Almost two weeks ago, the biggest decision on a date night with my girlfriend, Lara, would be whether to eat Pad Thai or nachos.
This was not the case when we went to a local restaurant in Charlotte recently. She left to go to the women’s restroom, and I tensed up. She closed the door, and I mentally set a stopwatch. If she didn’t return in 10 minutes, I was going to break down the door.
Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance was supposed to go into effect on April 1. We were supposed to be protected after the measure passed by a 7-4 vote on Feb. 22. Now, those equal rights within reach were gone.
Since the passage of House Bill 2 last week, we must decide between what’s safer and safest. It may be riskier for Lara to use the restroom that matches her gender identity but is illegal for her to use. Or she may be beaten or killed if she uses the men’s restroom. As a gay woman, a night out on the town means any restaurant can legally refuse to serve me.
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There has been a rally against this law almost every day in a different city in North Carolina. Lara, our friends and I have to take time away from our regular lives so we can live our regular lives. I’ve spent the last two weeks on the road, working odd hours to make up for time lost during the day.
I first went to Raleigh with Lara and Charlie Comero, a friend and transgender man who took off two days of work, to attend the General Assembly’s special session.
In one of the Senate committees, I watched Lara speak about how she wanted to live a normal life. A senator shook her hand after the vote, which sent the bill to the House where it would eventually pass. He said, “Thanks for speaking. You were great, but I will never vote your way.”
The next day at the Equality NC rally, Democratic Sen. Mike Woodward handed his $104 per diem check from the session to ENC executive director Chris Sgro as a donation in protest of the government wasting $42,000 on the special session.
At the last minute, they asked Lara to speak to a crowd so large they sprawled into overflow rooms and outside of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh. She had no speech prepared, and I fumbled with her camera to film it. Her words were achingly heartfelt. The crowd rose to their feet for a standing ovation at the end while I tried not to cry tears on the camera.
Lara was behind the camera when we attended a Winston-Salem city council meeting for a vote of no confidence against Gov. Pat McCrory. “I sat on the board, trustee board,” said council member and Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian H. Burke. “You know why I was not asked to serve again? Because I was not a white male, and I was not a Republican.”
The overflow room roared, but the measure was tabled to a committee until April 12 and for a final vote on April 18. We were done for the night.
Afterward, my friend Liam and I sat on the steps of city hall. A transgender man, he was only four weeks post-op from top surgery and couldn’t lift anything above 20 pounds. He should have been resting. But he was here, his scars sometimes bleeding, his chest sometimes uncomfortable. He had lifted his shirt to show us the scabs, and smiled.
He took a long drag on his cigarette, recalling how the bill passed on the anniversary of Blake Brockington’s death. He was a transgender teen in Charlotte who passed away from suicide. “He was more of a man than you, Pat,” he said, quoting a tweet he had sent to the governor.
There would be more rallies. I watched the Chapel Hill rally from the clips Lara sent me, people stopping traffic by dancing or chanting, “P-O-W-E-R, we’ve got the power.” When she came home at 1 a.m., she woke me up by saying, “We might have to go to Asheville tomorrow.”
With rallies set in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro this weekend, we have to keep going. We must fight to take back our daily lives. I can’t wait to get back to our old choices: Pad Thai or nachos. Let’s have both.
Joanne Spataro is a writer and humorist living in Charlotte.