About two dozen people gathered at the Bicentennial mall in downtown Raleigh on Saturday, most wearing blue t-shirts with the words “end trans confinement” printed in light pink.
Main Stage Music pride party on nearby Fayetteville Street played lightly in the background around 5 p.m. as they prepared to march and sing there.
The group was made up of transgender and gay Latinos, along with a few allies, from across North Carolina. Many were members and leaders of immigrant rights groups, such as Asheboro Latinx Services, Siembra NC in Greensboro, El Pueblo, Inc. in Raleigh, and the national group Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement.
They were protesting the effects of possible state legislation on transgender people and the conditions transgender immigrants face in detention.
At the center of Saturday’s protest was House Bill 755also known as the Parents’ Bill of Rights.
State Legislature bill would ban teaching about gender or sexuality in early elementary grades and may require school employees to tell LGBTQ students to their parents, The News & Observer Previously reported.
“This bill is dangerous for our LGBT youth given that suicide rates among queer and trans youth are at an all-time high,” said Sol Jiménez Palacios of Durham, an organizer for Familia. “The Trevor Project found that suicide rates for LGBTQ youth are four times higher than their peers, so it’s clear that bills like HB 755 will hurt trans and queer youth.”
This month, Speaker Tim Moore said the controversial bill may not be taken up by the North Carolina House in the final weeks of the legislative session. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to veto the Republican-sponsored bill if it ever makes it to office.
But it’s still heartbreaking that the bill was even introduced, said Tania Jiménez, director of Asheboro Latinx Services in Randolph County. She said anti-LGBTQ bills like HB 755 are a setback to progress made since the repeal of Bill 2.
“We must once again fight for our rights,” she said in an interview in Spanish, her mother tongue, which was later translated.
Jiménez left “his beloved state of North Carolina” shortly after the state legislature passed HB2 in 2016. Also known as the “toilet bill,” HB2 was intended to prevent transgender people to use bathrooms corresponding to the sex with which they identify.
This meant that as a transgender woman, Jiménez would have been required to use men’s restrooms in schools and other government buildings.
“I decided to move to California,” she said in an interview in Spanish, her native language, with The N&O. “But there I learned so much about LGBTQ rights and I brought all that knowledge back with me to North Carolina.”
HB2 was mostly repealed in 2017, with part expiring in 2020.
The worst part about the new bill, Jiménez said, is how it would affect some of those close to him.
“I have nephews and nieces (in North Carolina schools) who are proud to have a transgender aunt,” Jiménez said. “They couldn’t tell, talk or comment on a fun weekend they might have had with their aunt because she is a transgender woman. It makes me so sad!”
Republicans argued that classroom discussions of LGBTQ issues would not be affected by the bill, which would target the school curriculum. GOP supporters have said issues of sexuality and gender identity are not appropriate for teaching in the early elementary grades.
In addition to HB 755, the group wants to raise awareness about the conditions transgender immigrants face while detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
They chanted the names of three transgender immigrant women who died during or shortly after being detained by ICE during Saturday’s protest. Victoria Arellano died in 2007, Roxsana Hernandez in 2018 and Johana Medina in 2019. All three died of complications from HIV.
“They were Latin American immigrants who were looking for a better and more secure future here in the United States,” said Jiménez Palacios, who is transgender and uses the pronouns they/them. “They were imprisoned by the so-called justice system and denied life-saving care.”
When news broke Friday about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling that federally protected a person’s right to an abortion, the group decided to also demonstrate in solidarity with those affected by the ruling.
For Jiménez Palacios, abortion and transgender rights go hand in hand.
“The movement against abortion is part of a larger attack (to take) control of all of our bodies,” they said. “We can’t let the Supreme Court crush the majority of us who demand bodily autonomy.”