When my husband and I moved from Atlanta to Raleigh in early 2012, we had no idea what we were in for. Naively, we assumed that moving north meant that we were headed to a more progressive state. We were wrong.
Shortly after we arrived in North Carolina, we learned about Amendment 1. This proposed Constitutional amendment would recognize heterosexual marriage as the only legal domestic union in North Carolina, thereby limiting the rights of same-sex couples—and in fact, all unmarried couples throughout the state. Thoroughly repulsed, we made a beeline to the LGBT Center of Raleigh to help in the growing fight against Amendment 1. We attended rallies; we volunteered at phone banks; we put up signs in our yard, and we even took part in a video campaign against the amendment.
As a married heterosexual couple, the amendment didn’t directly trample on our rights, but by trampling on the rights of our new friends and neighbors in a state that we were quickly growing to love, it did something worse: It trampled on our collective notion of justice and decency. And when ignorance and bigotry begin flooding your neighborhood, it’s only a matter of time before your own home is under water.
Ultimately, Amendment 1 passed, but a couple years later, it was found unconstitutional, and shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal across the nation. But consistently, over the past few years, North Carolina’s leaders have demonstrated a demented determination to dig in their heels on the wrong side of history—and we have been here to witness and protest all of it.
Since Republican Governor Pat McCrory assumed office in January 2013, he has managed, with the help of a Republican-led legislature, to turn the clock back decades. Within just a few years, our state’s callous and bigoted leadership has made North Carolina the laughingstock of the nation. How exactly? By drastically cutting unemployment benefits in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, refusing billions of dollars in federal Medicaid expansion, passing the harshest voter-suppression law in the nation, trying to subject every woman seeking an abortion to an invasive transvaginal ultrasound while requiring physicians to expressly describe the images therein, shamelessly based on race in violation of the U.S. Constitution, slashing mental health funding, and protecting polluter-extraordinaire, Duke Energy (Governor McCrory’s former long-time employer), after it dumped 27 million gallons of wastewater and 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.
And in case this isn’t enough to convince you that the Tar Heel State is moving backward, there’s more. Last week, North Carolina’s willfully troglodytic legislature and microscopic-minded governor hit a new low. In a single day, after convening for a special legislative session costing taxpayers $42,000, representatives swiftly rammed House Bill 2, the so-called “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act,” through the legislature with all but zero debate, and hours later, Governor McCrory signed it into law.
This legislation represents big government at its worst. A direct response to an antidiscrimination ordinance recently passed by the city of Charlotte, the law governs, among other things, where North Carolinians are permitted to urinate and defecate, as our choice of public restroom must now match the gender listed on our birth certificates. So yes, theoretically, you may now have to show your birth certificate to use a public toilet in North Carolina. In addition to rescinding Charlotte’s antidiscrimination ordinance, the law also forbids all other municipalities from passing similar ordinances and from setting a higher minimum wage than the state’s paltry $7.25 per hour.
Though the full economic impact of this legislation has yet to be seen, the backlash has been swift, with a clear corporate consensus: discrimination is bad for business. American Airlines, which maintains its second-largest hub in Charlotte and employs some 14,000 North Carolinians, has already expressed opposition to the legislation, as have many other companies, including Google, Apple, IBM, PayPal, Dow Chemical, Biogen, Marriott, Red Hat, Salesforce, Wells Fargo, Bayer, Lowe’s, Bank of America, Citrix, Facebook, the NCAA and the NBA. Thus, on a single day in March, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor McCrory took bigotry to new heights, thoroughly and simultaneously offending both big business leaders and civil rights activists alike.
As proud members of the latter contingent, my husband and I joined hundreds of other North Carolinians last week to yet again voice our opposition to the unconstitutional overreach that has become a hallmark of our state government. As we stood outside the governor’s mansion Thursday night as part of the North Carolina BlackLivesMatter QTPOC [Queer and Trans People of Color] Rally Against HB2, loudly chanting “I believe that we will win” in unison with hundreds of others, we were reminded why we love living in this state.
The people of North Carolina have not taken our state leaders’ massive overreaches lightly. We have stood up, time and time again, against the hateful legislation that our state has passed, and we have watched as courts have rightfully declared those laws unconstitutional. The hugely influential Moral Monday movement, spearheaded by the North Carolina NAACP under the leadership of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, is a prime example of how North Carolinians are standing up and speaking out against the injustices imposed by our leaders. And we are not about to concede defeat. It may take time, but I dobelieve that we will win, and I am not alone.
Ignorance and bigotry have notoriously abysmal aim. It may seem as though they are pointed directly at a single group, when in fact, make no mistake, they are pointed at all of us. If justice and decency are to win, we must recognize that all of our struggles for social justice are inextricably linked, and in North Carolina, I am proud to say that we do. We realize that the struggle for equal rights does not exist in a vacuum, that you can’t effectively fight transphobia and homophobia without also fighting racism and sexism—and vice versa. We have consistently shown courage and fortitude by working together to create the most powerful homegrown protest movement in the country, proving that we will not back down to power or give in to hate. So stay tuned as the people of North Carolina continue to raise our voices, file our lawsuits and cast our votes this November. We may be down, but we are far from defeated.