Brantley Meddings was working at Hardee’s as a cook when a coworker berated him for being transgender.
Meddings said he told his boss, who he said was a lesbian, what was going on. The harassment continued, and Meddings felt “threatened for his life.” He went to his manager again, telling her if the coworker harassed him again, he would have to quit.
“He did it again that shift. I went, I took off my shirt, my hat, my name badge and I quit.”
T.J. Tallie, a history professor at Washington and Lee University who specializes in research into gender and sexuality, said that the acronym LGBTQ suggests harmony, but what people really mean is gay. Tallie said it was important for people to recognize that “all those letters aren’t equal.”
“When we think of an LGBT person, we usually think of a conventionally attractive cis-gender white male who is gay,” he said. “And it’s not controversial to say that gay white men are the predominate represented faction within those four letters.”
Tallie pointed to the recent movie, Stonewall, about the 1969 riots in New York. The story follows a white cis-gender gay male who becomes a central figure in the demonstrations demanding rights for gay people.
But Tallie said the movie is an example of erasure, or the wiping away of what really happened and who was actually involved.
“You privilege certain people that are seen as the norm, and you don’t even have a headspace for acknowledging other folk,” Tallie said.
The Stonewall riots began because police were unfairly targeting gender non-conforming people. Tallie cited Marsha P. Johnson as one of the key figures in the movement who was erased from the gay narrative.
“Taking out Johnson’s story is just another example of trans people being taken out of the larger LGBTQ fabric,” he said. “Erasure is routine. It’s not just something [that happens] in historic government archives.” The Q usually stands for “questioning” for a person who is unsure of his or her orientation.
Gregory Rosenthal, a professor of public history at Roanoke College, said gays treated transgender people as outcasts in Roanoke in the 1970s. Through his research on the LGBT population in southwestern Virginia, Rosenthal found advertisements for bars that contain language like “proper gender please,” or “no drags allowed.”
Rosenthal said there is a long history of “throwing trans people under the bus.” During the heyday of gay liberation during the 1970s and the 1980s, he said, “there is really no concept that trans people are part of the larger gay community.”
Anton Black, 43, said it’s tough when gays are prejudiced against transgender people.
Black said he was frustrated when he heard gay people dismiss the controversy over North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill, which would have legally prohibited transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Black said gays in Roanoke didn’t believe it was their fight.
“Trans issues seem to be separate and not equal,” Black said.
Cory Vickers, who is Black’s daughter, says she has also experienced the gay community’s animosity toward transgender people through her relationship with a transgender man. Vickers said people told her she “gave up her lesbian card,” or would justify her relationship by telling her that “they still have a vagina so it’s ok.”
Black says he’s heard gays make derogatory comments, such as “tranny” or “make up your mind. Are you a boy or a girl.”
“When you hear those comments, he, she, it, what are you, that probably grates me the deepest,” he said. “[I am] still human.”
Gavin Grimm says he just wanted to use the bathroom at his high school in Gloucester County. In fact, he used the boys’ bathroom for seven weeks with no incident.
That is until the Gloucester County School Board created a transgender restroom policy that barred Grimm from using the bathroom that was consistent with his gender identity. The policy stated that students must use the bathroom that corresponds to their biological gender.
The school board’s guidelines took effect in December 2014. Almost three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals after President Donald Trump rescinded the Obama administration’s guidelines that protected transgender students.
T.J. Briggs, a transgender man, was disappointed when he heard that the U.S. Supreme Court had delayed the ruling on bathrooms in schools.
“They totally crapped out on it,” Briggs, 33, said. “They didn’t give us anything.”
During the Obama administration, the Department of Education issued guidelines, warning schools that they could lose federal funding if they discriminated against students on the basis of sex or gender identity.
Title IX of the Education Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sex discrimination against students and employees of educational institutions. Under the Trump administration’s guidelines, students still have protections from discrimination, bullying or harassment. But it is up to individual school districts and states to determine what protections, if any, to provide for students.
“It is a delay of justice,” said Dolly Davis, a transgender advocate.
Davis said she knows of a high school student who cannot use the girls’ restrooms in her school and is confined to one bathroom. She said the school was waiting to see what happened in the courts before making a decision.
“It’s just a way to say we don’t want it, but we don’t want to say we don’t want it,” she said. “But we don’t want the responsibility of saying that we are prejudiced.”
Davis sees similarities between the Grimm case and the fight to legalize gay marriage, which occurred in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a right protected under the Constitution.
Opponents to the Obama era guidelines for transgender students say states or localities should decide the most effective course for their schools. Opponents made similar arguments during the gay marriage debate, saying marriage is a states’ rights issue, and the federal government should not intervene.
But Roddy Flynn, executive director of the LGBT Equality Caucus in Washington, said the advocacy group is trying to protect transgender people by working in legislatures and fighting in the courts.
There are currently few protections for transgender people at local or state levels. Twenty states and D.C. list gender identity as a protected class. But none of those states is below the Mason-Dixon Line.
Some states, like North Carolina and Arkansas, are passing legislation that bans cities and towns from enacting anti-discrimination laws.
In March 2016, the North Carolina legislature passed the Public Facilities and Security Act, more widely known as HB-2. The bill had required people at government-run facilities to use restrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to the sex listed on their birth certificates. Lawmakers approved the bill in a little over 11 hours.
Businesses, sporting events and concerts pulled out of North Carolina. The NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference, of which four North Carolina schools are members, relocated tournaments in all sports outside of the state because the organizations could not “assure a safe, healthy, discrimination free atmosphere” for both spectators and athletes, according to a statement from the NCAA.
During the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against North Carolina, citing discrimination under Title IX.
In March of 2017, a week after the NCAA threatened the Tar Heel state that it would lose championship events, North Carolina’s legislature voted to repeal the bill. But the compromise between Republicans and Democrats left the power to regulate bathroom access in the hands of lawmakers. It also blocks local governments from passing or amending nondiscrimination ordinances pertaining to private employment and public accommodation until 2020.
Flynn said there are several cases around the country that could make it to the nation’s high court in the next couple of years. Flynn said they raise the issue of whether sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act includes sexual orientation and gender identity. He said he thinks that GG v. Gloucester County School Board will be among them.
Legislation also has been introduced in Congress. Known as the Equality Act, a pending bipartisan bill would add explicit protections for gender identity and sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If passed, the bill would ban discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, federal benefits, jury service and education.
In the House, the bill has 196 co-sponsors, one of whom is a Republican, and 46 in the Senate, none of whom is a Republican. A version of the bill was introduced in 2015, but died in committee. Flynn said he doesn’t expect the current version to go to a vote this year.
“To me it’s really disgraceful to watch people try to manipulate the law in ways to try to deny people basic rights and liberties,” said Davis, a transgender advocate. “We the people… We want to pursue liberty and happiness. We don’t want people to tell us who we are.”