Op-Ed

Newton’s ‘straight’ talk offers chance for honest NC conversation

State Sen. Buck Newton
State Sen. Buck Newton rwillett@newsobserver.com

Speaking at a pro-HB2 rally this week, state Sen. Buck Newton urged the audience to, “Go home, tell your friends and family … how hard we must fight to keep our state straight.” Unsurprisingly, his remarks sparked a firestorm of criticism from folks worried about the legislator’s coded call to arms against the state’s LGBTQ community.

While all of us should be concerned that Newton, a candidate running to be North Carolina’s chief legal adviser, might personally harbor animus toward hundreds of thousands of our residents, that’s only one takeaway from his unexpectedly candid remarks.

More significantly, Newton’s words offer us the “straight talk” behind HB2’s true political intentions. Now we know the law isn’t really about public safety. It isn’t about bathrooms. Not really. Thanks to Newton’s candor, we know that HB2 is a sinister effort to remake our state in the image of the law’s own creators – wealthy, white, male and non-LGBTQ – and divide the rest of us during this vitally important election year.

The same was true in 2012. While Amendment One proponents sowed fear and mistrust to justify a referendum banning the freedom to marry, it took Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James breaking ranks and looking directly at the LGBTQ community to say “we don’t want them here” to remove any political pretense.

In 2016, some state leaders are now calling to put the even more unpopular HB2 on the ballot, to let voters decide its fate – proving that it’s is not simply the worst anti-LGBTQ law in the country but could also represent our state’s most discriminatory déjà vu.

Newton’s words offer us an opening to have a real conversation, an honest one. As an opponent of HB2, I say now’s the time for a little straight talk of our own.

▪ We must make the invisible visible.

At Monday’s anti-HB2 news conference, the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara spoke directly to North Carolinians, urging us to use this moment to advance transgender equality. Drawing on the South’s long, proud history of standing up to injustice, Beach-Ferrara declared, “Today we commit to a season of resistance until this law is struck down.”

Resistance can and will take many forms in the coming months, but the most crucial is for the LGBTQ community and our allies to take to our own communities, our family gatherings and our workplaces and engage people in dialogue, people who don’t agree with us. We need all North Carolinians to know who we are and why we will no longer be silent.

In 2012, I saw this same bravery from gay and transgender North Carolinians who stood up against bigotry in public town halls, at church potlucks and at neighborhood barbeques. I witnessed straight allies reach out to neighbors, friends and family. We were called everything from bad parents to abominations. And time and time again, we endured the torment and felt the triumph of being the first or only openly gay or trans person another North Carolinian knew. These moments moved the movement forward.

For much of my life, I struggled to understand why I felt I didn’t fit in my body, why I couldn’t make sense of my gender. I will never fault others for not immediately understanding, nor will I waste an opportunity to help them.

While it shouldn’t take our rights being on the line in a public referendum to prompt these conversations, let’s use this moment to start them. Until we have full equality, we are all members of this teaching generation – bound by an obligation to bring others along so that they might know: “We are not victims. We have voices. We are not nothing. We are North Carolina.”

▪ We must be transformational, not transactional.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber also reminded us Monday that we cannot fight in our silos. As an LGBTQ community, we can admit we came to the table because of Amendment One or HB2, but we can’t ignore the fact that these regressive laws – and there are many – come for some of us and affect all of us.

Instead of keeping our state “straight,” we must be the ones going home and telling our friends and family how hard we must fight to keep our state together.

▪ We must vote.

As a wise sage on Facebook said this week, “Courts can’t be a backstop against all bad law. Bad law can be perfectly legal and still be perfectly bad. If we want better law, we need better lawmakers. Elections matter.”

Buck Newton already knows this. We should get to know it too. #straighttalk

Jen Jones was the communications director for the campaign against Amendment One.

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