North Carolina: First in Bigotry, Last in Civil Rights

My home state of North Carolina has been in the news a lot recently, and not for the best reasons. Just two weeks ago, my state legislature passed a bill that, among other things, banned transgender people from accessing public facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. It also eliminated all existing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in the state, and prohibited cities from adopting any new ones. This has led to significant backlash from many other state governments and residents, and the vast majority of my friends and family in the state are also rather frustrated.
This is not the first time that North Carolina has made national news for legislative intolerance. Two years ago, through referendum, my state passed a constitutional amendment explicitly defining marriage as between a man and a woman—an amendment that, regardless of any subsequent Supreme Court decisions, still remains, to this day, as part of our state Constitution.
I love living in and being a part of North Carolina’s traditions. Up north, I am constantly missing the Southern lifestyle that communities in North Carolina exemplify, and the weird blend of artsy-hippie Southern fusion of Asheville, my hometown. In my opinion, there’s nothing more beautiful than sun bursting through the fog over the Great Smoky Mountains, and nothing better than a glass of the sweetest of sweet tea by the river at Rocky’s Hot Chicken Shack.
But it is getting harder and harder to make excuses for the place I call my home.
I am shocked and embarrassed to see the intolerance and hatred that my state champions. Their refusal to accept others who do not fit their prescribed notions of “normal” is markedly unchristian for a state with a majority Christian population. Our hypocrisy and xenophobia are unparalleled in their extremes. While much more conservative and fundamentalist Southern states like Georgia and Missisippi work to roll back discriminatory and inherently mean-spirited bills like “religious freedom” bills that allow businesses to discriminate against homosexuals, North Carolina proudly stands on the wrong side of history by continuing to pass and promote our bills of the same nature. It’s not Alabama or Mississippi or Georgia that’s the worst in the nation—it’s North Carolina.
These cannot be the actions of the state that boasts one of the best state universities in the country. We lead the country in biotechnology research and have huge sectors in medical research, engineering, and energy. But somehow, our state legislature is stuck in the medieval ages.
Make no mistake, it’s not just civil rights where North Carolina fails. Our state’s public teacher pay was ranked fiftieth in the nation for twelve of the last thirteen years. We have terrible union conditions and have renewable energy initiatives that are decades behind other Southern states.
These conditions are depressing, and they’re completely the fault of the Republican-controlled State Senate, House of Representatives, and our Republican governor. But the worst part is that these Republicans don’t represent the ideals which they are supposed to. Principles like libertarianism have fallen by the wayside, replaced by business interests and religiously-fueled bigotry. Instead of displaying Southern hospitality: a willingness to build communities and welcome others, our Southern elected officials are poisoning this way of life and the Republican platform.
I’m not a Republican, nor has my family lived in North Carolina for generations. I live on the border between super-liberal Asheville and traditionally conservative Arden, so I don’t have the perfect Southern perspective. But I do love my state, and it breaks my heart to see it represented like this. Try as I might, it is difficult to continue being proud of my state, and I blame the Republicans for firmly placing my state on the wrong side of history. Here’s a quick check: if Georgia looks downright progressive in comparison to your state, something is wrong. Hopefully, demographic shifts like the coming of age of our generation and the Millennial generation before us will be able to save North Carolina from our current awful legislative situation.

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