Last month, I stood across the street from the North Carolina Legislative Building, where a gray prison bus stood ready to take 52 Moral Monday protesters to jail for acts of civil disobedience. As I and others waited, individuals spoke about why House Bill 2 must be repealed.
A gray-haired grandmother doesn’t want her grandchildren to live in a state with so much fear and hate. A gay teacher has lost recourse in the state courts, should he be treated with discrimination. A courageous middle-aged man told of being sexually abused as a child by a trusted adult, not a stranger – or transgender person – in a bathroom.
The Rev. William Barber has said that HB2 is not about bathrooms. Instead, it is about denying rights for LGBT individuals, for women, for workers, for people who are disabled, for anyone experiencing discrimination. And it removes the right to sue the state on the basis of discrimination.
As I gazed across the street at the Legislative Building, I thought of all the thousands of people who have walked its halls with integrity, advocating justice and equality. People who tirelessly laid the foundation, brick by brick, for a state that was progressive and inclusive. People who defended our citizens’ civil rights. We are the recipients of their legacy. State senators like Willis Whichard, Henry Frye, Helen Marvin and McNeill Smith, for example. And private citizens who worked diligently to make their causes known.
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My mother, Betty Moore, was one of those citizens. Small in stature, she was large in spirit, with a smile that could fill a room. My mother did not go looking for a role in advocacy or politics, but fate handed her one. She had a son, Jimmy, born with severe and profound handicaps. And in 1959, the best the state had to offer my brother was a tumbling down, forgotten institution in Goldsboro, an hour away from his family, and the advice to forget he had ever been born.
My parents set out to advocate for their son, a child misunderstood and shunned by society. A child whose equal protection under the law, as guaranteed in the 14th Amendment, was denied from the day he was born.
Betty Moore used her voice fearlessly to bring developmental disabilities out of the closet – or the institution you might say. She spoke to state and local politicians and legislative committees and walked the halls of the building that Barber calls “the people’s house.” Legislators referred to her as “that relentless Moore woman.” Services eventually were developed for my brother and others, including what is now the Tammy Lynn Center in Raleigh.
But even as late as 1973 when the State of North Carolina still did not provide public education for my then 14-year-old brother, my parents filed a class action lawsuit against the state on his behalf. That suit opened the door for public education for previously excluded children in North Carolina. Over and over again, the right to sue the state on the basis of discrimination has allowed our citizens to step closer to equality and justice. That right must not be compromised.
Legislators haven’t always listened, but in passing HB2, they have turned a deaf ear to the people of our great state. What will it take for them to pay attention? Perhaps it will be repeated acts of civil disobedience, waves of citizens carried away from the Legislative Building on a prison bus. Perhaps it will be continuing economic fallout from lost business and jobs. Maybe it will be a coordinated effort to vote certain politicians out of office.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I urge those who care about civil rights, justice and equal protection under the law to speak loudly and relentlessly, as my mother did for her beloved son 50 years ago. We owe it to those who came before us, to those struggling today and to our future generations.
Terry Moore-Painter of Oak Ridge is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.