At the one-year anniversary of House Bill 2, Elon University has just begun to realize the breadth of the impact of this controversial bill.
Despite the university’s choice to distance itself from the legislation, the university has not been able to completely avoid the fallout.
From SGA members, student-athletes, prospective students and students fighting to find their voices, many has been affected in one way or another.
Bit by bit, actions have replaced words. And that, said junior Monique Swirsky, president of Elon’s gay-straight alliance SPECTRUM, “that’s what’s really important.”

One year later

In addition to eliminating non-discrimination ordinances protecting members of the LGBTQIA community, HB2 — also known as the “bathroom bill” — requires individuals to use public restrooms and locker rooms coinciding with the gender on their birth certificate.
As a private institution, Elon is not required to comply with the bathroom provision, which only affects restrooms in public, government-owned facilities.
HB2 was approved by the North Carolina state government on March 23, 2016. Two days later, Elon released a statement reading, “Elon remains committed to inclusion and equal protection for all people. … We wish to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment for every member of our community.”
Elon’s statement stressed that individuals were welcome to use whichever bathroom they felt most comfortable using: “Elon maintains a list of more than 90 single-occupancy universal bathrooms on campus that protect the privacy of the users,” the statement said.
Elon’s SGA unanimously passed a resolution against HB2 on April 21. The resolution denounced HB2 as a “blatant disregard and denial of basic human rights.”
On March 9, 2017, Elon’s SGA passed the Title IX resolution encouraging university administration to consider “multiple-occupant gender-neutral bathrooms in all future renovations.”
“[This] is great because it shows that SGA — and therefore our student body — is willing to not just symbolically with words say, ‘We don’t agree with this.’ It’s willing to put action behind the words,” Swirsky said.
“There will be a lot of steps moving forward. There are so many areas where Elon has room to improve, and it just can’t be forgotten that House Bill 2 is still in place in North Carolina, and because of that, Elon’s environment is effected.”

Universal bathrooms

Before the creation of the Gender and LGBTQIA Center in April 2013, there were only 15 restrooms on campus for use by individuals of all genders and sexes. By 2015, that number had risen to 90.
Rather than building many additional facilities or reconstructing pre-existing restrooms, these bathrooms were the result of re-organization.
Shortly after HB2 was passed, students posted protest flyers over existing bathroom signs. These flyers separated bathrooms by arbitrary characteristics such as hair color, advertising that the facilities were for blondes or brunettes.
“Don’t you see yourself in this binary?” the signs said. “This is exactly what HB2 is doing to transgender people in our community, and 90+ single-occupancy gender neutral bathrooms are NOT enough.”
According to Swirsky, shortly after HB2 passed, SPECTRUM began a petition to change one of the single-occupancy bathrooms in the Moseley Center to a gender-neutral multiple-occupancy bathroom.
“This would be a very symbolic gesture to show how we are willing to put action behind our words, that we support LGBTQIA students,” Swirsky said. It would also be an educational experience for people to learn exactly what this issue fully entails.”
The petition was delivered to University President Leo Lambert with more than 1,000 signatures from students, faculty and staff.
Though SPECTRUM’s petition was unsuccessful, its actions prompted the creation of a trans-inclusion task force “to not only address issues with bathrooms on campus but much further-ranging issues for trans and gender-nonconforming students,” Swirsky said.

