June July 2016
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What It Feels Like for a Queer North Carolinian

What It Feels Like for a Queer North Carolinian

Right around 10 p.m. last Wednesday, my partner and I came home after a date. We were just falling into bed, exhausted, when I checked my phone before falling asleep and saw that North Carolina governor Pat McCrory was minutes away from signing House Bill 2, a cruel bill that only serves to destabilize the lives of transgender and gender-nonconforming North Carolinians and their lesbian, gay, and bisexual brothers and sisters. 

I turned over to my partner to tell her the news, and our conversation inevitably turned to the rumor we’d been hearing about for only the past few hours — now state law — that invalidates all previous antidiscrimination laws enacted by cities. We talked about the potential ramifications. Could we be evicted? What about our jobs? To our growing repulsion, we began to slowly learn more about the sweeping effects of HB 2 — one that ensures municipalities cannot enact protect groups who aren't already covered by the state's nondiscrimination protections, in which LGBT people are not included.

As our talk drifted off and I closed my eyes, I considered the remote possibility that the manager of the restaurant we had been in a few hours ago could now legally go into his office, print out a sheet of paper with words such as “no queers, no trannies, no dogs” and paste it to the door. Tomorrow, he could eject my partner and myself out of his establishment out for holding hands across the table the way we had tonight, and face no legal ramifications for such an act — all thanks to a new discrimination law. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt something I haven’t in a while when these hateful bills are passed: equanimity. I see clearly what this is about and I know, in my heart of hearts, the North Carolina General Assembly cannot win. The sneaking around, the near-clandestine emergency session, and the bait-and-switch tactics — the way they choose to legislate showcases their cynicism and proves their desperate reliance upon the dying strategy of demagoguery and scare tactics. They are a party that is increasingly devoid of ideas and long ago surrendered responsible legislation with throwing up roadblocks. And each and every one of them is scared of what will become of them in November.

Their fear elicits no pity from me. It is the General Assembly’s misfortune that they have chosen hate and fear as the bread and butter for their party’s message. It is an embarrassment to me and an embarrassment to themselves that they have abdicated any trace of compassion and common sense for trolling and fear-based votes. At the potential risk of affording N.C. House Republicans too much credit, I do not think a fair number of them harbor genuine malice toward LGBT people. Some certainly do, but the vast majority are too attached to careerism to care one way or another about anyone, their base included. LGBT North Carolinians are as much as means to an end as the Republican North Carolinians who, time and time again, show up at the polls for them. HB 2 has committed what the Republican Party, on paper anyway, considers a mortal sin — it has accomplished an unprecedented level of government overreach in order to stifle the will of citizens; it's also been wasteful to taxpayer dollars. The tour de force special session that House Republicans called so that they could pass HB 2 into law occurred within the span of 24 hours and at the tune of 42,000 taxpayer dollars. HB 2 was passed under the false pretense of "protecting women" against supposed crimes from trans people (a myth proved patently false), while also managing to undo 50 years of civil rights work. It is absurd on its face, disastrous in the long term for business and safety, and counter to the wishes of a majority of North Carolinians.

I have seen a sea change in how North Carolinians accepted and later embraced their fellow LGBT citizens. I have also seen how time and space are interconnected in North Carolina. Travel too far out of the city limits of Chapel Hill or Durham and you will find yourself in a place where customs and values are so resistant to change that one finally understands the importance of a robust, inclusive antidiscrimination bill.  Bills such as Charlotte’s amended anti-discrimination ordinance were one small step towards strengthening the state’s fragile ecosystem of laws that would protect its most marginalized citizens. North Carolina Republicans, who have always known this, gloated when the anti-marriage equality Amendment One was passed, cheered when the Voting Rights Act was gutted, and are now celebrating the passage of this vile law. They celebrate because they know the tried-and-true way to galvanize voters is to disperse as much misinformation as possible and induce fear. It is the height of cynicism. Each North Carolina Republican up for reelection must be voted out of office in order to resurrect genuine legal protections from the shambles that remain. The only way to accomplish this, our only true power against this slander and demagoguery, lies in assembly — and everything conducive to that. So for the love of the Old North State and all of its people, please assemble, protest, and, if you can, register to vote these charlatans out of office.

Elisa Maria Valbuena-Pfau
ELISA MARIA VALBUENA-PFAU lives in Durham and works at Duke University. She graduated from Guilford College in Greensboro and grew up in Winston-Salem. She's an incorrigible addict for politics and current events and enjoys writing about them. She also enjoys reading James Baldwin, trying as many new restaurants as her wallet permits, exercising, and playing video games. She lives with her girlfriend and two cats.

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