Turning moments into momentum for LGBT equality

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

In the days since the North Carolina Legislature passed House Bill 2, largely considered a setback to transgender inclusion in the state, the outcry has mounted from multiple corners and industries. The NBA has cast doubt on whether it will keep the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte; the NCAA is "monitoring the situation"; and ESPN is doing the same as the company considers a new home for the Summer X Games.

The new law bans municipalities from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances and other measures, such as raising the minimum wage, and restricts the use of bathrooms and locker rooms to those whose birth certificates and driver's licenses have the corresponding biological sex indicated.

In other words, a transgender woman could use the women's restroom only if she had gone through the requisite legal hoops to change the gender marker on government documents. The same goes for a genderqueer person assigned female at birth; they could use a men's restroom only if they went through the same steps.

There is no sugarcoating here: This law is a direct attack on the LGBT community, specifically transgender, genderqueer and gender nonconforming people. It addresses no real problem, except the irrational fear of men infiltrating bathrooms to prey on women and girls. This is not to make light of sexual assault or rape; frankly, given the need to have meaningful discussions about those topics, wielding them as a cudgel to discriminate is repugnant.

On the surface, this law seems political with no real tie to sports. But that couldn't be further from the truth, given how explicitly it curtails of public institutions' ability to provide protections and inclusive measures for LGBT individuals. This is especially pertinent to public universities and their students, including the recourse to gain more inclusive sports facilities and locker rooms.

The vetoed so-called "bathroom bill" in South Dakota included the same provisions as North Carolina's regarding bathroom and locker room access. In Texas, the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for Texas high school sports, passed an amendment to its policy that restricted access to teams and locker rooms based on gender as identified by birth certificate -- pretty much the same policy that is now state law in North Carolina.

In Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal said he would veto a so-called religious freedom bill, the pressure from the professional sports community cannot be discounted. The Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons, all made statements against the bill, and the NFL released a statement threatening the possibility of not hosting future Super Bowls there.

After the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance failed in a city referendum, thanks to some horrific use of bathroom panic to encourage discrimination against trans people, I said I don't think moving the Super Bowl matters because it doesn't signify a deeper commitment to the safety and prosperity of LGBT people across this country. I have been reminded of that throughout the past five days. While I find the outrage invigorating, it is not a sustained call for change.

In the sports community, we came together after Gov. Mike Pence signed Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The NCAA made a strong statement against the law, along with NBA, WNBA, Pacers and Fever. The ensuing outcry and boycotts cost the state an estimated $60 million. They were punished for being seen as anti-LGBT. One year later, however, and there are still no protections for LGBT people at the state level.

These laws are only issues in the first place because the gridlock in Congress has not allowed for an expansion of federal protections to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. They crop up when legislators think no one is looking. For every state law that earns our ire, there is another law or local policy that escaped our view. This is about fear of the unknown in a rapidly changing world. With suicide rates disproportionately high among LGBT youth, we owe it to them to do better.

This isn't a question about politics; it's one of human decency and whether we will dare to see the humanity in others, instead of only seeing the reflection of our own fear. I'm tired of writing about those who choose the latter.

Sports has real power, and that was put on display in Georgia over the past week. But too often we react instead of speaking out as it happens. Once pressure has been exerted, we move on.

Teams, leagues and fans should champion equality all the time. The New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have supported You Can Play project, a group dedicated to inclusiveness in sports. Such efforts should be extended league-wide, like the WNBA's LGBT fan initiative.

These things are happening in our backyards, and the sports community -- including fans -- needs to continue to stand with its LGBT members, even when the political payoff is not quite so obvious.

Katie Barnes is a Digital Media Associate at ESPN. Follow them on Twitter at Katie_Barnes3.