by Rachel Charlene Lewis
Just last week, North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory passed an extremely anti-LGBT piece of legislation called HB2. It effectively strips LGBT North Carolinians of protection from discrimination and leaves NC a harsh state to live in for queer and trans folks. One of the most severe of the measures includes not allowing trans people the right to use the bathroom that matches their gender.
All over my newsfeeds people have been praising businesses, organizations, and even cities and states that have decided to cut ties with North Carolina. Some have banned non-essential travel to the state, while others have stepped back from financially supporting NC.
I won’t cut ties with NC because, to me, that would mean leaving behind those who cannot leave the state, and more importantly, it means not building our movement at home.
Boycotting North Carolina is a powerful tool that sends a powerful message. But I think it fails to recognize that North Carolina is not an exceptional case. There are many other states with anti-gay legislation with hateful lawmakers.
Ever since the national legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S., there has been state-by-state backlash. In addition to NC, discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation has been up for debate in Mississippi, Georgia and Indiana. And there are so many states that already have oppressive legislation in place such as Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Michigan.
I know that living in an oppressive state is not easy. But I also know that my four years in North Carolina have been some of the most impactful and transformative moments as I came into my identities as a queer person of color. In NC, I attended my first pride parade, had my first queer relationships, and ultimately learned more about myself and the world than I ever expected.
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As I got politically involved in the struggle, I was moved to be surrounded by the thousands of thousands of North Carolinians committed to the fight to make the beautiful state more welcoming. I still feel deeply indebted to communities in NC that were instrumental in helping me become a more authentic version of myself.
I have watched queer media take the easy way out by labeling North Carolina as a bunch of backwards white people who are racist, homophobic, and sexist, especially when it comes to the state’s lawmakers. It’s much less work to split the country in half and say the problem is down South, not up North. But the problem is everywhere. And acting like it isn’t helps no one.
I didn’t know much about North Carolina before I moved there from Maryland, and the impressions I did have were largely based on stereotypes perpetuated by media. More often than not, Southerners, like North Carolinians, are lumped unfairly into a single category and called harsh things like “rednecks” or “backwards.” Because of these prejudgments I had, I did not expect that I would end up feeling so connected to North Carolina and the people who live there.
I moved away from North Carolina for a year after my college graduation, and I moved back last week, knowing the hard truth that nowhere in the U.S. is a guaranteed haven for queer and trans people. Not right now, at least. While my experiences as a queer person of color were different in California than they were in North Carolina, specifically in terms of spaces designated as LGBT-friendly, they weren’t flawless. Just as moving out from the South and Midwest doesn’t cure societal racism, moving doesn’t cure societal homophobia and transphobia.
There is a serious problem when the only solutions for safety that businesses and the media are discussing means leaving behind a home, a community, a job, or even a country. And there are many queer and trans people who can’t, or won’t, just up and leave. I wish more people saw that abandoning anti-LGBT states means abandoning the people within them who are doing the important work of uplifting their communities from within.
We can’t leave every state with discriminatory laws and practices. And we can’t just point the finger elsewhere without thinking about what our own homes and communities are contributing to the transphobic and homophobic reality of our country.
Decreasing representation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you take major issues in the state into account, such as voter suppression, it becomes clearer that not everyone has had an equal say in legislative decisions. When we leave and don’t come back, we leave a huge vacuum in these states for hateful lawmakers and representatives to continue to hold office.
What’s more important is for people outside of these states to ask what they can do, how they can support the incredibly important queer and trans activists, advocacy groups, and protesters who are putting their lives on the line to force North Carolina lawmakers and lawmakers in other states to recognize the reality: that we live here, too, and we’re not going anywhere.
Rachel Charlene Lewis is a writer and editor from Maryland. She is always on Twitter as @RachelCharleneL.
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