The real-life impact of North Carolina’s anti-transgender legislation has reared its ugly head with statistics showing an increase in number of calls received at a suicide hotline for transgender people.
Greta Gustava Martela, co-founder of Trans Lifeline, reported that their call volume has ‘nearly doubled’ since North Carolina passed HB2 last month. This bill bans transgender people from using public bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Martela explained that suicide prevalence generally rises in the spring, but the sharp jump in their call numbers is ‘indicative of some event happening, rather than the normal seasonal fluctuations.’
Looking at the data presented, before the signing of HB 2 on March 23, the hotline’s daily call volume had seldom gone above 200. However after the law was passed, an upward trend started to appear. On April 13, the number shot up to 357 incoming calls, which Martela described as ‘unprecedented.’
Martela also clarified with The Daily Beast that the increase in call volume is unlikely to be due to any media attention directed at Trans Lifeline in the recent weeks, since the hotline had already achieved an extensive reach in most areas in the U.S. since its launch in 2014.
‘I don’t think that news stories are what’s driving people to our hotline anymore,’ said Martela.
Pointing to the recent waves of legislative attacks on the trans community, she added that people might be feeling discouraged about future prospects:
‘If I had to guess what’s being impacted I think [it’s] probably people’s hope for the future.’
In February, the Human Rights Campaign counted a total of 29 anti-transgender bathroom bills under consideration at the state level. A recent SurveyUSA poll shows that 56% of North Carolina voters believe that ‘allowing a transgender individual to use the public restroom of their choice does pose a security risk for women and children.’
Yet, there hasn’t been one reported case of sexual misconduct in public bathroom by a transgender person. On the contrary, republican lawmakers were the ones caught red-handed in the past.
In a Williams Institute survey, 68% of transgender respondents reported to have experienced verbal harassment in a public bathroom, while 9% reported physical assault. Clearly, it is non-transgender people who pose a threat to transgender people in the bathroom, not the other way round.
‘Bathroom access is a basic human right—it’s something we all need, wherever we live,’ said Dr. Kristie Seelman to The Daily Beast. ‘To deny someone the ability to use a public restroom is an attempt to deny that person basic dignity. Such a situation has a profound impact on well-being, including mental health.’
Seelman, assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Georgia State University, is also the author of transgender study recently published in the Journal of Homosexuality. From the survey responses from 2,325 transgender people who had attended college, she found that ‘denial of access to bathrooms and denial of access to campus housing due to being trans were statistically significantly associated with lifetime suicide attempt.’
Seelman remarked that it’s not surprising to find a link between bathroom access and mental health:
‘What I’ve heard from transgender people in my past research is that not having access to a bathroom heightens their anxiety and stress, leading them to try to plan their daily lives around when and where they can find a bathroom, sometimes even getting to a point of dehydration or social isolation.’
Though Seelman added that the significant association shouldn’t be interpreted as causality, the study results should nonetheless be taken as red flags by the politicians and lawmakers.
‘We know that stigma and lifetime discrimination influence suicide rates, whether we’re talking about transgender people or another marginalised group.
‘Policies like HB 2 are not solving a problem—they are actually making things worse,’ said Seelman.
H/t: The Daily Beast