An in-depth look at where we are today in relatively recent American history can be traced back to former president Dwight Eisenhower’s decision to blur the separation of church and state by allowing the phrases “One Nation under God” to be written into the pledge of allegiance to the flag and “In God We Trust” to be stamped on our currency.
It was the first step in many over multiple generations that led to Donald Trump capturing the White House in 2016 and a thumbs-up to the country’s radical right that it was acceptable to emulate bad behavior by their commander-in-chief.
Civility and basic human respect flew out the window, while anti-LGBTQ+ intolerance and violence have seemingly become commonplace in this country.
Many individuals in the LGBTQ+ community are giving serious consideration to leaving the United States. Some already have. Others, who aren’t in a position to make such a move, grow fearful as hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ laws roll out of state legislatures across the country, practically on a daily basis.
We’ve talked to some who already have, others who are in the process and some who are giving it consideration.
Read these stories and see if you find points of self-recognition mixed among these words. Then ask yourself: what about me? Would I, or should I leave my country if I could, and where would I go?
Katherine Moore was born in Charlotte but spent more than 30 years in Colorado. After her partner passed away, she made the decision to return to North Carolina to be close to family members. At the time Democrats were largely in charge of the state and it was viewed by most as a comfortable purple when it came to politics.
There was nothing that made Moore particularly concerned about moving back to the South. At least, not at first.
“I came back here because I wanted to raise my son in an environment that included family members and I wanted to be near my siblings,” Moore explains.
‘But what it has evolved into is frightening,” she continues. “As if the embarrassment of HB2 wasn’t bad enough, now we have a state that is so gerrymandered, the minority is ruling the majority.
“Gun violence is rampant and I have concerns that my son is going to be told he can’t read certain books, learn about the importance of our country’s racial history and can’t tell anyone that he used to have two moms.”
“I don’t want him to grow up in that kind of environment, so I am giving serious consideration to moving elsewhere. And I hate that my government is forcing me to even think about making this kind of decision.”
Moore is, for the moment, straddling the fence. She hasn’t come to a final decision as to whether or not she will move at all, relocate to somewhere else in the United States or opt to make her home in another country.
“At first I was thinking of a solid blue state somewhere in the United States would be sufficient, and that’s still a possibility. But with things going on like they are on a federal level, it makes me wonder if moving to another country, while we still can, might be the way to go.
Although she is not exactly sold on the intense weather a place like Canada has to offer, she confirms that it is the most logical choice, because it allows her to remain on the same continent as other family members.
“So that’s a possibility,” says Moore. “For now I guess I’m just waiting. Waiting to see how the elections play out. Will North Carolina end up with a backwards, uneducated and homophobic governor incapable of respecting the separation of government and religion? Will we end up with another term for a deranged president in the white house?
“We don’t know the answers to those things just yet. And to be honest, I don’t really want to go. I just have to think about what’s best and safe for my son and myself.”
While financial resources may not be a problem for some, other considerations exist that can be initially unanticipated, especially in a divisive political climate like the United States is currently facing.
Allison Platt works for a media conglomerate and Kayla Redmond, like many who live and work in Charlotte and the surrounding metro area, maintains a career in finance.
For both women, announcing their plans to relocate to Canada could potentially damage their professions and hamper their efforts to make the move.
That’s why we’ve made the decision to identify them only by pseudonyms.
“It’s not something I feel good about doing,” Platt says, referring to the use of pseudonyms. “But it’s something we can’t avoid right now.”
The two women have confirmed they have visited Toronto and other areas of Canada, scoping out what might be the appropriate place for them to live and to make a home with their young daughter.
Platt has informed her immediate superior, who is supportive, and Redmond has talked with the director of human resources, so that she could inquire about the possibility of transferring to an office in Toronto. Neither of the women have discussed the topic with any other coworkers and both are quick to admit during the interview their priorities have changed since the birth of their daughter, resulting in answers today that likely would have been very different five years ago. The desire to move, they explain, is largely centered on her well-being; and apprehension from the ever-increasing tide of gun violence.
“She’s just four, and I worry about her safety and what could potentially happen,” Platt says of her daughter. “And the best time to do this for her would be now, or very soon, so she doesn’t have to readjust to her environment.
“I never expected something like this to happen,” Platt continues. “I grew up here. My whole family is here. I thought I would live my life here.”
Redmond confesses that she wasn’t as quick to jump on the train to Canada as her wife has been.
“I had a slow awakening to the violence,” says Redmond. “It was all the constant shootings that finally made me realize just how dangerous it is. The violence became so obvious to me because we want our daughter to be safe. You add to that the target on our backs because we’re two women together, and I just don’t see a path forward. It’s not sustainable for us here.”
“This kind of violence is just not normal,” Platt replies. “But we’re not unique. It’s unsafe for everyone.
“The political environment has been deteriorating, in my view, for some time and we’re close to looking like a failed state. We’re seeing shootings in sacred spaces like churches and mosques and in schools. At this point I don’t believe we can avoid at least a few years of our country collapsing and I have very little hope that we’ll get out of this unscathed.”
It’s clear the two have a very unsettling view of what a future living in the United States will be like, but Redmond acknowledges, for the moment, she feels like the more hopeful of the pair.
“It’s impossible to know what will happen,” she offers.”You never know who or what could be waiting right around the corner that might change the way things are happening, so I believe it is possible we (the United States) could bounce back from this and we might be able to stay.”
“At this point – in my mind – we’re going,” Platt insists. “Whether it’s Canada, Portugal, New Zealand or Australia, and that’s just our short list.”
