On Easter Sunday, during our sharing of joys and concerns at Circle of Mercy, a longtime member reminded us through her tears that her teenaged transgender nephew moved here to Asheville, North Carolina, from a Navy-centric city on the Virginia coast to be in a safer place. I had breathed a sigh of relief when we welcomed him a few years ago and facilitated connections with Youth OutRight, an empowered and empowering local LGBTQ community.
But on March 23, four days before Easter, some of his safety disappeared. That’s when our state’s Republican-dominated legislature pushed through House Bill 2, overruling a non-discrimination ordinance passed by the city of Charlotte and placing North Carolina in the epicenter of a national controversy.
The bill is troubling in many respects, including the state’s exercise of authoritarian power. But perhaps its most heinous aspect—and certainly the one that has riveted the most attention on this piece of legislature widely known as “the bathroom bill”—is the requirement that transgender individuals use public bathroom facilities that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificates.
Democratic lawmakers walked off the Senate floor in a united display of opposition. Protests erupted across the state, in cities and rural communities, in front of the governor’s mansion and the state legislature. Citizens of Asheville, which passed an anti-discrimination ordinance long ago, vowed to ignore the state’s ruling and even beef up protective local laws in an act of public defiance.
Today I heard from a friend in Portland, Oregon. His city has joined the growing list of municipalities and states imposing travel bans to my state. Many businesses have threatened to curtail their investments or pull out. Two weeks after announcing that it would be locating its new global operations center with 400 jobs in Charlotte, PayPal reversed its decision. Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band canceled their 15,000-ticket April 10 concert in Greensboro. Beer brewers and furniture makers, doctors and professors, movie producers and authors of children’s books, American Airlines and the Bank of America, Google and Microsoft and Apple—all these and many more individuals and corporations have weighed in against the bill.
Over the years, I’ve advocated for boycotts of Gallo, Coca-Cola, and Smithfield for unjust labor practices, as well as for sanctions against South Africa for apartheid and Israel for its occupation of Palestine. But I have to confess to mixed emotions on this side of it.
The feeling that wins out is that I’m heartened by the national outcry. I’ve seen from my involvement in those other efforts that economic pressure can work when moral suasion goes unheeded. But I also have a bit of a sinking feeling when I imagine progressives abandoning North Carolina.
I give thanks every day for the exquisite Blue Ridge Mountains that embrace me, which for generations have engendered a culture of strength, resilience, and freedom. I remember often that my very rural, economically struggling county north of Asheville was a rare pocket of anti-slavery Union sympathy within the borders of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Courage is not rare here.
I know that, sadly, some of my neighbors resonate with the spirit of our most spiteful and intolerant legislators. But I also hear cries of resistance echoing frequently through these hills, calling us to a vision of compassion and community. As in every hope-drenched place, here the purveyors of imperial regulations must face those who refuse their control and live by a different rule of life.
My prayer is that the world will remember that, while North Carolina is the home of House Bill 2, we are also the birthplace of the Moral Mondays movement for inclusion, dignity, and justice. Here—even here, even now—resurrection has the last word.