The Newest Opponents Of North Carolina’s Anti-Transgender Law: Faith Groups

North Carolina’s controversial new anti-transgender law has triggered a cavalcade of criticism since it became law in March, with businesses, famous musicians, and even Donald Trump expressing disproval of legislation that forces schools and public buildings to discriminate against transgender individuals and their bathroom use. In addition to blasting the law itself, many have chastised its supporters, which include a number of right-wing conservative Christians and religious leaders such as Franklin Graham.

But as massive throngs of protesters descended on the North Carolina capitol building in Raleigh on Monday to call for the repeal of the bill often called HB2, scattered among the crowd were several signs reading “My faith doesn’t discriminate” and dozens of religious leaders bearing collars, stoles, and yarmulkes. Unlike their conservative counterparts, these prayerful North Carolinians weren’t there to preach theology that condemns transgender people, but to express faith-based opposition to a law they say is discriminatory — all while representing the state’s sizable, sustained pro-LGBT faith movement.

Faith leaders were among the slate of dignitaries who delivered speeches to the crowd demanding the state legislature strike the law, such as Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the state’s faith-rooted Moral Mondays movement. Barber has repeatedly decried HB2 as discriminatory to transgender people as well as lower-income workers, calling it “an unholy alliance of racism, classism, and homophobia.”

“We have to be careful not to be played by the extremists,” Barber, reportedly said on Monday, standing in front of a row of boxes containing 170,000 signatures demanding the repeal of the bill. “It's not a bathroom bill, but there's a lot of stuff that should be thrown in the outhouse.”

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara — an openly gay United Church of Christ minister, LGBT activist, and Democratic nominee for Buncombe County commissioner — also spoke to the crowd.

“Let me be clear this morning: lives are at stake,” Beach-Ferrara said.

Protesters and other faith leaders then reportedly stormed the capitol, staging several sit-ins and presenting Democratic lawmakers with an alternative law to replace HB2.

Meanwhile, the NC Conference of the United Methodist Church released a statement earlier in the day asking elected officials to strike down the law as soon as possible.

“We observe the hurried passage of House Bill 2 (HB2) and its resultant harm to North Carolina – to individuals, to our economy, to our engagements with other states and nations, and to our future,” the statement read. “We call for the repeal of HB2 as the legislature returns to Raleigh today.

Indeed, faith groups have opposed HB2 almost since its inception. The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina railed against HB2 the day it passed, rejecting the idea that the law protects people and arguing that it “actually contribute[s] to prejudice and misunderstanding toward our neighbors whose gender identity is more complicated than the simple matter of anatomy.” Fifteen pastors who head up North Carolina congregations of the Metropolitan Community Church — a denomination that is overwhelmingly LGBT — sent a letter to lawmakers referring to the bill as “scare tactics” and asking them to end discrimination against LGBT people, as did Reform Jewish rabbis from several North Carolina synagogues (the Union for Reform Judaism adopted a sweeping transgender rights policy earlier this year). Rev. Edward Davis, conference minister of the North Carolina-based Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC), equated the bill to racially segregated bathrooms in the 1960s, when restrooms bore signs reading “whites only.”

Even individual churches, such as the Church of the Servant in Wilmington, NC, have passed ordinances demanding the repeal of HB2, as have various other local religious organizations: less than two days after the bill was signed into law, the Montreat Conference Center — a Christian organization affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination that hosts thousands of attendees in western North Carolina every year — released a statement condemning its passage.

“…We will not tolerate on our campus discrimination against any child of God, including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” read the Facebook post. “We will continue to invite our conferees, guests, and visitors to use the restrooms in which they feel most comfortable.”

Progressive faith groups are rapidly becoming some of the staunchest supporters of LGBT rights in the Tar Heel State, where roughly 88 percent of the population claims a belief in God and 64 percent support LGBT nondiscrimination laws. People of faith played a key role in North Carolina’s Moral Mondays Movement in 2014, which consistently touted support for the state’s LGBT community as hundreds of religious leaders were arrested protesting the state legislature’s conservative agenda. And when a judge ruled in 2014 that same-sex marriage should be legal in the state, it was in response to a case filed by a group of LGBT people, progressive clergy, and the UCC; The judged declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage not only discriminated agains LGBT people, but also insisted that it “threatens clergy or other officiants who solemnize the union of same-sex couples with civil or criminal penalties.”

True, progressive religious leaders in the state say they can sometimes feel outnumbered by conservative activists, but faith-fueled opponents of North Carolina’s law have reason for optimism: Left-leaning religious leaders helped defeat recent attempts to pass so-called “religious liberty” bills that could have discriminated against LGBT people in Indiana, Arkansas, and Georgia, among other states.