Challenges for admissions

According to Greg Zaiser, vice president for Admissions and Financial Planning, Elon admissions has made an effort to continue stressing to potential students that Elon is a welcoming community.
“We have not had students tell us they are necessarily less interested in Elon because of HB2,” Zaiser said in an email. “Last summer we encountered a couple of families who visited the university and loved it. However, they followed up to tell us they could not pursue Elon as a result of HB2.”
Zaiser said when a student admitted to the university turns down the invitation, they’re sent a questionnaire to find out why. Last year, the question “Was HB2 a factor in your decision not to attend Elon?” was added. According to Zaiser, 17 percent of respondents said that it was, but he pointed out that it is important to note that it was “not ‘the’ factor.”
Swirsky said she has personally heard a number of transgender students’ complaints about the environment.
“[They said] that they don’t feel safe, they don’t feel accepted, they don’t feel like they belong here,” Swirsky said. “They have had slurs yelled at them from out of trucks when they’re walking down the streets.”
Zaiser said that the overall number of applicants for the 2017 to 2018 school year was not noticeably different. Though applicants from California did decline, he said applications from Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida, Texas and other states increased.
“In addition to our messages of inclusivity in university publications, we sent specialized e-mail to our West Coast families to highlight the type of university Elon is,” Zaiser said. “North Carolina has been in the news a lot in the last year, and much of it has been unfavorable. Consequently, we’ve addressed that head on by saying things like, ‘We know you’re hearing a lot about North Carolina these days. Let us tell you about Elon and our institutional values.’”
Jonathan Jones, instructor of communications and director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, said the university still has a way to go in terms of accommodating transgender and gender-nonconforming students comfortably.
“As much as I admire the university, and I think it’s a great place, we’re a little bit behind in thinking about gender identity on this campus — what it means for someone to have a gender expression or gender identity that’s different from their biology,” Jones said.

Sports in a tight spot

In September 2016, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) — of which Elon is a part — weighed in and announced it would be sending a letter to former Gov. Pat McCrory opposing HB2 and calling for its immediate repeal.
Their announcement also said that the 2017 CAA Women’s Golf Championship, scheduled to be held April 14-16 in Southport, North Carolina, would be moved if HB2 was not repealed by January 10, 2017.
The tournament has not officially been rescheduled, nor has the tennis championship scheduled to be at held at Elon and the baseball championship scheduled to be held at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington later this spring, but in a January phone interview, CAA spokesman Rob Washburn said there is still time for events to be moved.
This fall, the football team is scheduled to face the University of Albany, SUNY at home, but New York has banned all non-essential travel to North Carolina in response to HB2. The game’s fate remains undecided.
Based on this controversy and the CAA’s response to HB2, it is unlikely that tournaments or championships will be scheduled at Elon until HB2 is repealed.

Compromise on the horizon

Recently elected North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper was an outspoken critic of HB2 during his campaign. Swirsky, who campaigned for Cooper last year, said she believed that the new governor would do what he could to repeal HB2.
“But politics are slow and the facts are immediate,” she added.
Appearing unfazed by the battle ahead, Cooper has continued to call for HB2’s repeal since his inauguration on New Year’s Eve.
HB2 might not see another anniversary if a compromise proposed in late February by two Republican and two Democratic representatives receives bipartisan support or the bill is invalidated in court.
House Bill 186, if approved, would no longer apply state laws to bathroom access and would allow local governments to pass nondiscrimination ordinances. One provision of HB186 that has received bipartisan support is a provision to increase the severity of penalties for crimes committed in bathrooms.
Jones said it makes sense that this provision is popular.
“The reality is that most people who commit crimes in bathrooms are not using the ruse of being a transgender person to get into that place,” he said. “But for the folks that are concerned about that, we could solve that problem without making a distinction as to who uses which bathroom.”
But Cooper has said additional referendum provisions — regarding challenges to non-discrimination ordinances and exemptions for nonprofits and churches — have made him and his fellow Democrats less enthusiastic about HB186.
“Both parties seem more interested in using this as a political football rather than coming to some kind of compromise, so that’s why we have not yet seen a repeal,” Jones said. “My belief is that if not by the end of 2017, then early in 2018, we will have either seen a repeal of the law or a court invalidating it.
“My view is that the court here is likely to find the bathroom provision of HB2 to be a violation of a transgender person’s civil rights, but there’s room for interpretation, and there’s room for argument.”

Josh Schwaner, contributor, and Alex Simon, sports director, contributed reporting.


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