North Carolina

Hundreds block downtown Chapel Hill to protest state’s HB2 law

Nearly 1,000 mostly young people marched Tuesday evening into East Franklin Street, past rainbow flags and a single line of stopped cars, while calling on Gov. Pat McCrory and the state legislature to repeal HB2.

“If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it,” said Joie Lou, a rally organizer and transgender person who goes by the pronoun “they.” Lou said they were attacked twice for being a transgender person and believes strongly in the quote from author Zora Neale Hurston.

“They will still try to diminish our worth, to kill our spirits, to kill us physically,” Lou said. “But it is our duty as the ones who are still remaining to fight and to be very loud and very vocal about the way that we are feeling.”

The state’s new law bans local governments from passing anti-discrimination ordinances and requires transgender people to use the public restrooms of their biological sex. It was passed after a 12-hour special session held last week in response to Charlotte’s new ordinance allowing transgender people to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify.

Chapel Hill police moved in to block traffic as the crowd filled the center of town, shutting down the intersection of Franklin and Columbia streets. Rosemary Street, one block over, quickly became a parking lot. A car passed, honking, as people leaned out the windows cheering in support.

Police were told to let the protest play out, Chapel Hill Officer Barcenas said as the protesters formed a circle and asked individuals to take the mike and share their stories. The crowd was expected to swell through the night.

Reaction to the state’s new law has been swift, with professional and college sports organizations, businesses, other states and the White House denouncing its adoption. Opponents say HB2 singles out lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for discrimination across the state.

While the university has not taken a formal position, a group of 50 faculty members at UNC issued a statement this week opposing the law.

Chapel Hill’s Town Council joined calls Monday for state lawmakers to repeal the law, and Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen approved a resolution Saturday asking for HB2 to be repealed, local municipalities to seek legal action and businesses and governments to provide gender-neutral restrooms.

A lesbian law professor and two transgender people joined the ACLU of North Carolina, Lambda Legal and Equality NC in filing a lawsuit Monday to challenge the law in federal court.

Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs, whose board passed a resolution opposing HB2 the night before the law was approved, attended the rally in Chapel Hill. The Orange County Board of Commissioners could talk about whether to join a legal challenge, he said, but there also the question of whether it’s a good use of taxpayer money.

“I think the preponderance of the North Carolina Republican Party is an impervious surface off of which reason and compassion bounce,” he said.

Conservative groups and lawmakers who support HB2 have joined McCrory in defending the law as a public safety measure that will protect women and children from predators who could use Charlotte’s ordinance to gain access to women’s restrooms.

UNC students Mia Cole, Rose Jackson and Wade Doorey said they attended the rally to express their disappointment with a law that goes beyond who can use the restroom by also restricting how local governments can protect and lead their communities. It is shameful that their trans friends now live in a state where they know they are not welcome, Cole said.

People can effect change if they speak out, they said. McCrory and others will have to change if they want to be re-elected this year, Jackson said.

“When (McCrory) first came into office, he had the Moral Monday protests and the NAACP,” Doorey said. The first outrageous thing he did was the repeal of the Racial Justice Act, which pissed a lot of people off, and I see this as a continuation of undoing of what civil rights has done for the state.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb