Inside The Fight For Transgender Americans In The Mountains Of North Carolina

The first in the "I'm Still Here" HuffPost podcast series.

This is the first episode in the HuffPost podcast series “I’m Still Here” that visits communities whose tales of adversity have put them on the map and explores what “survival” in America really looks like. In this episode “We’re The Bathroom State Now,” James Michael Nichols travels to Asheville, North Carolina to talk with the family of Emma Smith. 


When North Carolina passed House Bill 2 in 2016, a wave of anti-transgender legislation swept the American South, centering around bathroom use and the ability of trans people to safely and legally exist in public spaces.

This assault on LGBTQ life presented numerous challenges for transgender people ― particularly the most vulnerable, such as trans people of color, trans children, and trans people living in rural parts of states passing these so-called “bathroom bills.”

In mountainous Western North Carolina, a 6-year-old transgender girl named Emma Smith took her fight public earlier this year. Emma’s family lives in a small community called Arden, outside of Asheville, and they spent her entire year of kindergarten fighting to have the Buncombe County School system allow her to use the girl’s bathroom ― and to stop allegedly trying to cruelly reinforce male identity through various punishments. 

Read Emma’s full story here.

One organization called Tranzmission has played a crucial role in helping the Smiths find resources and community and helped them fight the Buncombe County School system to recognize Emma’s gender identity. It has also served as a crucial resource for transgender and gender-nonconforming North Carolinians living in Western North Carolina since its founding in 2001.

Tranzmission has also been at the frontline of the battle against, first, HB 2 and now HB 142 ― a “compromise” bill that was passed in March 2017 that Tranzmission founder Zeke Christopoulos says allows the exact same brand of discrimination as HB 2.

“Nothing has changed whatsoever so it’s really hard when it’s been touted on such a public level that it’s a repeal,” Christopoulos told HuffPost. “It just leaves people’s civil rights flapping in the wind. To have delayed passing on discrimination ordinances to December of 2020 ― this is civil rights! How can you delay it? It’s just morally repugnant. It’s wrong.”

Beyond fighting for HB 2 and leading the charge alongside Emma’s parents, Amy and Kevin, Tranzmission plays a vital role in fighting for the livelihood, survival and well-being of trans and gender-nonconforming people all over North Carolina. The organization works on policy across national, state and local levels, holds trainings for medical facilities, trainings for educational institutions and focuses on identifying and executing areas and groups that need education surrounding transgender experience.

They also work one-on-one with transgender people in helping with obstacles such as name change documents, dealing with authority figures in the medical world and helping with access to adequate healthcare.

“Post-HB 2 we’ve had a big push with our Name Change Project,” Christopoulos said. “We did a lot of trainings at educational institutions around here. Students more so than anybody else were having a difficult time, and I think part of that is that for some of us who’ve been around longer and been queer, we know how resilient we are. We’ve seen so many challenges to our community. We’ve heard about them from our elders, but for somebody who’s just coming out or somebody who’s younger and hasn’t had a chance to get educated in that way, it can feel incredibly like, ‘This is it. We’re all going to be eradicated.’ That’s not an unrealistic fear, I will point out, but really letting people know that, yes, there’s hope, and yes, this is horrible, but this isn’t going to be the end. We’re going to prevail. We’re going to continue.”

The work of Tranzmission is ongoing. To hear more from Christopoulos and about the work of Tranzmission with Emma Smith check out the podcast above. Head here to read Emma’s story in full.

HuffPost is hitting the road this fall to interview people about their hopes, dreams, fears ― and what it means to be American today.

I’m Still Here is a HuffPost Podcast hosted by Zeba Blay and produced by Nick Offenberg and Jessica Samakow. Send us an email at stillhere@huffpost.com.

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