“One day, we could do the same for you.”
The pastor said this with a smile on his face, as I took pictures at a little country wedding in North Carolina. I blushed a bit, laughed and patted the pastor on the back. But I still felt put off by the conversation – not because of the laugh or the interaction, but because I was gay, and gay marriage isn’t acceptable, right?
I am a profound supporter of LGBT equality in the U.S. I wholeheartedly support marriage equality, but I can’t help but think, in the moment mentioned above, how many people and organizations across the U.S. make consistent efforts to deny LGBT citizens equality.
With the GOP holding a majority in the North Carolina legislature and nationally in Congress and the White House, LGBT rights are on the chopping block. Consistent efforts have been made to marginalize LGBT residents, causing members of the gay community to cast doubt on who they are and what they deserve.
As a young gay person, I have grown to embrace and love myself for who I am. But it’s not always easy. I have heard many stories of discrimination across the state. It could have been a local church in Charlotte, which decided to no longer house the Boy Scouts of America because they allowed transgender boys into the organization. Or it could have been the pride flags vandalized outside a small church in Hillsborough for the second time this year.
At the beginning of April, HB2 was partially repealed in North Carolina, but the damage and legacy continues. For over a year, North Carolina has been championed among conservatives and vilified by progressives for HB2. That conversation did not stop at the repeal. Only a few weeks after, a senator from North Carolina introduced a bill aimed at re-establishing marriage inequality in the state.
On a national level, the Justice Department dropped a lawsuit against North Carolina, signaling that in their eyes, the HB2 repeal was enough – though in the eyes of the state’s LGBT residents, it doesn’t come close. Even on an international level, LGBT discrimination is on the rise. Chechnya is only one example, where the government has imprisoned over 100 gay residents during the past month.
LGBT discrimination is still happening right in our backyards. This is a time when not actively supporting LGBT people jeopardizes their safety. This means that North Carolina residents have a tremendous responsibility to support LGBT people across the U.S. , throughout the state and in our backyards.
It’s time the legislature understood that LGBT residents are their constituents and are as deserving of representation as anyone else. We need to stop creating “marriage bills” that undo progress toward equality. It’s time that Gov. Roy Cooper makes good on his promise and offers a clean repeal of HB2. It’s time that North Carolina acts once again as a leader in equality across the U.S. We must stand up and show the rest of the United States what North Carolina is capable of – that southern hospitality means an open door and altar for all.
We must keep working for a North Carolina that encourages change rather than illicit bigotry and mockery. Our legislature is under the microscope and we cannot afford a step in the wrong direction.
We must keep working for a state that acts as a safe haven for those in the LGBT community. We need a state that makes it clear that my fellow LGBT residents and I are full and respected people in North Carolina and in the United States. And as an individual, we all have the power to love and support the LGBT people around us. It may be attending a wedding, or it could just be the words “I accept you,” but we need to make the effort to signal that love trumps hate.
I envision a state, country and world where LGBT people are understood to be normal people. I imagine a place where I can be who I want to be and love who I deserve to love.
Cole Wicker, Bear Creek, is an anthropology student at Duke University.