Saturday, April 16, 2016

North Carolina and the American South

North Carolina recently made some big headlines and, unfortunately, none of the news is nearly as pretty as its pristine beaches. In fact, the state's sweeping anti-LGBT legislation is downright hateful. It's not that hateful legislation is new to North Carolina. It seems like anytime the LGBT community makes national headway, North Carolina is on the front lines to stop it by any means possible.

"First in Flight, 48th in Education" - Family Guy

The quote isn't true - North Carolina is #36 in educational attainment - but there's a very strong correlation between education and LGBT acceptance, and North Carolina helped prove it. When the state voted to ban same sex marriage in 2012 (a decision overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States' 2015 ruling), a map showed counties that voted against the state's discriminatory legislation were those with major universities

Mind you, this wasn't a vote to legalize same-sex marriage, but to ban something that didn't even exist in the state. 

But it doesn't take a map or statistics to recognize the relationship between education and acceptance. Education exposes you to diversity and enlightens you with a world beyond the one in which you were raised. North Carolina's - and many other Hate States' - resistance to same-sex marriage, hate crime laws, and inclusive legislation have nothing to do with religious ideology or any other half-baked rhetoric they use to excuse their hate. It's simply an ignorant fear of the unfamiliar. 

I'll start with the worst of North Carolina's recent decisions so as to leave you with a laugh.

No Gays Allowed

As a reaction to recent legislation passed in Charlotte to protect LGBT citizens - similar to laws already in place for racial and religious minorities - legislation was hastily drawn up and an "emergency session" was held and Governor Pat McCrory signed into law legislation that will ban any LGBT protection laws throughout the state. . Representatives were given so little time to read the details - five minutes to be exact - that many walked out, including all Democrats, leading to unanimous victory for the Hateful majority in North Carolina. 

What does this mean? Well, it means businesses are free to put up "No Gays Allowed" signs and actually back it up. It means any government office or public school that offers gender-neutral bathrooms is breaking the law. And it means a hell of a lot to the state's booming technology industries in Research Triangle, companies that stake their reputations on inclusiveness, powerhouses like Google and IBM. 

That could be good for Philadelphia. They're all welcome to make Drexel's Schuylkill Yards a reality. But that's not the point. What makes Philadelphia great should make America great. This law essentially turns North Carolina into a Russia within the United States, one where homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender citizens are reluctantly accepted as long as they don't make themselves known. 

It's also - like so many laws enacted in the South - insanely hypocritical. When I was in college in Virginia, we drove to North Carolina to buy grain alcohol, so they have no problem with vices, as if you can call homosexuality a vice. This is purely about hate fueled by ignorance. 

I grew up in the South, and I know it very well. I know the tagline, "Ya'll can be ya'll's selves, just don't show it off where my kids can see." 

"Well, okay, then can you tell your bathsalts-addled sister to stop humping my tailpipe every night?" 

Fucking. Hypocrites.

Unfortunately there's no silver lining, but it does get more amusing, because...

Freddy Got Fingered

James Meyers Jr. - a law abiding citizen, or so he thought - was pulled over for a simple traffic violation near Charlotte. He isn't Mexican, Muslim, Caitlyn Jenner, or whatever the hell else terrifies these people, but he still ended up in handcuffs at the precinct. His crime? An arrest warrant had been issued for him because he forgot to return a VHS copy of Freddy Got Fingered in 2002. Okay, renting that movie should have been a crime in itself, but I don't know what's worse: the fact that North Carolina is so liberal in its issuances of arrest warrants that an overdo rental from 2002 became one, or the fact that a North Carolina police officer would take it seriously. 

Let's Tie It All Together

For a few weeks, North Carolina will be stopping cars breaking the speed limit, all cars breaking the speed limit. Despite the cost to taxpayers in providing room in traffic court for every speeder doing 66 in a 65, and despite police departments across the state speaking out against this because of the obvious absurdities, the state has spoken. 

Gee wiz, the Southern notion of "Small Government" really makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? Where the hell is the "sarcasm" emoji? I can't wait for the first trans-person to be pulled over for doing 69 in a 65, "What's the hurry, sir?" 

"Oh, I'm trying to get to Virginia so I can take a piss."

Is It a Bad Place?

Well, despite the harsh words against North Carolina, words the state continues to bring upon itself, it's always been one of my favorite places. When I was a kid, the beaches along the Outer Banks were my family's go-to vacation spots. My grandparents had a hunting lodge on the Albemarle Sound and if I believed in Heaven, that's what it would be. 

The state's irony goes hand in hand with its hypocrisy. Unlike shore towns in the Northeast, nearly all of the North Carolina coast is a protected refuge. Plastic bags are illegal, the dunes are meticulously preserved, and you won't find any casinos or five star resorts on the sand bars dotting the coast. In fact, you'll find very few hotels, if any, rising more than three floors. 

Its western region's mountains don't disappoint either. The state's artsy Asheville has even earned a reputation as a small San Francisco with its surprisingly hip liberalism (for the South) and its quirky downtown villages, named after its unrivaled Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned house in the United States...ever (sorry, Lynnewood Hall).

If you're outdoorsy and seeking sandy beaches or pine topped mountains, you'll find it all from Ocracoke to Asheville. Even as I write this, seeing that Albemarle and Ocracoke aren't recognized by my spellcheck, it's evident that Apple has not deemed this state as relevant as a Kardashian. And that's sad. North Carolina is one of the most beautiful states in the country and, perhaps someday its people will realize that we gays aren't out to ruin it. 

Until then, their legislative process is doing nothing for business in the Tarheel State. Bruce Springsteen, Cirque du Soleil, and PayPal are all boycotting North Carolina, and they seem to have spurred a sense of solidarity calling more to do the same. Personally I don't completely agree. Bruce Springsteen himself was the one who rocked The Berlin Wall in 1988 shortly before it came down, and dedicating a concert to LGBT North Carolinians (and asking bigots to leave) would have been more inline with The Boss's M.O. It's a tricky situation, and while there are greener pastures for the disenfranchised in North Carolina, it's also understandable why many would be reluctant to leave such a beautiful place. 

Having grown up on a farm in Virginia, I've given up on my South. And while Pennsylvania may not be perfect, the way ethnic, religious, sexual, and gender minorities are treated here is a stark juxtaposition to what I've experienced living in and traveling throughout the South. Knowing firsthand what it's like being gay in a Hate State, I have nothing but respect for those hellbent on sticking around for the fight. 

No comments:

Post a Comment