In Depth

North Carolina's transgender bathroom law: 5 personal stories about HB2's impact

As a deadline nears for North Carolina to respond to a Justice Department demand to repeal Bill HB2, transgender residents of North Carolina describe how the debate over the so-called "bathroom law" is affecting their daily lives.

Feds gave state until Monday to ‘remedy’ controversial bill

Transgender residents of North Carolina tell CBC News how House Bill 2, the state's contentious bathroom bill, has impacted their lives. Clockwise, from top, left: Maddy Goss, Zeke Christopoulos, Janis Allison, Candis Cox, Liam Johns. (Courtesy Maddy Goss, Zeke Christopoulous, Janis Allison, Candis Cox, Liam Johns)

In North Carolina's corridors of power, no place holds more political urgency these days than the bathroom. And no time will be more pressing than tomorrow to address what the U.S. government considers a matter of sex discrimination.

Monday is the deadline the Justice Department set for North Carolina to "remedy" its House measure, HB2, which restricts restroom access for transgender people in government-managed buildings.

"It's just a basic human need," says Zeke Christopoulos, a transgender banker from Asheville, N.C., who, under the so-called bathroom law, would not be able to use the men's room because he wasn't born a man. "That's a stressor that's huge."

Republican lawmakers have vowed to defy the deadline to repeal the bill. The Justice Department, which warns the law violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act, could ultimately respond by withdrawing billions in federal funding for schools.

Transgender residents of North Carolina describe how the debate over HB2 is affecting their daily lives.

Janice Covington Allison, 69, from Charlotte:

Janice Covington Allison, right, a disabled Vietnam War veteran who transitioned around 2005, is the first transgender woman from North Carolina elected to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. (Courtesy Janice Covington Allison)

I'm just a transgender woman who wants to live her life.

I was on my way to present at a city council meeting, I was running a little late. This was around 2015. I came into the government building, went straight to the ladies' room to fix my hair because it was windy outside. I hear the door open and there's a policewoman and I say, "Hey, how you doing?" And she says, "You're going to have to leave. I got people out there complaining."

She escorted me out. It was embarrassing. When I walked out, all those people — maybe 30 of them — were jeering and making remarks. A minister out there was calling me a child molester and such. I didn't feel safe. That's not what I'm about. I was there to conduct business in a government building where I should be safe.

I was demonstrating at the Charlotte Government Centre on the day that HB2 was passed. A reporter told me about it, and I just started crying. I never did that on an interview. But it's because my life pretty much flashed before my eyes. I thought about the children in schools, the young transgender kids, all those young people who, because of this law, might commit suicide.

I've been involved in many things. I served in the military, in Vietnam. I ran for county commissioner in 1984. I did professional fishing, Bassmasters on ESPN, I started my own construction company in Charlotte. I did things like a normal person. I paid my taxes. And I came out full time as me around 2005.

If I go into a men's room, they're going to have to call an ambulance for somebody, either for a man or call an ambulance for me. But if I have to go into a men's room and somebody tries to assault me, I'm going to defend myself, and that's the kind of position Gov. Pat McCrory has put me in.

Liam Kai Johns, 27, from Charlotte:

Liam Johns, a paramedic and bartender in Charlotte, says he learned about the passage of HB2 shortly after marking the anniversary of a transgender friend's suicide. Johns, 27, says he worries about other young trans people who could feel alienated because of the bill. (Courtesy Liam Johns)

That deal was signed on the anniversary of my friend's death, his suicide. He was an 18-year-old trans person of colour. Me and two of my friends did a Chinese lantern for him in the backyard of my house that night. When I heard what was going on, it was a punch to the gut. 

I'm Native American, with the Monacan tribe. And trans people of colour are the most marginalized.

Before HB2, I didn't really think about going into the bathroom. I started transitioning when I was 20, so nobody's going to know I'm trans unless I tell them. So it didn't really affect me, but now people are looking around or starting to target trans people. 'Cisgender' people are going to look around the bathrooms, "Oh, is there a trans person here," that's been brought up.

You're losing sleep at night. You worry about your trans brothers and sisters who are not passing, or are either queer or gender non-conforming. You worry about the people you can't protect, the people you love and care about who are unsafe now.

I'm a 27-year-old trans guy who's just trying to make it in my community. I put myself through college to be a paramedic. I also do bartending. I do things normal people do. I take care of my parents. My father is 76 and lives with me. I take care of my mother and grandmother.

I can't just up and leave North Carolina because of this bill. I'm living through the turmoil of HB2.

