First, the facts.
In North Carolina, we don’t hide our eccentricities. Sometimes, we elect them to office. But even we were shocked in March when state lawmakers convened a special session at a cost of $42,000 to discriminate against the entire LGBTQ community.
At issue was a local ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte that allowed transgender persons to use the public bathroom of the gender with which they identify. It only affected people living and visiting Charlotte.
In response, state leaders quickly passed a new law that overturned the Charlotte ordinance, banned other local governments from approving a similar ordinance, and excluded sexual orientation from the list of legally protected categories in the state’s nondiscrimination laws.
The response to House Bill 2, which became known as the “Bathroom Bill” or “HB 2,” was nuclear.
The state and federal governments sued and countersued in federal court over whether demanding transgender persons to go to the public restroom of the gender assigned at birth is discriminatory.
The federal government threatened to withhold more than $2 billion for roads and schools in North Carolina, citing nondiscrimination clauses in federal law. Then the Obama Administration backed off slightly, saying it wouldn’t exactly withhold money, but it could.
Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam have canceled scheduled concerts here. PayPal and Deutsche Bank backed out of deals that would have brought 400 and 200 new jobs to the state, respectively. More than 200 major companies such as American Airlines, Apple and Pepsi have issued statements opposing HB 2 and/or calling for its repeal.
The cities of New York, Baltimore, San Francisco, Seattle and Philadelphia have forbidden its employees to travel on the public’s dime to North Carolina. Even some furniture buyers boycotted in April the annual High Point Furniture Market, which is like New York Fashion Week for furniture, in protest.
When the response hit the fan, those of us who oppose HB 2 were delighted that Bruce Springsteen and PayPal took a stand against discrimination. Seemingly, they stood in solidarity with the diverse coalition encompassing all races, creeds, orientations and genders that have organically sprung up in North Carolina to oppose the law.
But now that North Carolina has become labeled a bigoted, backward place, we’re a bit over the boycotts and the snatching away of jobs that punish the wrong people.
Here is what the people of North Carolina — those of us who want people to be happy and free and use whatever restroom they like — want to tell you about the “Bathroom Bill” and what you can do to support our state’s LGBTQ community.
Boycotting doesn’t help us.
Boycotts are used as a political strategy to apply economic and social pressure on elected leaders in order to compel them to change or enact a policy. However, in North Carolina, our legislative and congressional districts are so gerrymandered that until the next U.S. Census in 2020 or unless an armed revolution happens, the same people who passed House Bill 2 will continue to be elected to office. If you choose not to perform or come to North Carolina, you’re only hurting the people who love your work and want to support you.
Instead, come for a volunteer vacation.
Spend a week or two in North Carolina and help us work toward change. We have many local organizations that are focused on empowering the LGBTQ community. Equality NC has been on the forefront of securing equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer individuals and in opposition to HB 2. The LGBT Center of Raleigh has reported a significant increase in call volume since the passage of the bill. Time Out Youth in Charlotte “offers support, advocacy, and opportunities for personal development and social interaction” for LGBTQ youth. They have even published an Activism Guide to help youth learn about their rights and raise awareness.
All of these organizations could use your help organizing fundraisers, working their phone banks or canvassing. When the hard volunteer day is done, go explore North Carolina. Visit businesses and communities that promote inclusion, but don’t ignore opportunities to have conversations about why you are visiting and what you believe.
HB2 isn’t going to keep us from celebrating diversity.
There are several festivals and events that empower the LGBTQ community in fun and uniquely North Carolina ways. They include: The Beaver Queen Festival in Durham put on by Beaver Lodge Local 1504, Gay Raleigh, The Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus (their next performance is June 4th) and we also have monthly drag brunches sponsored by the Crape Myrtle Festival in Raleigh.
When you are exhausted from partying with Beave Queen 2016 or moved to tears from listening to the TGMC’s rendition of ‘The Rose,’ stay at a hotel or bed-and-breakfast with an inclusion policy. Purple Roofs and NC Gay Travel provide a database and listings, respectively, of LGBTQ-friendly inns, hotels, travel agents, tour operators and real estate across North Carolina.
Please remember that we aren’t all bigots.
Come to North Carolina, sit on the porch and have a sweet tea or a glass of local Muscadine wine with us. We would love to explain the difference between eastern and western-style barbecue. We’re proud of our hockey and basketball teams. We have lovely wineries and craft breweries. We’re a state of beaches and mountains. Asheville, Durham and Charlotte are all progressive towns. We’re a good state with caring people, and we don’t intend to stop making progress.
Battles are won in the trenches.
So have compassion for those of us in the trenches. It’s easy to oppose discrimination when you live in progressive enclaves like New York, San Francisco or London. However, it’s a lot harder to stand-up and be counted as “different” when you come from rural, conservative communities. Those North Carolina communities are the front lines of this battle. As my friend, Canaan said, “Battles are won in the trenches and this is where the trenches are for now.”
“Lots of problems can be worked out over pound cake and bourbon,” Canaan continued. “But only if you are talking with each other rather than over each other. Southerners are almost always keenly aware of what divides us and what unites us. We are usually more than willing to own our own prejudices even if, and maybe especially if, we know they are wrong.”