Public/Private Spaces: North Carolina’s HB2 and Florida’s “Protection” Act

Photo credit: Logan Cyrus.

In February of 2016, the city of Charlotte passed a bill banning discrimination in public spaces based on sexual orientation and gender. Ordinance 7056 was meant to be a milestone protecting the LGBT community in North Carolina’s biggest city. The bill was supposed to be enacted on April 1st of that year, but would unfortunately be a victim of one of the most notorious state bills to be passed in recent history — North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill” or House Bill 2.

HB2 itself is fairly short, only 5 pages, and deceptively named “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act.” The bill repeatedly uses the phrase “biological sex,” a dog whistle of transphobia to equate gender with sex assigned at birth. “Biological sex” also references the particular anatomy of a person, not their gender expression or identity. Beyond this, the Bill itself also includes a portion subtitled the “Wage & Hour Act.” Essentially, this Act determines that a local government cannot raise its municipality’s minimum wage above the state-level minimum wage. As a whole, HB2 was about reclaiming any city laws the state congress disagreed with. 

Within a day of being introduced on March 26th, the bill was passed and signed into law. Think of every piece of legislation we’ve watched move through Congress — the Affordable Care Act, the annual Budget proposal, the Patriot Act — all took longer than HB2. Ultimately, it was a petty bill thrown together that remains a stain on North Carolina’s reputation.

The fallout — political, economical, and social — continued for years and although the bill was effectively repealed in late 2020, its legacy lives on. Within a year of being passed, conferences, play-offs, and concerts were cancelled in North Carolina, such as the 2017 NBA All Star game and dozens of concerts by high-profile artists. The result was millions of dollars in lost revenue and Pat McCrory ultimately losing his Governor re-election bid. In theory, the legal ramifications of HB2 ended with its repealing; however, America and state legislatures remain transphobic and actively anti-trans.

Fast forward to today and the conversation of transgender rights has evolved from private spaces, such as bathrooms, to public spaces. Specifically, sports. Regardless of region, the majority of American high school students play at least one sport in their high school career. And as a result of Biden’s proclamation in the April Congressional Address to protect and have a space for the transgender community, Florida conservatives became scared and recently passed a bill called the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” swiftly signed into law by Governor DeSantis. This is not the first bill of its kind — Idaho passed virtually the same — but Florida is one of the most populous and influential states in the country.

Linguistically, the bill is similar to HB2. It frequently mentions “biological sex” and choses the term “female athlete” as opposed to “woman athlete” or just “athlete.” Much like HB2, it degrades someone to just their gender assigned at birth, not their gender identity or even athletic skill. Unlike HB2, it is more disturbingly intimate and violating. The law states that if there’s a dispute on whether or not a student may play on the women’s team, then “a student’s sex shall be resolved by the student’s school or institution by requesting that the student provide a health examination and consent form or other statement signed by the student’s personal health care provider which must verify the student’s biological sex.” 

Essentially, this law gives schools and institutions permission to request physical examinations of children’s most personal body parts in the name of sports equality. A child’s body and physical examination is between that child and their healthcare provider, not for school officials to use. These kinds of examinations on children would be beyond invasive and create a sense of distrust between the student and the school. To make matters worse, this clause phrases the motion as a threat. Rather than letting a school decide on a case-by-case basis on how to handle a situation, the law grants the school rights to request a physical examination without question. It’s invasive and medically a child has the right to keep their physical body and health information private. 

Now, I’m not going to debate the differences in a body assigned female at birth versus a body assigned male at birth. This isn’t a middle school health class. But I do think it’s important to distinguish that, in all likelihood, transgender girls will not have the outrageous advantage DeSantis seems to think they will. A middle school girl’s soccer game will likely consist of students all under five feet, not 99% under five feet and then a seven foot tall athlete that resembles a football line-backer. Grade school teams with transgender girls will not all of a sudden have an Olympic-worthy athlete on their teams without this law. If there is a particularly amazing student-athlete, they are likely just naturally gifted in that sport. It’s the same way some students can always hit a home-run and others can score a three-pointer with their eyes closed. It’s just a gift and a talent they have. And it certainly shouldn’t disqualify them from playing with their peers.

Moving on to college-level sports: statistically, very few high school athletes move on to college-level sports. Even the most gifted, talented, hard-working students do not go on to play competitively in college. It feels pointless to debate any “what-if” scenarios arguing in favor of this law.

In addition, because this law pertains to a public space, its long-term effects are much greater. Specifically, it states the reasoning behind the bill is to not just discriminate in terms of who plays on the field or court, but to “[provide female athletes] with opportunities to obtain recognition and accolades, college scholarships, and the numerous other long term benefits.” In not-so-coded language, DeSantis and other Florida lawmakers would like to restrict access to equality for transgender girls and women. North Carolina’s HB2 was horrendous, but Florida’s “Protection Act” attempts to limit the opportunities of trans girls as much as possible beyond the soccer field.

Florida’s “Protection Act” is an extension of North Carolina’s HB2 — it moves from private to public spaces in an attempt to restrict the rights of the trans community. And although I would like to believe that Ron DeSantis will wake up tomorrow and believe he signed a discriminatory bill into law, I have my doubts. I don’t think the legislature would consider repealing the law or even contemplating the ethical boundaries crossed by demanding physical examinations of a child. I think the more likely catalyst of change will be the same as HB2 — economic pressure. Have concerts cancelled and major championship games relocated to other cities; have any major planned tech-campuses transferred to the Triangle. So, unfortunately but predictably, the swiftest course of action is to put economic pressure on Florida. While we’re at it, maybe donate to whomever DeSantis’ opponent in 2022 will be. 



Claire Goray graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2020 with a major in American Studies and minors in Writing for the Screen & Stage and Sexuality Studies. Her interests include representation in film & media, examining the HIV/AIDS crisis, and studying the importance of historical monuments. 



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