Candis Cox, 34, from Raleigh:

Candis Cox, speaking at a Human Rights Campaign event, recently left her job at a state-run airport in North Carolina due to bathroom restrictions brought on by HB2. (Courtesy Candis Cox)

I'm going to say all this stuff without crying. Yesterday was my last day at work. I ended up leaving my job because of this.

I'm a public trans woman, legally married to my cisgendered male husband. My passport, my licence, says I'm female. 

I worked at American Airlines at Raleigh International Airport, a public airport run by the government. I had dealt with our legal counsel because I said, "What bathroom am I supposed to use now?" The only bathrooms in the common-use space are at the airport, which involves the state government. 

Finally, they told me, just use the handicap bathroom. I'm in a uniform, and every time I went in there, people were staring. There's a passenger in a wheelchair waiting to use it, and it was just humiliating. It's uncomfortable because it's this perfectly healthy, normal woman, why are you going in there? I finally said, "I can't come to work and feel humiliated and feel ashamed every single day."

I knew my only option was to leave because if I continued to be a problem and more people complained and they fired me, I have no recourse. I can't go to my state because there's now a law saying they're not discriminating.

I want people to see I am no different than anyone else. I'm a Christian, I have strong faith. I volunteer as a Wake County Guardian Ad Litem, which is a court advocate for abused and neglected children, but people don't ask me about that. I pay taxes, I go to the grocery store, I have my family who I love, I worry about things. I don't have weird sexual fetishes, I don't have some criminal background, I wasn't abused. I'm an everyday, day-to-day normal person.

Zeke Christopoulos, 44, from Asheville:

Zeke Christopoulos, left, with his wife. The 44-year-old banker from Asheville appears in a new ad discussing concerns about HB2. (Courtesy Zeke Christopoulos)

In earlier points in my life when I was transitioning, you can't imagine the number of techniques and strategies that I employed when going to the bathroom; the constant vigilance I had to have for my own personal safety.

It was having a buddy for going to the bathroom, or sitting and watching the restroom until I was sure nobody was going to go into it. I'm pretty sure my bladder might have some issues as I age because of the stress. I know a lot of trans people who have chronic [urinary tract infection] and kidney issues because of the stress of not being able to go. They're tough situations. I don't think you should subject people to that.

I did go to Raleigh. I went to city council meetings, county commission meetings, and each time I walked into those government buildings, those are the buildings I am mandated to indeed use the women's room. It's something so simple that people don't read about. It's a basic human need. We all have to use the restroom. It's a stressor that's huge.

Watch Zeke Christopoulos speaking out against HB2:

That made me feel very scared to live in a state where I couldn't even sue within the state to protect my rights based on age, gender, race and gender status and certainly not sexual orientation or gender identity. 

All these groups are saying transgender people are dangerous, all these attacks are going to happen in bathrooms. People have been searching frantically to find a case where a transgender person was prosecuted for an assault in a bathroom. They can't find one. 

I get up every morning just before 6 a.m. I go to work as a banker and look at some financials, I get on a conference call or two and [meet] clients, [and] hopefully get a chance to come home and meet my wife for dinner. I might go out to a meeting or an event in the community. It's a very humdrum daily existence. Not anything elaborate or extravagant, certainly not anything perverse.

We're not moving, we're not going anywhere, this is home.

Maddy Goss, 40, from Raleigh:

Maddy Goss, 40, shown in a photo with her husband in the background, says the passage of HB2 in North Carolina has reawakened fears she hasn’t felt for years. (Courtesy Maddy Goss)

I'm an engineer at a health-care software company. And I've always known I was a woman. Growing up in rural North Carolina, being a queer kid wasn't exactly an easy way to grow up. You get harassed a lot and discriminated against and beat up.

Recently, my family and I spent the weekend in D.C. and had such a great time. We didn't think about HB2 right until we came back to North Carolina. We stopped at a rest stop and that whole fear came back again. It takes just one person to recognize that you're trans. I went and did my business, got back in the car and we left. Nothing happened, but it was just that reminder of the fear upon coming home.

This is the state where I was born and raised. Growing up, people would beat me up because I was "gay," and I couldn't explain to them that no, I was actually transgender because it wouldn't have made a difference. It made my childhood a living hell. I had attempted suicide a couple times by the time I was 21.

The fears receded a little bit as I got older. But not until recently, with the passing of HB2, has it come back. It brings it all back.

I think the one thing that's really important to understand about all of this is in the United States, people are trying to pass these bathroom bills by using the trans person as bogeymen, perverts, child molesters, people lurking in bathrooms. No, trans men are just men; trans women are just women.

We just want to use the bathroom in peace and live our lives.

About the Author

Matt Kwong

Reporter

Matt Kwong is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong

Interviews were edited for length