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NC: answering the question again – ‘Why don’t LGBTs there just pick up and leave and go to a Blue state?’

“The Question” has come up again a few times, in light of NC election results — “Why don’t LGBTs there just pick up and leave and go to a Blue state?”

Why this question again? With marriage equality blooming in Maine, Washington state and Maryland, there is a stark juxtaposition when you look at what happened in North Carolina — the state is now going to be under the thumb of complete, GOP, Art Pope-funded control. Rob Schofield, The Progressive Pulse:

Pat McCrory may be North Carolina’s Governor-elect and a  hyper-gerrymandered legislature may be solidly in conservative hands, but there was one man who was the biggest winner in the state last night and his name is Art Pope.

From the Governor’s mansion, to the General Assembly to the courts to the university system to the regulatory agencies to the increasingly conservative mainstream news media, Pope lackeys and apologists now run the show in our state (or soon will). Like some long-bullied kid in a horror movie who quietly and ruthlessly engineers the demise of his tormentors, Pope has suddenly emerged as the unchallenged kingpin of the Tar Heel state.

And, barring a miracle, North Carolinians (and the public structures and systems that once set them apart from the rest of the old confederacy) are about to experience the full effects of his backward-looking agenda.

That means the possibility of an outright hostile environment for LGBTs here. The Koch Brothers’ “Mini-Me” Pope had his hands all over support for Amendment One. Stuart Campbell of Equality NC paints a picture of what lies ahead for LGBTs here after Tuesday’s results:

We are still waiting for official results in many North Carolina races, but we are heartened that openly-gay state Rep. Marcus Brandon will be returning to the General Assembly. And while openly-lesbian legislative candidates Susan Wilson and Deb Butler lost their bids last night, their historic campaigns have become a model for fostering LGBT leadership for years to come.

Republicans won the Governor’s mansion, expanded their majority in the state House and Senate, and held control of the Supreme Court, signaling a challenging environment for progressive causes. However, virtually all of our endorsed pro-equality Council of State candidates were re-elected, keeping allies in some of North Carolina’s highest offices.

Despite any setbacks here at home, this is a momentous time in our collective movement. And we have to seize the moment: get right back to the work of telling our stories, changing hearts and minds, and improving conditions for every single LGBT North Carolinian.

And so, for the next two years it will be up to all of us to let those in Raleigh know that any attempt to roll back LGBT rights and protections will be met with unprecedented opposition, and that people in every district, every region, every corner of the state, are now ready, willing and able to fight if need be.

So let’s go back to The Question. There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer:

1) For some LGBT North Carolinians, the fact is that they simply cannot afford to pick up and move;

2) Others choose to stay and will continue to work for change — they see the growing social  progress, progressive enclaves (and businesses) that cannot be stopped by Pope or any other wingnut temporarily in office;

3) Some WILL leave, out of frustration, seeing the current oppressive legal environment facing gay couples and families as too much to deal with on a personal level, and they have the means and support structure to make it happen.

For me – this is my state. It cannot and should not be handed over to a dying breed of bigots, even if they have pockets full of cash. I was born here and chose to come back to NC (from NY) because Durham is a wonderful place to live and work — and to be out of the closet.

Logistically, in my case I suppose it would be hard to leave anyway; my health concerns tie me to my current employer and precious health insurance — let’s be real — my pre-existing conditions/disabilities would make it hard to land employment and benefits elsewhere. Like many Americans in my situation, picking up your life under these circumstances is a decision that can have far more immediate, dire consequences than whether one has the right to marry.  But, even leaving that matter aside, Kate and I are happy here in NC. And we’ve been here to see the positive culture change that has developed because of LGBTs and allies who do choose to stay.

That said, there’s nothing wrong with choosing to leave — not everyone is built for potential self-sacrifice or handling the perpetual stress of never knowing when your lack of civil rights will be tested in the most personal ways — you can be fired for being LGBT in NC, no questions asked, unless you are fortunate to have an employer has anti-discrimination policies. That’s the tip of the iceberg.

In the end, that was the tragedy of Amendment One back in May — it was a premature battle over whether to amend the state’s constitution to “protect” marriage brought to the voters because of the legislative switch to GOP control after the 2010 midterms. Placing the marriage cart before the horse of conversations between North Carolinians about basic civil rights in NC for LGBTs was a difficult, and in the end insurmountable task because its proponents wanted the amendment on the primary ballot, leaving little time to have those face-to-face discussions —  but those conversations are now occurring, neighbors are talking to neighbors about our lives as LGBT individuals and families.

That’s why it was good to see that the people of  Minnesota were ready to turn back religion-based bigotry and ignorance at the polls on Tuesday. North Carolina wasn’t ready back in May, but the wave of failure now facing the National Organization for Marriage and their ilk is growing; it will have an impact.

The Question is offered as a solution, an opportunity to “escape” to freedom from what is seen as a civil rights hellhole (usually a Southern state, for obvious reasons). People who stay aren’t ignorant of what they don’t have…they simply make the choice that is right for themselves on the timeline of their lives. Might Kate and I decide to pick up and leave if some last straw of oppression and discrimination breaks the camel’s back or if some beacon of opportunity presents itself? Perhaps — I have no crystal ball. Life is filled with limitations as well as opportunities. Staying can present an opportunity of its own as well.

We can all make a difference in many ways — writing a check, online or offline organizing and activism — and choosing to stay where there’s work to do. It shouldn’t generate “The Question” as often as I’ve heard it. But still it does.


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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding