Right before the election I saw a drawing with a child talking to their parent. The child says, “But what if they lose?”. The parent says, “Then we keep fighting for the rights of all people.” The child replies, “And, if they win”” and the parent says, “Oh dear child, it’s the same answer.”
That’s exactly right. There were a lot of wins for LGBTQ+ people this election cycle: for the first time, lesbians were elected as governor in two states, the first trans man was elected in New Hampshire and the first trans woman was elected in Montana, the first LGBTQ person of color was elected to Congress from Vermont, and a record number of LGBTQ people and allies were elected to other offices across the nation.
There were also a lot of losses. Nationally, it wasn’t the Red Wave that was predicted (thank goodness) but for queer people, trans folks, gender diverse kids, women, Brown and Black people, religious minorities, people living in poverty, and others, the outcome is still frightening. Too many voted to elect people who support actions and policies that will harm us.
So, what do we do? We keep “fighting for the rights of all people”.
You may be wondering why I am writing about the election in a legal column. It’s because our nation is built on laws. Elected representatives make laws (legislative branch), interpret laws (judicial branch), and enforce laws (executive branch).
Laws reflect what we tell our elected representatives is acceptable and not acceptable. Laws are also a reflection of what elected representatives think we want. And sometimes, they are what elected representatives think will keep them being re-elected and in power.
I’ve written before about how when one branch of government is taken over by anti-LGBTQ+ people, we move our rights forward in another branch. If the legislature is against us, we take our fights to the courts. If the state courts are against us, we go to federal courts. We work at every level and we never stop fighting. We play the hand we’ve been dealt.
I want to write about another tool in our toolbelt that each and every one of us can do and it will make a big difference. We hold elected officials ACCOUNTABLE at every single level of government. We tell them how their laws and policies affect us and our families. Too often, we forget the amount of power we have in our voices. Not anymore.
Did they campaign on putting criminals in jail? Then do it. Put people who target LGBTQ children in jail. Prosecute those who seek to harm teachers for supporting gender diverse kids, shopkeepers for hosting drag brunches, and librarians for having drag queen story hour. Prosecute those whose actions are based on hate. We have to hold them accountable to protect us.
For those who campaigned on protecting families, we have to hold them accountable to protect our families and our kids.
For those who campaigned on upholding the laws and Constitution, we have to hold them accountable to uphold the laws for us, our rights, and our legal protections.
For those who campaigned on religious freedom, we have to hold them accountable to protect all religious beliefs.
I could go on and on. You get the idea. We have to hold them accountable.
So, how do we do this? We attend their meetings. We sit in the courtrooms. We watch their legislative sessions. We speak at their town halls. We call and text their offices. We write letters. We meet with them. We speak out, loudly and frequently. Our voices matter.
Most elected representatives want to keep being elected. For those who simply follow the votes – meaning, they do whatever they think the people who are going to re-elect them want – we have to tell them what we want. When enough of us do that, they’ll follow us instead of the other guy. It shouldn’t be that way but it is. They love the power and just want to keep it. They don’t care how.
Holding elected representatives accountable also means telling our stories. Too many laws are passed by elected representatives who have no idea how they actually impact people’s lives. I remember a story from when HB2 passed a few years ago that someone who voted for it thought people who are transgender could correct the sex marker on their birth certificates really easily and so it wouldn’t be an issue. False! (Although this past summer it became less onerous for someone born in North Carolina).
So, let’s hold the U.S. Senate accountable to pass the Respect for Marriage Act. Marriage equality is the law of the land under the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. This decision said it is unconstitutional to deny marriage to same sex couples. Newly elected senator Ted Budd in talking about his position on the “sanctity of life” on his website states he believes “we all have an unalienable constitutional right to life and protection under the law.” Alright. Let’s go with unalienable constitutional right to protection under the law and apply that to the law (marriage equality) and vote for the Respect for Marriage Act. Once he’s sworn in, email or call him and tell him to support the law. Tell him how having the right to marry affects you and how losing it would impact you.
While you are at it, contact your Senator and tell them to vote for the Equality Act, too.
Senators contact information can be found here: https://www.senate.gov/senators/index.htm
You can watch Senate proceedings live at https://www.senate.gov/floor/
Senators and House members have local offices if you want to meet with them in person.
On the state level, information on the North Carolina General Assembly – House and Senate – is here: https://www.ncleg.gov/
There is information for contacting elected representatives, reading proposed laws, and watching their proceedings in real time.
It is critical that we pay attention and speak out to the state General Assembly members. For example, Senate leader Phil Berger has already said as soon as he has the votes to override the governor’s veto, he is going to work to pass a “parents’ bill of rights” that, according to the press release, will “enumerate the rights of parents to direct the upbringing, education, healthcare and mental health of their children”. This legislation was proposed a few months ago and it is absolutely frightening. There is no doubt it will harm LGBTQ+ children, families, and educators. We have to hold Sen. Berger accountable that this proposed legislation either never becomes law or includes all parents. All parents of LGBTQ children. All parents who want their children to know we live in a diverse world. All parents who want their children to understand and embrace individuality and to know that different is just different, not good or bad, just different.
In addition to Berger, contact your state Senator and tell them how this would affect your children, your family, your school. Do the same on the House side of the General Assembly.
Equality NC does a great job of following what is happening at the state General Assembly. Support its work and get involved.
At the city and county level, let’s start with Charlotte City Council. The public meetings are the second and fourth Mondays at 6:30 p.m. at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth Street in Charlotte. The meetings are also televised if you can’t attend in person. You can speak at City Council meetings at the Public Forum the fourth Monday of each month. You can speak at anything you want at the Public Forum. At the other City Council meetings, you can sign up to speak on specific agenda items as well. Information, including who the City Council members are and how to contact them and the Mayor, is at CharlotteNC.gov. You can also sign up to speak at the Public Forum through that website.
For Mecklenburg County Commission, information is at MeckNC.gov. They meet the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 6 p.m. in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth Street. They have a time for people to speak on anything they want at each meeting. Go to the website to sign up to speak at a meeting.
The Board of Education meets the second and fourth Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m. at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 East Fourth Street in Charlotte. You can speak during the public comments part at the meeting on the second Tuesday. Sign up at email@example.com by noon of the day of the meeting. More information is at CMSk12.org.
In other cities and counties, check your local government websites for information on contacting elected representatives and meeting schedules.
Information on North Carolina courts and judges is at NCCourts.gov. Court hearings are open to the public except for juvenile cases. You can also attend cases argued at the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in Raleigh. The calendar for oral arguments is on the website.
By the way, if you like the drama of any of the various “reality” tv shows, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve started paying attention to elected representatives. They may not flip tables (publicly) but I can assure you, there is Drama with a capital D. Snide comments √. Alliances √. Backstabbing √. Revenge √.
We have to use everything we have protect the rights we have and to fight for the rights we deserve. We are powerful. Our voices matter. We have to hold elected representatives accountable. Tell them how their votes affect your life. That’s something each of us can do and it will make a big difference.
Connie J. Vetter is the go-to LGBTQ+ Law attorney in the Charlotte area for over 25 years. Her legal practice focuses on the needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer individuals and couples as well as the larger community. Her practice areas include Wills, Medical Directives, Estate Planning, Adoption, Surrogacy, Name & Gender Marker Changes and Adult Guardianship. In addition, she is a mediator for the U.S. Postal Service. She can be reached at 704-333-4000 (talk/text) or CJVLaw.com.