HB2's education impact: Life more complicated for students in transition
Posted March 29
Updated March 30
At the heart of the HB2 court case is the question of which bathroom and locker room transgender students are allowed to use in public schools. For one of the plaintiffs in the case, HB2 has made life much more complicated.
Hunter Schafer, 18, is a high school senior at the UNC School of the Arts in Winston Salem. She was born a boy. But in her early teen years, she transitioned to become a girl with the help of hormone therapy.
For the last year, Schafer’s environment at UNC School of the Arts has held an extra challenge for her. Schafer uses the women’s restroom at school. But since the passage of HB2, that means she breaks the law each time she goes into the bathroom. HB2 allows Schafer to use a gender-neutral restroom. But she says there aren’t enough of them.
"I’ve considered starting to use the men’s restroom but I don’t know how comfortable I am...looking and feeling the way I do, like that’s not where I belong," Schafer said.
I've considered starting to use the men's restroom but I don't know how comfortable I am ... looking and feeling the way I do.
Under HB2, public school students in North Carolina must use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate. This presents a problem for transgender students who believe they should use restrooms that match their gender identity.
State legislators passed HB2 just as some school districts were starting to pay attention to the needs of transgender students.
Catherine Archibald, a law professor at the University of Detroit, said in the past few years, school administrators across the country have stepped up accommodations for trans students.
“Schools are now thinking ‘what is our policy’?” said Archibald, an expert on the litigation surrounding transgender bathroom access. “Most of them didn’t have a policy in the past.”
More and more trans students are coming forward as their issues and identities gain more acceptance and awareness and as trans students have begun winning cases in the courts, Archibald said.
So the struggle certainly isn’t a new one, it’s just one that’s entered the mainstream consciousness in recent years,” she said.
In North Carolina, many schools had given transgender students access to single-stall, gender neutral restrooms -- a move that’s still legal under HB2. Schafer’s case is fairly typical.
Before she transferred to the School of the Arts, Schafer completed her freshman year at Broughton High School in Raleigh. There, she told school administrators she wouldn’t feel comfortable using the boys’ locker room when she changed for gym.
“And they wouldn’t let me use the women’s [bathroom] so they gave me this staff bathroom to change in,” she said.
Schafer used the staff bathroom to use the restroom, too. But eventually, she started using the girls’ restroom, even though faculty had told her she wasn’t supposed to.
“I kind of just disregarded that and used the bathroom I was comfortable with and no one ever really stopped me,” she said.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools went a step further, and allowed transgender students access to whichever bathroom matched their identity—meaning a trans girl could use the girls’ restroom. But that practice became illegal when the state passed HB2.
Despite growing public support around transgender issues, there are students who are not comfortable sharing facilities with their transgender peers.
Chloe Jefferson, a student at Greenville Christian Academy, expressed those concerns during the special session state lawmakers held last year to pass HB2. She spoke out against a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use restrooms corresponding with their gender identity.
“Changing in front of my girl peers is already intimidating enough,” Jefferson said. “Now we add the possibility of males changing and showering alongside me. This is something that makes me, and I’m sure other girls, even more self-conscious. Girls like me should never be forced to undress of shower in the presence of boys.”
This tension is hardly unique to North Carolina. Transgender students across the country are caught in the midst of a national culture war on gender, identity and religion. And many will be watching how the case against HB2 plays out in court later this spring.
This report first appeared on WUNC/North Carolina Public Radio as part of its education coverage. Jess Clark is the Fletcher Fellow focused on education policy reporting. The Fletcher Fellowship is a partnership between WUNC and UNC’s School of Media and Journalism funded in part by the Fletcher Foundation. Articles produced by the Fletcher Fellow are considered to be "open content” that others can republish with permission.