Growing up, my church taught me two important lessons: to love my neighbor as I loved myself, and that God loves me unconditionally. I was proud to live in a state that seemed to live by those virtues. I thought everyone was treated with dignity and respect, that this was the North Carolina way. However my understanding changed once I saw how gay and transgender people were treated in our state.
While in college, at a North Carolina state school, I witnessed several of my friends experience assault and harassment for entering the bathroom that matched their gender identity. A female friend of mine was punched in the face upon exiting the women’s restroom by a man lingering outside who thought she had been in the wrong bathroom. Before I transitioned from female to male, my then girlfriend and I sought an apartment off-campus and were denied housing by an apartment manager who told us she was “allergic to us.” The apartment manager’s statement was a not-so-veiled way of saying she didn’t want to rent an apartment to a lesbian couple. Unfortunately, at the time, there was little to no recourse. We knew the legal system didn’t protect us as LGBT people. We felt like we had no where to turn after experiencing these actions. So instead, after college, my girlfriend and I, both raised in North Carolina, turned away and moved out of North Carolina to live in a place that had legal protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
In the ten years since I left North Carolina, I have completed my Masters of Divinity, I am in the process for ordination to ministry in the Presbyterian Church, and have transitioned my gender from female to male. My gender transition further convinced me that “nothing in life or in death can separate us from the love of God.” Coming out as transgender has deepened my faith that God is always with us, and that God sometimes calls us to find our courage for unexpected journeys. My preparation for the ministry has further convinced me that discrimination is not a Christian value. Jesus never turned anyone away who sought his company. Under what Christian virtue shall we turn people away seeking access to the bathroom, housing, or hospital care?
I moved back to North Carolina because I thought the environment had changed, that this state was ready to live by it’s motto, “to be rather than to seem;” to be a state where every one is treated with dignity and respect, rather than seem like a place where all are welcome but can be turned away for being who they are. As I prepare to buy a home, approach the department of motor vehicles to change my license, and apply for NC health insurance, I am keenly aware that I am back in a state that offers no protections for me as a transgender man.
This week the Governor and Speaker of the State House have called special session to potentially repeal the Charlotte Non-Discrimination Ordinance. This is a reminder that gay and transgender people aren’t even safe in the privacy of the bathroom stall, on a bus, in a cab or local business. I urge the General Assembly to leave the Charlotte non-discrimination ordinance intact. I urge the General Assembly to allow LGBT North Carolinians the ability to access services and the restroom without fear of attack or discrimination. I urge the General Assembly to uphold a vision for the state of NC where we are firmly committed to ensuring all God’s children are truly welcome here.