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Organizing While Trans in North Carolina

May 10, 2016

I didn’t fully know what to expect when I first arrived to North Carolina with the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund to organize people on the ground against HB2 a few weeks ago. I had a basic understanding of what was going on in North Carolina for LGBTQ people because of HB2. However, the law’s harmful effects are broader than just denying access to restrooms to transgender people. The law also makes it possible for all types of minorities to be discriminated against with no repercussions. Also, it took away the ability for municipalities to make their own decisions to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. As a result of this discriminatory law, major corporations like PayPal, Deutsche Bank, Target and the NBA decided to take a stand against the state and in several cases, take their business elsewhere. Musicians and arts performers including Bruce Springsteen, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato also canceled their North Carolina shows to boycott the law. Additionally, many states and local governments have issued statements telling their residents not to travel to North Carolina because of the discrimination they could face since the HB2 bill was signed into law.

Camden Hargrove

Camden Hargrove

As a trans man of color, I didn’t know how I would feel personally coming into the state, facing the same issues that trans folks in North Carolina are facing every day. At this point in my life, my gender identity and expression are not something I think about all the time, but from the minute I stepped into the men’s bathroom in the Charlotte airport I felt different. I was immediately very conscious of the people around me as well as their reactions. I wondered to myself if I was fitting in and similar thoughts I hadn’t had since much earlier in my transition. I realized that I was actually afraid of what might happen if someone found out I was trans. If I got assaulted in the bathroom, I would have been the only person in trouble with the police because I was born female and I was in the men’s bathroom. Normally I really enjoy coming out and telling my story and telling people I’m trans because of how much it surprises and moves them, but here in North Carolina, for the first time in a long time I had to think very carefully about coming out because I feared for my safety.

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National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund Staff

It was at the airport when I realized how organizing in North Carolina would affect me differently than any other activism work I have done. But experiencing this law in similar ways as North Carolinians just increased my passion for the work I have been doing in the state. My experience is still nowhere near what the people of North Carolina are facing though because I have the option and privilege of leaving whereas residents do not. Not only do they not have a say over where they can use the bathroom and if they can be discriminated against, but they also have no say over the damage that the law is doing to the state of North Carolina.

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Before I came to North Carolina and before I actually spoke to residents, I thought that all of the businesses and major corporations boycotting and pulling out of North Carolina was a great way to show the governor that people all across the U.S. don’t agree with HB2, and that the financial loss would push him to repeal the bill. What I found out when I got to North Carolina and started working and talking with folks at the Freedom Center for Social Justice was that the he governor doesn’t seem to care about how it’s really hurting North Carolina residents. North Carolinians don’t want businesses to go, they need them to stay and stand up for them instead of leaving. The small business owners are fearing having to close their doors because tourism has plummeted, conventions have canceled and they are not getting enough business to stay afloat. After seeing that and speaking to community members and people that own their own businesses, I see that we need to find a way to pull small businesses together and to work with and continue uplifting local grassroots organizations like the Freedom Center for Social Justice.

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My time and work in North Carolina is surely not over, and I look forward to supporting efforts on the ground to secure full protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people.

by Camden Hargrove, Field Organizer, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

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