Six years ago, I moved to North Carolina to accept a one-year teaching position at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro. My wife, also named Angela, and I, had just made the final repair on our home in Florida, where we planned to live for the rest of our lives. But during my year in North Carolina, I fell in love with the state, and I began looking for a job that would allow Angela and me to relocate here permanently.
Fortunately, North Carolina Central University School of Law was looking for someone to teach courses that I taught and they extended an offer to me to join the faculty. The pull of North Carolina was so strong that Angela left a teaching job that she loved in Miami, and I tendered my resignation to the law school where I had taught for almost 20 years.
In North Carolina, and particularly in Durham, we found more than a home; we found a community. We live in the cul de sac of a small neighborhood and we’re a part of that community. We’re friends with our neighbors, we go to their kids’ birthday parties, and we watch each others’ homes when someone is on vacation. Our neighborhood is exactly the kind of neighborhood we hoped to find. We are not the only African American family, nor are we the only LGBT family.
We also feel a part of the larger Durham community. We spend our weekends walking, jogging or bike riding on the American Tobacco Trail. We attend performances at the Durham Performing Arts Center, and we visit restaurants that have helped Durham earn its reputation as one of the best food towns in the United States. We’ve also given time to our community by volunteering at the local Food Bank, LGBTQ Center and several elementary schools.
Being “women of a certain age,” my wife and I have started to think about retirement. In fact, we’ve been visiting small cities in North Carolina where we think we might want to live.
But then the General Assembly and Governor McCrory passed House Bill 2, the sweeping and discriminatory law that limits legal protections for LGBT people like Angela and me. A lot of attention has – rightfully – been given to how HB2 attacks the rights, identities, and dignity of our transgender neighbors. But the same law also restricts the ability of local governments to pass measures that would protect all LGBT people from discrimination. For example, Charlotte recently passed an ordinance that protected LGBT people from discrimination in public accommodations. But HB2 blocked that ordinance, and now when my wife and I visit Charlotte, we could be exposed to discrimination in restaurants, hotels, taxis and other public accommodations simply because we are two married women.
This law has made us feel less welcome and less safe in North Carolina. HB2 is personal. It is a message to us from the legislature and Gov. McCrory that we are not welcome here and do not deserve equal protection under the law. It’s also a message to Durham, our new home, not to do anything that will make us feel welcome and safe.
North Carolina is our home. And when someone, anyone, threatens your home, you have to respond. Five days after HB2 was passed, I was honored to sign my name to a federal lawsuit challenging HB2, and stand behind a podium alongside other courageous North Carolinians who were joining me as plaintiffs in the case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal.
The outpouring of support I received after joining the lawsuit, and actions of thousands of North Carolinians who have spoken against HB2 since, have given me hope for the future of our state.
When I see North Carolinians marching and organizing against HB2, it gives me hope. When I see businesses across the state speaking out against this hateful legislation, it gives me hope. When I see elected officials in my own city and others passing resolutions against HB2, it gives me hope.
The extremist lawmakers who passed HB2 may have wanted to make my wife and me feel less welcome, but the widespread and growing response from thousands of our fellow North Carolinians opposed to this law reminds us that this state is much more than the ugliest actions of state officials.
Together, I hope that we can end this discriminatory law and ensure that North Carolina is safe and welcoming for all people, no matter who they are or who they love.
Angela Gilmore is a professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law and a plaintiff in Carcano et al. v. McCrory, a federal lawsuit challenging HB2.