When cancelling recent dates in North Carolina in protest against a new law concerning its LGBQT community, Ringo Starr and Bruce Springsteen didn’t mince their words.
The former Beatle called it “hatred”, The Boss opted for “bigotry,” adding, “some things are more important than a rock show.” The law, called HB2, was passed at the end of last month and prohibits transgender people from using public toilets that don’t match the sex listed on their birth certificate. It also removes the right of the state’s LGBTQ population to sue for discrimination.
Laura Jane Grace, singer for Florida punks Against Me!, came out as transgender in 2012 and flatly refused to boycott their May gig in Durham, North Carolina. Here, she explains that decision, her reaction to the law and the challenges facing trans people the world over.
“Going ahead with the show was an easy decision. I didn’t even think twice. No way. I’m not not going to North Carolina and playing a show I want to play because of some assholes. Boycotting is totally commendable and I see it as an act of solidarity. But the reality for me is I was already going there, I’ve played in North Carolina at least once or twice a year for the past 20 years. If I have to use a public restroom there, that affects me. It’s about being in solidarity with people there who are against this or who are trans themselves – they can’t boycott their own state. They still have to go to work and go shopping and generate tax. That makes it all the more important to me to go there and be seen as a trans person and use whatever resources I have to draw attention to it and point people in the proper direction of how to make changes and help.
This law will make people scared. All you need is a headline and people think ‘trans people must be an issue in bathrooms’ or ‘I’m afraid of bathrooms, trans people are weird’. That’s the immediate connection. It’s scaremongering.
It’s terrifying that it actually became a reality. It’s ideological discrimination. Total, bigoted discrimination. It’s not something that’s representative of the whole state, just the corrupt, ignorant government. When has there been issues of transgender people acting inappropriately in public restrooms? Can you show me some proof? I can point to articles that show a list of US senators who’ve been arrested in public restrooms for exposing themselves or behaving inappropriately, but not transgender senators. It’s fucking scaremongering. It’s also about visibility of transgender people on a national level. Unfortunately in a place like North Carolina they’re not as progressive as somewhere like New York State or California where you’d expect that this [law] isn’t gonna be the case.
The bathroom part gets the most focus, but the law also removes transgender people’s right to sue for discrimination. What are you left with? Are you gonna fucking fist-fight people on the street or are you gonna protest? If you’re gonna protest I wanna protest too. There are many other states where this is a possible reality too, which is just terrifying. The big ‘fuck you’ is them saying you have to use the gender on your birth certificate. How you can change that varies from state to state. For me in Georgia I can’t just do it, but I could in Illinois, for example.
I’ll be touring through North Carolina in a van, so I can’t take a piss on my fucking tourbus. If I wanna have coffee in the morning and use the restroom, I’m gonna have to put my shades on and pull my hood up and hope that someone doesn’t call the cops while I go in and take a piss. Fuck that.
I’m almost considering pissing outside at this point! When I’m in public I look for a unisex option or I fucking hold it because I don’t want to deal with someone’s bullshit, and it’s not my bullshit, it’s their bullshit. I’ve had that experience a lot. You’re cornered, you’re in a trapped environment. Maybe if you wanna do something good for the world mandate that people can’t piss on the seat!
What I say to people in North Carolina is I have your back. Anything I can do to help, I’m there with you. I know this is simple, but keep your head up, don’t take any shit from anyone. I desperately lacked someone to turn to as a kid, I had no one, I’d get arrested by the cops, the church would kick me out, where do you go? It was pre-internet. Giving kids a place to go and hopefully educating people is the solution.
Sex ed was a joke in school. Educating generations of people without ever discussing gender or gender fluidity is insane. Why would you not talk about that? That’s why you need to be visible. There needs to be real world education about what it means to be transgender and not have it be some fetishised thing or some freakshow or sensational headline. It needs to be normalised in a way that everyone gets it. Trans people exist and they deserve the same rights as everyone else.
I’ve had years of therapy and it took time to find a good therapist. When I did one of the first things they told me was to think of cancer – being diagnosed doesn’t make you an expert. Especially for me, after spending 30 years in hiding. Opening that side of myself up and growing into myself has been an eye-opening, powerful experience and something I’m really thankful for.
At the show in May I really want to empower people. It’s gonna be a benefit for Time Out Youth, a local queer-friendly youth drop-in centre. I’ve invited other groups to come and pass out information on how to help and get involved. Ideally I’d like to give someone else the mic to speak about it. I already talk about this on stage and we have songs that address trans things. It’s not like I need to somehow alter the show and say transgender people deserve love or respect because that’s already part of it. I hope it draws attention to the right things.”