Since — which prevents transgender individuals from using the bathroom matching their preferred gender identity — the center has seen an almost eight-fold increase in phone calls and walk-ins.
“Legislators are speaking on behalf of our state, and they’re using language and terminology and fear and just absolute negativity,” Miller said. “You can’t help but think what that impact has on a 10 year old.”
While the center rarely receives one to two calls per month about self-harm and suicide attempts, he said it has received five in the past week.
And the demographic of transgender young people Miller works with at the center are just a small portion of the 15,619 transgender North Carolinians between the ages of 13 and 19.
An issue of visibility
Based on data compiled by The Williams Institute, a UCLA-based think tank specializing in sexuality law, each state has between 1.3 and 3.2 percent of youth who are transgender — averaging out to 1.7 percent.
This means visually, transgender teenagers in the state would fill up approximately three-quarters of the Dean Smith Center.
And if this statistic is surprising, a large factor might be visibility, said Andrew Reynolds, a UNC political science professor.
“I think by far the biggest reason there is that transgender people are so invisible,” said Reynolds, who co-authored an opinion piece in today’s issue of The Washington Post. “We know that in massive numbers, youth and adults hide.”
In discussing visibility, Shoshana Goldberg — a doctoral candidate in public health and Reynold’s co-author — said the term transgender includes a wide variety of individuals. It can refer to those who are physically transitioned and gender non-binary, among others.
A seat at the table
Goldberg and Reynolds’ research analyzes the impact of representation of LGBT people on public health outcomes in the state.
“In the LGB sense, we have a huge amount of evidence to show that representation has a massively positive effect on a number of different levels,” he said.
Referring to the old adage “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Reynolds said having LGBT individuals in government matters to discourse regardless of the outcome.
Representation is central to the strategy of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, according to Miller. The nonprofit cannot align with political parties but can educate and promote accurate presentation of the transgender demographic.
Rebecca Chapin, board member at the center, said it has offered support groups and opportunities to learn about being an ally and definitions through courses like Trans 101 and Trans 102.
Involvement from the transgender community and embracing the notion of ‘nothing about us without us’ is crucial to progress, Miller said.
“Myself, as a cisgender white male, I have a huge amount of privilege,” he said. “But I am not the person people need to see — that people need to talk to sometimes.”
Enforcement and legality
One of the most fielded questions for Terri Phoenix, director of the LGBTQ Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been what the penalty is for violating the so-called “bathroom bill.”
Without an enforcement procedure, Phoenix said consequences remain to be seen.
“As a trans individual myself, I think about that. I’ve thought about that every time I have to make a choice about what bathroom to use,” Phoenix said.
To Goldberg, the law is not about enforcement.
“When it’s enforced, it’s going to be very, very dangerous,” she said. “And if it’s not enforced, it’s still psychologically harmful.”
Reneé Wells, director of N.C. State University’s GLBT Center, said in an email that transgender teenagers might begin to internalize negative messages.
“The psychological effect of having your identity invalidated and pathologized — and of having that be a dominant cultural conversation in the society in which you live — could cause trans youth to internalize harmful messages that damage their self-esteem, cause depression, lead to thoughts of self harm, and may ultimately increase suicide attempts,” she said.
And legal action like Gov. Pat McCrory’s executive order — which expanded state employee protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity — is meaningless to Reynolds.
“(Transgender youth are) not sitting there for dockets to hit the Wake County Supreme Court,” he said. “They’re living the day-to-day existence of bullying in schools.”
The ‘bathroom issue’
N.C. Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, a primary sponsor of House Bill 2, said he could not schedule time to talk before this article was published.
John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council, said in a press release that McCrory and legislators should remain confident in their commitment to privacy and safety.
But Goldberg said there is documentation that transgender people, when using gendered bathrooms, are the ones who have been victimized.
Goldberg and Reynolds found that suicide attempts among transgender college students rose with denied access to preferred bathrooms, increasing from 43.2 percent to 60.5 percent.
Legislators will convene for their short session April 25 where further discussion is likely.
Miller said he believes McCrory now understands the money raised from supporters in an election year might be taken away from the state through violations of Title IV and corporate frustration.
He said he doesn’t think McCrory is a bad person.
“But I also don’t think he read the bill.”