My wife Ann and I have experienced so much together here in North Carolina, the state that we love and have called home for more than three decades. After moving here to pursue graduate degrees at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, we graduated, started new jobs, and purchased a house together.
We’ve attended the weddings of our children and watched as they’ve built their adult lives. We’ve celebrated the births of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who now number a total of 17. And next year, we’ll celebrate 40 years together, a happy milestone for two women now in our 70s and 80s.
We’re proud to have done all of that in North Carolina—and this month, we’re prouder than ever: Finally, multiple cities in North Carolina—including Durham, where we live—have passed local ordinances protecting members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination. It appears that a new day in North Carolina has arrived, now that we have somewhat recovered from the shame of HB2 (the infamous “bathroom bill”) and lived through the years of HB142, which disallowed the passage of LGBTQ protections but recently expired. Since LGBTQ North Carolinians lack state and federal nondiscrimination protections, local leaders are stepping up to fill in the gaps.
It is so encouraging to see that lawmakers feel this is an issue important enough to address. It is so critical that today’s youth know they are not alone—that someone cares enough to look out for their rights.
Ann and I have personally been fortunate enough to not get fired, or turned down for health insurance or any other service, because of our sexual orientation. But we always felt an existential fear of discrimination or harm. The threat was always present, so we were always careful.
We never hid who we were—but we also did not openly refer to the nature of our relationship unless we felt safe. I recall wearing a borrowed skirt to a job interview in 1996 so I would appear “gender appropriate,” instead of the pants I prefer wearing. That’s a stark contrast for today’s LGBTQ young people, whom I watch proudly holding hands and openly displaying various forms of rainbow clothing and paraphernalia.
Thankfully, times have changed.
However, there are still a vast number of LGBTQ people who experience discrimination in housing, employment, health care, adoption, and public accommodations. Transgender women of color face shocking violence, including police brutality, and so many queer people are relentlessly bullied. We all should be able to equally engage in every aspect of society—but many LGBTQ people do not have that freedom.
I’m hopeful that the passage of these LGBTQ ordinances in Durham and other communities marks a major step toward dignity for all LGBTQ North Carolinians. Coming out can be very scary for some people, but to know that the community supports them can lead to a breakthrough in one’s feeling of self-confidence and security. These protections will help parents be better listeners to their children. They will help young people feel more pride in their identities and stand up to anti-LGBTQ bias.
Of course, like many states, North Carolina is also a little late to the party on this issue. But I believe that our local steps forward are a signal of growing momentum nationwide for LGBTQ protections: North Carolinians and a supermajority of all Americans are ready for these protections. It’s well past time for our representatives and senators in Congress to look around the country and see how much of an impact they could make on the daily lives of LGBTQ people by coming together and passing federal nondiscrimination legislation.
My wife and I want all of our grandchildren—including three who have come out as LGBTQ themselves—to grow up in a country where no one is left vulnerable to discrimination because of who they are or who they love, no matter where they live. That will only be possible with a federal law, which is long overdue in our country.
We’ll keep raising our voices for those nationwide, sweeping protections. In the meantime, we’ll celebrate the wonderful news of city after city in North Carolina taking action. And next year, we’ll toast to our 40th anniversary knowing that our local leadership voted to protect LGBTQ residents like us.
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