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Making Do

In the coming days, the average, conscientious American will think about North Carolina for a few minutes–probably as coverage of Amendment One’s passage blips across their television screen or pops up on their smart phone. There will be the shaking of the head, the exasperated sigh, the usual and oft-overused phrases about the South being backwards. But then they’ll be next in line for their coffee, or American Idol will come on, and that’ll be that–kaput for civil rights in North Carolina, at least in their minds.

But for those of us grappling with the after-effects of this hateful legislation being translated into law, Amendment One is everywhere we look. It’s along the roads, it’s on bumpers, it’s in our workplaces. We can’t escape it. We have to listen to the bigoted commentary, the enthusiastic hoots from the bubbas next door about “those fucking faggots.” And we try not to scream.

At work this morning, my friend asked me why I didn’t just move. She emphasized that the best way to exercise civil disobedience is to take myself and my money to more tolerant locales. Sure, I thought about it well before the vote came back. But I told myself that I’ve felt disenfranchised before and have stayed rooted; hell, I grew up in Alabama (insert tired cliché here). Still, Amendment One’s passage was something new for me. What made me sob into my friends’ shoulders Tuesday night wasn’t the outcome, but rather the wide margin–the degree to which so much hateful ignorance still exists. It hurt. And it hurt worse than my hangover the next morning. It still hurts today. And will for a long time.

She waited. And I told her simply, “Raleigh is my home.” That it’s taken me so long to find somewhere that felt so comfortable. That I’ve built a life for myself of which I’m proud. That I’ve been immensely fortunate to have such a strong network of friends who are more than just “family”–they’re family. And I’m not leaving any of it. Or them. Because as strong as we each are on our own, we’re a tremendous force en masse. We laugh, we cry, we fight for what’s right against those who fight for what’s Reich.

And while it’s been a time for intensive introspective reflections, a time for mourning, it’s also a time to galvanize ourselves to reach out. To offer a hand to those who feel even more isolated and alienated than they’ve ever felt before; to the youth who thought this might be a turnaround, that they might see how things get better; to the elderly who thought they’d see that same turnaround. I have to remember that in this time of anger and upset, there’re so many more who are hurting more intensely, who are contemplating darker alternatives. We have to keep the fight alive and the momentum fierce.

Responding to my inquiry about how he’s been faring this week, my dear friend Norman–82 years young–said, “It’s been up and down. Just like an erection. But you just have to make the best of it.”

Phallocentric allusions aside, we all have to make the best of it. Even if there are a lot of pricks in the state.

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Threading A Future Together

Moments like these demand such strength to stay upright. An observer by nature, I often soak in what I see and process it through prose, the medium through which I’ve channeled much of my life and that which has become my saving grace so many times before. But today, words fail.

Some might say I’m feeding into a defeatist mentality. That I think it’s over. That it was all for naught. But they couldn’t be more wrong. Am I disheartened that a majority of North Carolinians chose hate and ignorance, thereby causing North Carolina to backslide into the same welter of inequity and disenfranchisement promulgated by its neighboring southern states? Undoubtedly. But am I exceptionally proud of the strides the LGBTQ-ally community made over the past year, in anticipation of Amendment One? You bet your asses.

For the better part of a year, many of us have been fighting the fight: handing out buttons and posting signs in our yards; making convoys to voting stations and participating in phone banks; educating those who didn’t understand the amendment’s wide-reaching implications and bolstering those who did to keep on trucking; planning festival events and organizational activities to showcase the Triangle’s diversity in the hopes of demonstrating how problematic this sort of institutionalized bigotry is and how many it will affect; marching to make a difference and making our presence known. Coming together for a common goal; making a difference when we could’ve easily thrown up our hands and embraced apathy. We’ve made an impact. We’ve grown, we’ve cried, we’ve driven ourselves to the brink.

And sometimes we lose. But Amendment One will not stand the test of time. It will be relegated to the proverbial dustbin with other similarly authored legislation—of the same ilk that once barred other minorities from sharing basic civil rights. It will instantaneously become a horrendous blight on North Carolina’s constitution, and will be an embarrassment for future legislators to repeal. It will undermine North Carolina’s vitality. Businesses will hemorrhage employees who no longer receive benefits for their children or their partners. Everyone will know someone affected. No citizen will be spared. Amendment One is a vector of a legislative epidemic.

Hateful people will always exist. But they won’t always wield majority rule. The issues that concerned generations before mine are disturbingly laughable to us today. What today’s young people care about is making a life for themselves—and doing so together, regardless of our abilities, ethnicities, or gender identities. We realize that the religious right’s latest buffeting will be the last significant wave we will have to endure—that those of us fighting for equality have droves of advocates joining us in solidarity.

We’re all part of a quilt that’s been tattered by hate, bigotry, and ignorance. But it’s slowly being patched together through proactive activism and genuine respect. Because somewhere in the madness, we realize that our respective futures hang by threads. But if they’re sewn together, our bond will never unravel.

And our success will blanket the nation.

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OutRaleigh 2012: All Families Matter, Even In The Rain

The monsoon was in full force as my friends and fellow OutRaleigh coordinators held down a collapsing, wind-torn tent while the vendor scrambled to pack away her wares. While I won’t speak for Rebecca and Kim, I’m fairly certain they’d agree that this was not how we envisioned OutRaleigh 2012 to close.

