The latest proposed changes to North Carolina’s egregious House Bill 2 demonstrate clearly that our state’s lawmakers are still in the dark when it comes to the transgender citizens they represent. The potential new amendments, which would offer transgender people who have had gender confirming surgery an “official certificate” that confirms their gender, in no way address the needs and lived experience of the transgender community. Had our legislators bothered to ask their transgender constituents and allies for feedback, here is what they might have learned.
First, the vast majority of transgender people are unable to obtain gender confirming medical care and surgeries, or “sexual reassignment surgery,” as the proposed bill calls it. Most health insurance plans in America, including the plan offered by the state of North Carolina to its employees, explicitly prohibit any coverage of hormones or gender confirming surgeries in spite of the fact that the American Medical Association considers them medically necessary. These surgeries are incredibly expensive and thus out of reach for many people. Additionally, some transgender people may desire such surgery but find that they are medically unable to do so.
Second, not all transgender people want gender confirming surgeries. For some transgender people, especially some of those who identify as genderqueer or non-binary (that is, as a gender that is neither male nor female), medical transition, and surgery in particular, is not a desired or appropriate step. Indeed, the World Professional Association of Transgender Health notes that no one medical procedure is medically necessary for all transgender people.
Finally, in light of the patent hostility demonstrated toward the transgender community by this administration, many transgender people have a reasonable fear of allowing the state to create a registry of their names. Many transgender people do not reveal their gender history to employers, since it is perfectly legal in North Carolina to fire someone for being transgender. Given this reality, it seems unlikely that transgender people will be lining up to register for this “official certificate.”
Using surgery as a litmus test for who is counted as legitimately transgender represents a profound lack of understanding of the transgender community and their needs. Our lawmakers need to do their homework and better educate themselves about this group of people they represent. There is one clear solution to creating safety for transgender communities in North Carolina, and that is to repeal HB 2 and pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections that include gender identity and expression.
Mazaris is the founding director of the LGBTQ Center at Wake Forest University.