Although Redmond is less keen on anything outside of North America because of the distance it would create for the couple and their daughter between family and friends, Platt and Redmond’s differences of opinion are few. In addition to the love they share for their daughter and each other, they have another important ideal in common: Charlotte will always be home.
“We have a house here,” Platt explains. And we don’t want to sell it, but we would rent it out. That would give us something to come back to if things change.”
When asked what would have to change in order for her to feel comfortable about returning, Platt pauses for a moment, as if she’s taking stock of everything she said during the time we’ve talked. “The country would have to be less violent,” she says succinctly. “Less violent crime, a stable economy and something would need to be done about the rising cost of living.”
A third generation Charlotte native, Jim Hock has also lived in San Francisco, California. Currently he maintains a residence in Myers Park with his husband James Funderburk, although the two travel frequently.
Hock freely admits that actions taken by former White House occupant Trump influenced him and his husband so much they realized it was time to take action and put some sort of escape plan in place.
“When he (Trump) came into power he issued an executive order that prevented all visitors from Middle Eastern countries. It was a ban on Muslims entering the United States,” Hock recalls.
“But a lot of those people were green card holders who considered the United States their home. It didn’t matter. If you had left the country to visit friends or family in the Middle East, you couldn’t return to the United States.
“That’s when I thought, if a president can just sign a document and block people who were maintaining a residence here and had plans to become American citizens, what could keep him from signing an executive order that would prevent us from leaving the country? I don’t want the government telling me where or what I can’t do.”
For Hock and Funderburk that was their notice it was time to seriously strategize. It began with research on the internet and exploring the many options available to Americans who wanted to live abroad but maintain their American citizenship.
The two finally settled on Portugal. The country, which neighbors Spain, is part of the EU and welcoming to potential expats who want to immigrate. Luckily, there are a variety of ways it can be achieved.
Hock, who had previously worked in finance with Wells Fargo, eventually left the company to go into business with his husband in real estate development.
‘We took our experience and put it to good use for Portugal, and our desire to live elsewhere.”
The country offers programs that allow potential investors the opportunity to either build new structures or rehab old structures. With their fondness for history and architecture, they chose the latter.
“It’s also a lot more expensive there to build new, than to refurbish or restore old,” Hock explains.
A lot of people don’t have the financial resources for such an undertaking. But not to worry, if you want to maintain your American citizenship but live in a country like Portugal, other options include a retirement visa and a nomad visa for people who can live and work from any location.
But why should Americans who are part of the LGBTQ+ community make the decision to move to a place like Portugal, which is known to be heavily steeped in Catholicism? Hock confirms that was a thought that had crossed his mind as well.
“It’s true, it is very Catholic and religious. But it is not socially conservative,” he explains. “They have a live and let live attitude here that doesn’t exist in the United States so much.
“It’s just easier to live here,” he continues. “There are no book bans and there are no beating up on trans people. I feel perfectly comfortable holding hands and kissing my husband in public here.”
In addition to the relaxed and welcoming environment, there are other aspects of Portugal that many people find appealing, as well: culture, history, architecture and climate. “The place we purchased the historic apartment building we’re restoring is in a town called Porto,” says Hock. “It’s a beautiful place.
The second largest city in Portugal, Porto is a coastal city in the northwest region and is revered for its architecture and port wine production. The current population estimate is around 1,300,000.
As for their future plans, both men plan to keep their American citizenship and currently have permanent residency status in Portugal. After five years they can also apply for Portuguese citizenship.
“But we will still be able to maintain our American citizenship and passports,” says Hock.
Kenneth Hooper was born in California but grew up in Alabama. As an adult he has made his home all around the United States in places like Atlanta, New York City and San Francisco.
That was before he and his partner Robert Mains made the decision to move to London.
“My partner is from Scotland and his green card had expired,” Hooper recalls. “So that was the reason for our decision. We’ve been here since 2004.”
Many people in the LGBTQ+ community talked about leaving the United States during the Bush administration. In hindsight, the Bush era political atmosphere pales in comparison to the years of negativity experienced during Trump’s period in the White House and the post Trump-influenced era we’re currently experiencing.
“But we didn’t leave for political reasons at that time,” Hooper emphasizes. “We left because he (Mains) had citizenship there, which made it possible for me because I’m his partner.”
Hooper says immigrating to a place like the United Kingdom is not easy for most people, however.
“It’s a very populated place, it’s extremely expensive and they don’t really want people to come here,” he says with a slight chuckle.
“So they don’t make it easy for you. We had to provide proof of our relationship, and that meant stuff like utility bills and shared residence addresses that could be verified over a period of time. And this was done before the internet was used the way we use it today. Stuff had to be packed up and mailed off and you had to wait for weeks for a response.”
While it is true that living in England is more expensive and challenging for immigration, there are other attainable alternatives and other cities and towns with a far lower cost of living. Like Portugal, the country offers nomad visas and retirement visas.
Regardless of the time and reason Hooper and Mains left the United States, their story is still pertinent because Hooper – who has permanent residency in the UK – retains his American citizenship and still has family in Alabama.
“I don’t like what I see on the news about what’s happening in the country,” he explains. “It’s frightening. So much violence. It’s not like that here and in so many other places. It’s not normal. And especially the gun violence. That is one of my main concerns, especially when I think about visiting family still living in Alabama. Of course when you’re in bigger cities like Birmingham, you’re probably going to be just fine, but in some of the rural areas I wouldn’t feel comfortable going.”
Perhaps Hooper’s most telling comment is his sentiments about returning to the place he once called home.
“No. Not now. There’s no way we would ever consider living there again.”