Editorial: Courage on the front lines

Published 12:11 am Sunday, June 5, 2016

They looked like ordinary people, but the transgender men and women who spoke at Thursday’s Trans Conversations Educational Forum in Salisbury showed extraordinary courage as they publicly shared their stories.

The panelists and Salisbury Pride, which organized the forum, took a brave step toward educating the public about what it means to be transgender.

Without confronting the issue, they also helped people mentally frame North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2, which says people must stick with the gender on their birth certificates when choosing a public bathroom. The panelists didn’t lobby or talk politics, but anyone looking at photos from the event cannot  help but think about the implications. The man with the beard and tattoos, born a woman, is supposed to use the ladies’ room under HB2. The women with flowing hair and feminine features are expected to relieve themselves in the room where men stand at urinals.

Picture that.

However, the image HB2 advocates want in people’s minds is a predatory man parading as a trans woman in order to attack grandmothers and little girls in the ladies room — something that has been illegal all along, before and after passage of HB2.

Thursday’s panel discussion was not about politics, though. It was about understanding people born one sex who grow up feeling very much that they are the other.  Sometimes they embrace it from birth. Sometimes they fight it. Mac McLaughlin, the man with the beard, was married during his female days but could not continue to pretend, he said. He divorced and transitioned to male. 

The soft-spoken woman beside him, Erica Lachowitz, said she had not been an LGBT advocate, even after her transition from male to female, but the passage of HB2 is forcing the issue. “I never had to worry, and now I worry.”

People fear what they don’t know, and most don’t know any trans individuals. Panelist Adam Plant said there is a need for people to acknowledge that trans people exist and matter. The trans forum helped bridge that gap for the people telling their stories and their audience. Understanding is the great uniter.