Faces of the LGBTQ community in North Carolina. Trans woman, of color, veteran: Lara Americano, Charlotte. Judge, official, first in the South: Chris Brook, Raleigh. Activist, transplant, rising star: Chris Sgro, Greensboro. 300,000: LGBTQ population, across the state. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people live and contribute in every community in the state of North Carolina. They are not always welcomed or even tolerated as who they are. They have been persecuted for years and may be again in the future if the Republican Party attains control of the full range of the powers of government. And they still they live, and work, and struggle.

The LGBTQ community in the South is one of the marvels of American society. With a few exceptions almost exclusively in urban areas, the South has failed to accept its LGBTQ residents as full participants in the social commonwealth. Thousands of LGBTQ people have, in consequence, left the region for more tolerant locales, where they can expect a great measure of public respect and private acceptance. Yet millions remain in the region, making their way through life in a social context that is far from welcoming to who they are.

Discrimination against the LGBTQ community in North Carolina hardly ceased when the rest of the country made strides toward equality. Mere months after the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right, strident homophobes in the North Carolina General Assembly rushed through a bill permitting taxpayer-funded magistrates to refuse to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Governor Pat McCrory vetoed the bill, but the Republican majority felt so strongly about it that they overrode the veto, humiliating a governor of their own party and sending a harsh message to same-sex couples about how the LGBTQ community would be treated in North Carolina.

The damage wrought by a law that came the year after the magistrate atrocity must not be forgotten. Antiseptically labelled HB2, the so-called bathroom bill brought a storm of denunciation and financial loss on the state that will linger in its reputation for decades to come. HB2 cost the state $4 billion in economic production and a slate of investments we will never be able to count, because corporations refused even to consider a state they considered hateful. Eighty thousand media outlets ran articles on the law, attracting billions of impressions around the world. The U.K. Foreign Office issued a travel advisory against LGBTQ Britons risking a visit to the heart of transphobia.

And yet. While numbers of LGBTQ people must have decided they had had enough of being attacked by their own state government and left for less bigoted locales, hundreds of thousands more stayed in their home state. Some LGBTQ people have even moved from out of state to places like Asheville. Clearly, North Carolina has come a long way since the dark years when it was regarded from the Justice Department headquarters in Washington, DC, to Finland and Japan and beyond, as an egregious symbol of the hatred LGBTQ people still face.

A personal note. I happen to straight and cisgender, characteristics that confer privilege. But my support for the LGBTQ community is based on my firm conviction that every human, from the homeless trans person the President of the United States, is absolutely and completely equal. “If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,” observed John Donne in a reflection that would culminate with one of the most famous lines in English literature. “Therefore, never seek to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Today, that bell calls us to justice for LGBTQ people across our state, our country, and our world.

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