UNCG student Payton McGarry is one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed by Lamda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The suit is in response to the recent state law that prevents transgender individuals from using the public restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, strips LGBT people of state anti-discrimination protections, and forbids cities and counties from enacting their own anti-discrimination ordinances.
McGarry, a business and accounting major (formerly a music major), sat down with The Carolinian to talk about his experiences as a transgender man on the UNCG campus and, more generally, why he chose to step out against the new law.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: I grew up in a town two hours east of here called Wilson, North Carolina. I realized I was trans when I was going through puberty and came out to my family and started going to therapy at 17 years old. Then I ended up going on hormone replacement therapy at 18 and here we are.
Q: Did you have any problems then, in people dealing with it?
A: I feel like in any place there are going to be people who agree with it and people who don’t. I think more people were ignorant of it in Wilson, especially a couple of years ago. This discussion has really been just taking off this year and last year.
I think there are people who disagree with this issue from a moral standpoint and that affects how they view professionals in their field. So even though I may have been the most qualified candidate for the job, because I worked with kids in marching bands, that teacher could not allow me to work with those kids any more.
Q: How have you found the atmosphere at UNCG when it comes to tolerance?
A: It’s been so supportive. Honestly, I’ve found nothing but love and support. I was talking to a reporter, and a crowd of about 10 or 15 people were walking out of the building and they all stopped to hug me and tell me, “Thank you for what you’re doing, thank you for standing up.” I had a long talk with the communication studies department earlier about opportunities and what they’re looking at as a resolution and how I can help with that.
Q: What were your first thoughts when you heard this law [HB2] had been passed?
A: I followed it the whole day when it was coming out. It started and it went through the House, and I was surprised by the fact that a lot of people only had five minutes to read it. I remember talking to friends and I was like, “Wow, this is going to pass, this is really scary.” Then I went out to dinner and by the time I came back it had passed through the Senate, and that night it was passed by McCrory. I just remember thinking that some of the rhetoric they were using to surround this situation was just terrifying, and it was not becoming of people who should be making decisions for constituents who are like me. Just knowing that even as I’ve lost jobs for being transgender, it’s going to become more widely known that “Hey, I can fire someone for being trans,” or you can fire someone for being gay. It doesn’t offer any protection for us.
Q: How do you feel about the protections that were in place before HB2?
A: I felt that certain cities had ordinances that were supportive and protective and inclusive of their LGBT populations.
Q: After the bill passed, what made you decide that somebody had to do something, and it’s going to be me?
A: I think I decided on it because a lot of people didn’t know I was transgender. That’s a comment I’ve gotten a lot. I think I decided to step up and take a stand because of my own experiences with opposition to my gender. I have lost employment, I have been pushed and slapped in female bathrooms before I identified as trans, when I identified as gay. There was a lot of opposition to that, and I lost a lot of opportunities. Somebody’s got to do it. Somebody’s going to take a stand.
Q: The backlash against this law has been overwhelming, from businesses to North Carolina’s own attorney general. Why do think this has taken backers of the law by such surprise when it’s been obvious the nation has been moving in a more tolerant direction for a while?
A: I think they didn’t take time to talk to the professionals, didn’t take time to talk to the community and didn’t realize what this was going to result in. I think they wanted to push it through as quickly as they possibly could and get it over with and hope that they could sneak it through. That’s obviously not what has happened.
Q: They didn’t realize that the culture has changed.
A: Especially in Greensboro, or Durham or Raleigh. The culture has changed, and people are finally stepping up and saying, “Look, discrimination should not be legal.”
Q: Now that the lawsuit has been filed, what’s the next step?
A: I’m going to keep talking to people, and keep getting other input and ideas. I have a really great scene of people standing with me, and we’re going to figure out the best course of action from there.