Freshman year of high school is, for some people, already an uphill climb.
It was a different challenge altogether for Hunter Schafer, a Raleigh teenager who says she came out just before ninth grade and immediately began transitioning. By her sophomore year, Schafer had adopted female pronouns and began using the women’s restroom at school.
Today, she’s a proud transgender advocate, a visual artist at N.C. School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, and the latest addition to a pivotal legal challenge for North Carolina’s House Bill 2.
Leaders with the ACLU of N.C. announced the addition of three new plaintiffs— Schafer, as well as Beverly Newell and Kelly Trent, a married lesbian couple from Charlotte—to their case against the controversial legislation last week.
The lawsuit argues that North Carolina’s new legislation, which was passed and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23, violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Late last week, Schafer agreed to a Q&A with N.C. Policy Watch.
PW: What was going through your mind when House Bill 2 passed?
HS: It kind of took a while for the implications to set in, for me to realize exactly how this bill was affecting me and all my fellow trans youth and trans people. As I began to understand the bill and realized it was really taking effect in North Carolina, I was and still am very upset. It’s discriminatory and invalidating.
PW: There’s been a lot of back and forth between opponents and supporters who describe it as media-fanned rage. From the perspective of someone directly impacted day to day in your school, what do you think when folks say House Bill 2 is not discriminatory?
HS: I’ve been using the female restroom without problems after my transition. I’ve become accustomed to it. It’s where I’m most comfortable. All of a sudden, having to revert back to using the men’s restroom, which at one time in my life was a very scary and uncomfortable thing, I’m being put back into that position. I have to choose between putting myself in that position or breaking the law.
PW: What kind of things do you have to deal with going to the men’s room?
HS: It was just knowing that I didn’t belong there. I already looked different from most of the other guys at my school. I felt endangered being around them. I felt vulnerable in that space.
PW: Since this bill was passed, how have the other kids at school been about it?
HS: No one’s told me to stop using the women’s restroom here. It’s such a great and accepting environment here at school. No one’s complained about me since H.B. 2 has been passed. When I do use it, I’m breaking the law and that’s not a comfortable thing to do. I have my personal restroom in my room which I’ve been sneaking to more often.
PW: Over the last couple weeks, Gov. McCrory has indicated in interviews that he believes the controversy over transgender rights to be a brand new phenomenon, that it’s something of a new social norm. What do you say in response to that?
HS: Trans people have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years in different cultures and societies. We’re at a point right now in our society where more and more trans people are coming into the mainstream through media and TV. We’re at an enormous point of visibility for our community, but we’ve been around for a while. Now we’re receiving this kind of attention that’s unprecedented.
PW: Historically speaking, this country has weathered some tremendous civil rights struggles. This feels like the monumental civil rights struggle of the moment. Did you ever think you’d be a part of something like this?
HS: When I was a kid, I didn’t know I was going to be trans or not straight, but as I came to terms with those things, I knew that there was work to be done as far as integrating us socially into the rest of our culture and the general public. That’s something we’re taking on right now. It’s progressing but we have a lot of work to do. I definitely didn’t think I was going to be on the front lines of the fight like I am right now, but I’m excited to be representing trans views from North Carolina in the lawsuit.
PW: In the last few weeks, was there ever a thought for you and your family about just leaving North Carolina?
HS: I don’t think I’m going to stay in North Carolina forever, but I don’t think hope is lost as far as North Carolina goes and its acceptance of the LGBTQ community. There is a significant population of LGBTQ people in North Carolina who need rights and who aren’t going to be moving. It’s not something to abandon. We’re at a prime moment for our movement to use the restroom that we’re comfortable with. It’s not all lost. I see a light at the end of this tunnel.