Transgender Voices in N.C.

By Jonathan Drew

  • Associated Press

    Posted May 7, 2016 in Burlington Times News

    RALEIGH — A student who’s losing time in the classroom. A mother trying to show strength to her 8-year-old daughter. A reluctant protester led away in handcuffs.

    These transgender residents of North Carolina were swiftly and directly affected by the new state law that limits protections for LGBT people and mandates that they use bathrooms corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate in many public buildings.

    This week, the federal government warned that the law violates federal civil rights laws, but the state’s GOP leaders say they won’t change it.

    Some transgender people say they’re suffering not only from the law’s practical effects, but also from the emotional consequences of the state regulating deeply personal aspects of their identities.

    Here are some of their stories.


    “I spent 7 ½ years defending everyone’s freedom, just to come home and have my own revoked,” said Veronica O’Kelly, a transgender woman living in Durham.

    The infantry soldier served three tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq before leaving the Army in 2015, according to discharge documents she showed to The Associated Press.

    Now, she’s trying to decide whether to follow through on plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — where she wouldn’t be allowed to use women’s restrooms — to finish her bachelor’s degree.

    She began transitioning in the early 2000s while attending college in Buffalo, New York, and living with her parents. They didn’t agree with her gender identity, she said, so she moved out.

    To support herself, she said, she joined the Army as a man, slipping into “a very alpha-male environment.” She had yet to undergo any medical treatments and presented herself as her birth sex.

    “I had a wardrobe full of clothes, and I got rid of it all,” she said. “No one had any idea.”

    Wearing a purple blouse and lipstick during a recent interview, she said the routine of military life helped her think less about her gender dysphoria, but she’s resumed her transition since leaving the service. She was accepted at UNC and planned to enroll this fall. Then the law passed: “It was like the legs were cut out from under me,” she said.



    After Payton McGarry enrolled at UNC-Greensboro, he joined campus bands and a music-oriented fraternity. He was in his sophomore year, working toward business and accounting degrees, when the law passed in March.

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