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Julie Ann Cooper: Congress and other N.C. cities should follow in Greensboro’s footsteps on LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Julie Ann Cooper: Congress and other N.C. cities should follow in Greensboro’s footsteps on LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

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This year I have been prouder than ever to be a North Carolinian as I’ve watched local leaders across the state taking action to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. A few weeks ago, the Greensboro City Council passed an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, days after five other municipalities took similar steps.

It has been inspiring to see elected officials prioritize these measures. Even so, just about 7% of the state population lives in a jurisdiction covered by such an ordinance. It’s time for other N.C. communities to follow suit — and ultimately, we need Congress to enact comprehensive federal protections ensuring no American is left vulnerable to discrimination because of who they are.

This issue is so important to me because I am the mother of an LGBTQ person who has faced discrimination and harassment in North Carolina.

When my youngest child was in high school, I worried almost every time I kissed them goodnight that they might take their own life. I saw that they were in pain, but I had no idea how to fix it. When they graduated I breathed a sigh of relief that they made it that far — but something was still off; a mother often has a sense about these things. In late 2016, it finally clicked for me when I attended a presentation about gender identity, and when my child came home from college for Thanksgiving, I asked, “What pronouns do you use?”

My child explained that they use they/them pronouns, and they came out to me as non-binary or gender expansive. While most people are limited to understanding only male or female, some people, including my child, don’t neatly fit into those categories and use a term like “non-binary” to describe their gender identity. Just as sexual orientation is on a spectrum, gender identity is on a spectrum, too; there are infinite possibilities.

A whole new world opened fpr me when I learned about their identity. I felt newly personal stakes in the conversation that had been raging across North Carolina for the previous year: the fight around HB 2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that singled out transgender people, targeting them for discrimination and blocking local communities from passing LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. Now, I saw, these legislators were working to harm my child, vilify them and other trans people as criminals instead of whole people who deserve every bit of dignity as anyone else.

The state-sponsored mistreatment caused by HB 2 isn’t the only time my family has been harmed by anti-LGBTQ bias. In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, my child faced housing discrimination and was forced to move. Their landlord never accepted their gender identity, constantly misgendered them and discussed my child’s gender and body frequently with other tenants behind their back.

When it was time to renew their lease, the landlord kept putting them off and then, several months after the lease expired, refused to allow my child to stay. This exposed my child to unsafe conditions and harmed them financially, which was especially difficult because their place of employment was closed for six months. The lack of nondiscrimination protections in our state left them vulnerable. It was just horrific that my law-abiding child was treated as a second-class citizen solely based on their gender identity.

I’ve learned a lot about the LGBTQ community over the past few years, but I’d be lying if I said it has been an easy path for our family to walk. It has taken me time to fully understand my child’s identity, and I’ve admittedly stumbled over using their correct name and pronouns.

But rejecting my child was never a thought; when I held them for the first time, I would not have loved them any less if the doctor had said, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” — so of course, once they told me they identify as neither a boy nor a girl, I did not love them any less. Frankly, my child’s identity isn’t the most important part of who they are; their gender should be as inconsequential as anyone else’s. They are still the same smart, talented, hard-working and compassionate person they have always been.

Meeting LGBTQ people with love and fiercely advocating for their ability to thrive can save lives. That’s what local communities across North Carolina are doing this year.

I’m grateful for the lawmakers who have so far unanimously passed nondiscrimination protections. I hope their resolve to be on the right side of history inspires other legislators — including our U.S. representatives and Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, who have the power to protect all Americans from discrimination by passing federal legislation — follow in their footsteps.

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