Minutes before I found the panicky vendor holding down her tent, I was ankle-deep in water after sprinting to stop a road barricade from it’s wind-blown track into busy downtown traffic. Between fragmented thoughts of wondering if my iPhone and camera had been soaked through like my bag and clothes, and realizing how ridiculously long my curls are when wet, I had to laugh at the entire situation.

A year in the making, OutRaleigh 2012 had been planned meticulously. But Mother Nature always has other plans, and we rolled with them with equal parts humor and fortitude. Because as vendors vacated their spaces, and onstage performances came to a halt, we kept going. And so did others. Out of storefronts that I passed in my frenetic sprints to and from soggy vendor spaces, people gathered and welcomed rain-soaked OutRaleigh visitors inside. Kristy Lee, one of our performers, gathered a crowd beneath a downtown business’s porch overhang and belted out her inspirational music. We were all wet, but we were all still there. Taking action, making a stand.

As with any organizational effort in which the LGBTQ community has a significant hand, there were protesting bigots who tried their best to dampen festival-goers’ spirits. Gathered on street corners, they held their religious texts aloft, reciting our collective sins and damning us all to fiery demises. On the KidsZone‘s periphery, a large group coalesced with signs, chanting hatred for young children to hear. But the most personally disturbing scene was witnessing one of the fear-mongers giving their young child an explicit sign to hold. With his tiny hands wrapped around the sign’s base, the boy served as a haunting reminder of the inculcated bigotry the LGBTQ-ally community endures every single day. But in an almost biblical way, the deluge cleansed the festival of those hateful people; they scattered and fled, like cowards usually do in the face of adversity. Those who remained celebrated life, albeit soggy.

And that’s what OutRaleigh is about: embracing diversity and living life to the fullest. We connect with and support one another when hateful zealots attempt to undermine our course, and advocate for our deaths. But we’re not going anywhere. As OutRaleigh 2012 showed me, not only can I count on dear friends to help me weather the storm, but I know there are thousands of others out there who will too.

All we have to do is continue our journey through the best and worst of times, shining brighter each step of the way, finding ourselves in the darkest hours.

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Wonder Twin Powers Activate! Form of: Equal Rights!

Certain days have a way of coalescing life experiences, bringing them all crashing into sharp relief at the least probable moments. And while such an experience didn’t happen during my acceptance speech for my long-awaited Pulitzer or totally deserved Best Onscreen Kiss, it was deeply meaningful, nonetheless. So there, on one of Raleigh’s busiest downtown sidewalks, it happened. Sure, the nearby diners probably wondered why I stood with my neck craned, my mouth slightly ajar like it often is in the presence of chocolate. But tracking my gaze quickly answered their questions, or at least prevented them from pressing “Send” on their imminent 911 calls.

Having such a reaction to a street banner might cause a lot of folks to bless my heart a few times over. But those people often take for granted certain civil liberties and rights that are not afforded to members of the LGBTQ community. With its rainbow color story, the OutRaleigh 2012 banner isn’t just representative of another downtown festival; its acknowledgment by Raleigh is a testament to the impacts seemingly infinitesimal actions can make on a local level, and how those can translate to meaningful change for future generations. And as May 8th draws closer, all of us with a vested interest in equality hinge our hopes on victory.

While I’ve strived to become much more proactive in assuming an activist mantle over the past few years, I haven’t ever really made the connections between simple dialogue, logistical planning, and task execution until yesterday. As part of a larger group of committee members and friends, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the year-long planning process to bring to fruition the second annual OutRaleigh on May 5th. Until this experience, I took for granted such festivals, because I thought a bunch of magical nymphs just waved their wands and, abracadabra, instant festival. Not only has this experience proven my Zack Morris phone’s inadequacy for accessing and fielding hundreds of emails, but it’s reminded me just how fortunate I am to be surrounded by friends dedicated to equal-rights protections for LGBTQ individuals and their allies.

Amidst the hustle-and-bustle of bill-paying jobs, we’ve all banded together because we share a vision of a more inclusive, multivocal future. Of course it hasn’t always been rainbows and puppies; there have been tirade-laden meetings, catty commentary, and hair-pulling frustrations aired. But even those aren’t all bad; they’re signs of something being built, of passions writ into something formative.

Maintaining momentum can always be difficult. But with so many other projects, groups, and organizations doing their parts to combat prejudice and deeply sown bigotry throughout North Carolina and the greater Southeast, I have the closest thing an atheist can to faith in a higher power—a faith that people-power changes things. Together, OutRaleigh 2012 syncs with Equality North Carolina, The Vote Against Project, Race to the Ballot, Protect All NC Families, Human Rights Campaign, Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina, and innumerable others to embolden each person to effect change—to help author a more tolerant landscape for us all.

So as May 8th draws closer, and as you weave through OutRaleigh 2012’s festivities this Saturday, take a moment to look around. Not necessarily at the bounce-houses, or the onstage performers—but at one another. Because our collective future depends on each and every one of us coming out against intolerance.

All together now: Activate!