, and Chandler even had to lift their shirt in order to be cleared for the flight.
I live my life in a state of anxiety.
Chandler ultimately made it to the plane before it took off, but not before having a breakdown in the airport.
Since that horrifying incident, Chandler’s risk of threatening interactions with law enforcement has only been amplified in their home state of North Carolina. Last month, state lawmakers passed HB2, a controversial bathroom discrimination law that prevents people from using the bathroom of their preferred gender — meaning they have to use the bathroom that matches the gender assigned on their birth certificate. For Chandler, the law makes it even more likely they may be interrogated simply for going about their daily life.
“I live my life in a state of anxiety around [the threat of police], which absolutely informs and impacts my behavior,” Chandler told ThinkProgress over the phone. “I’m constantly concerned about my behavior and my appearance when I’m driving, in particular when I do things like go to the bathroom.”
Chandler’s experience is all but unique — especially in the Tar Heel State. Long before HB2 empowered civilians to monitor gender identity, trans people were profiled, harassed, and assaulted by police. But the so-called “bathroom law” now puts trans and gender nonconforming people in even greater danger because of increased scrutiny in their communities.
“This law is about silencing people and keeping them afraid,” activist Jade Brooks told ThinkProgress. Brook is a long-term member of Southerners On New Ground (SONG), a Queer Liberation organization born in North Carolina that’s expanded to other parts of the region. “It’s about keeping trans and gender nonconforming people out of public space, about pushing them back in the closets and back in the shadows.”
And now that HB2 is in place, it’s increased the momentum behind SONG’s years-long push for criminal justice reform.
North Carolina Governor Pretends To Fix Anti-LGBT Law With Symbolic Executive OrderLGBT by CREDIT: YouTube/Screenshot After several businesses have abandoned plans to expand in North Carolina and…thinkprogress.orgCriminal justice reform is a critical issue for the trans community. From the time they are stopped until they land behind bars, trans people experience violence and discrimination at the hands of the system every step of the way.
Despite legal protections that prohibit police from profiling Americans based on their gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, trans people are still targeted by cops — especially if they’re people of color. Oftentimes, trans people are verbally harassed, sexually abused, physically assaulted, and entrapped by arresting officers. And when they call law enforcement for help, they’re subjected to hostile treatment and dismissive attitudes from officers.
That bias appears in courtrooms as well, where trans and other gender-nonconforming people are discriminated against by judges and lawyers — including their own defense attorneys. According to LGBT advocacy group Lamba Legal, preferred gender identities and desired names are often ignored or denied, and information about people’s gender identity may even be disclosed illegally.
Once they’re locked up, trans people are subjected to abusive searches, housed with prisoners of a different gender, and routinely beaten, harassed, and raped. They languish in solitary confinement for weeks, months, and even years because they are perceived as dangerous to the social fabric of prison life. Trans prisoners are also denied life-saving health care and access to hygiene products and gender-appropriate clothing.
Justice Department Tells North Carolina To Abandon Its Anti-LGBT Bathroom Bill – Or ElseLGBT by CREDIT: AP Photo/Chuck Burton The U.S. Department of Justice has informed Gov. Pat McCrory (R) that North…thinkprogress.orgIn North Carolina, HB2 makes the criminal justice system more dangerous.
The law doesn’t explain what police should do when a trans person is “caught” using the wrong bathroom, making it difficult for officers to enforce HB2 at all. But according to Brooks and Chandler, trans people are at a greater risk of encountering law enforcement because of the giant target that HB2 has put on their backs.
“The police are in the business of targeting and policing trans folks and people of color and poor folks, and [HB2] is just an added layer of vulnerability,” Chandler said.
That’s why activists are capitalizing on the outrage surrounding HB2 to push for trans-friendly standards in law enforcement that can make people like Chandler feel safer. Brooks and fellow SONG members believe that efforts to combat discrimination in public bathrooms go hand in hand with efforts to confront abusive law enforcement officials, because both are a direct response to policing gender identity.
Fighting gender-based discrimination by police is a priority statewide, but it has taken center stage in Durham — a city with a reputation for being progressive and LGBTQ friendly, according to Brooks. That reputation hasn’t stopped widespread race discrimination by police, which puts trans women of color in an especially dangerous position.
This law is about silencing people and keeping them afraid.
Prior to HB2, LGBT activists and allies in Durham pushed for a community oversight board with teeth that could review civilian complaints and prevent police officers from sharing information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Since HB2 was passed, activists have revved up the fight for police to implement standard operating procedures for interacting with trans and gender nonconforming people. Ideally, those procedures would “make it crystal clear” that policing people based on their gender presentation and identity is against the law, force police to use the preferred names and gender identities during the interaction and filing of police reports, and ensure that officers and people being searched are of the same gender.
To ensure all of their demands are heard, activists from Durham and other parts of the state protested outside the governor’s mansion this spring. Hundreds of demonstrators staged “the people’s clapback,” rallying inside and outside the General Assembly when it resumed in April. Legislators decided to adjourn the session after five minutes of protesters chanting, “You will do no business but the people’s business in our house.”
“It’s even more important that we organize in a way that makes our people — and ourselves — feel unafraid and ready to confront power, to take up public space, to be loud,” Brooks said.
On May 9, Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed a lawsuit against the state for violating the Civil Rights Act. North Carolina now faces cuts in federal funding. But the General Assembly has refused to budge, and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) denies that the law is discriminatory.
Nevertheless, activists like Brooks refuse to back down.
“It’s less what SONG has done and more, frankly, what this moment has unleashed in people,” she said. “People are pissed and refuse to be tame or silenced.”