Saying We Can 'Compromise' on Trans Rights Is a Dangerous Lie
"Compromise on justice is not a beginning; it is an end." Chase Strangio, one of the nation's leading attorneys fighting against anti-trans legislation, speaks out on the so-called "repeal" of North Carolina's HB2 law.
Photo by Isaiah & Taylor Photography via Stocksy
Last week, newly elected North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper, and the legislative leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly announced a "compromise" to, they claim, repeal the state's infamous anti-trans "bathroom law," House Bill 2 (HB2). Just as had been done with the original measure, this new bill, House Bill 142 (HB142), was conceived behind closed doors in the late hours of the night without any input from constituents, business leaders, or the impacted communities. It was, like its counterpart, rushed through the legislature in a single day and signed by the Governor that same evening.
In process, form, and substance, HB142 is a clone of HB2.
HB142 does not repeal HB2; it just replaces it. It codifies the same discrimination under slightly different terms. It relies on the same misinformation about transgender people that leads to our expulsion from public life. It expects us all to be lulled into complacency by the idea of change without the substance behind it.
The worst part of all of this is that almost everyone is falling for it. News media are reporting the measure as a "repeal" without digging into the implications of what it does. The NCAA announced today that it will return championship games to North Carolina despite the new law's continuation of discrimination against LGBTQ people that led them to withdraw the state from consideration of championship games last year.
Tellingly, in its statement, the NCAA explains of HB142, "outside of bathroom facilities, the new law allows our campuses to maintain their own policies against discrimination." That is a pretty gaping exception targeting a very distinct group of people: trans and gender non-conforming people.
The statement might as well read: "North Carolina has done enough to limit discrimination against non-trans people so we will move forward with games there and disregard the harm to the trans community."
Meanwhile, back at the North Carolina General Assembly, lawmakers are targeting trans people even further with a new effort to impose criminal penalties for entering restrooms of the "opposite sex." This effort is explicitly tied to the fake repeal of HB2, further entrenching in public discourse the idea that a trans person's body is itself worthy of criminalization. Even if such a law never passes, the message to trans people is clear: You are a threat just by existing and we will distort the truth of your existence to situate you as such a threat—legally or otherwise.
The truth of our existence, however, is that we are aren't a threat to anyone. Our bodies do not invade the privacy of others, nor pose a threat to anyone's safety. Protecting us from discrimination does not open the door to new harms to non-trans people—as has been proven time and again over decades in school districts, cities, and states across the country that have taken steps to protect us and integrate us fully into public life.
The biggest threat to all of us is that we let the notion of "compromise" quell our momentum and resistance. Political compromise has long been used to stop movements for change. The goal is not to create a stepping stone toward a more just future, but rather to stop us from ever reaching that goal. Compromise on justice is not a beginning; it is an end. It does not build but forever changes the target away from our vision of decency and justice. From welfare reform to immigration reform to health care reform—over the past few decades we have watched "compromise" decimate communities, leaving them to fight to hold unjust, untenable, and discriminatory lines.
We will fight in court, we will fight you at the ballot, we will fight in your legislative halls, and we will see you on the streets.
We must not settle for the power-brokered compromises put forward by those who only care about their own political aspirations and economic bottom lines. HB142 represents such a compromise and exposes the cowardice of our so-called allies in North Carolina.
The NCAA claims that the vote to restore games to North Carolina was a "reluctant" one, but that is cold comfort to the trans people in the state who are once again placed in untenable positions, who are once again told they are unworthy of protection, who are once again sent the message that it really doesn't matter to the powerful, moneyed interests whether we live or die.
You can be as reluctant as you want, but if you make decisions with consequences you have to own those consequences. You have blood on your hands, Roy Cooper, NCAA, and every member of the North Carolina General Assembly who voted for HB142.
We know not to rely on you moving forward and we will instead rely on each other. We will instead commit to keeping each other alive. Keeping each other loved and cared for and protected. We will fight in court, we will fight you at the ballot, we will fight in your legislative halls, and we will see you on the streets.
A compromise on our humanity is a dismissal of it.
No doubt trans people are hurting after the events of the past week and to you I say, I am here, your true allies and advocates are here, our elders who have shown us the way will guide us through these times into better and more beautiful ones.
There is no such thing as "compromise" when it comes to basic humanity and survival. A compromise on our humanity is a dismissal of it.