This legislative session has been difficult. 

So far in 2023, there have been 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state legislatures nationwide, up from 400 in the 2021-2022 session. This is an extreme increase from the previous record of over 100 such bills in 2015. This year, Equality North Carolina tracked 13 specifically anti-LGBTQ+ bills, in addition to many more pieces of legislation targeting a broader group of marginalized North Carolinians. 

As of this writing, none of those 13 bills have become law. While, in the end, a relatively small percent of these bills will be enacted nationwide, the Trevor Project found a profound impact among LGBTQ+ youth experiencing anxiety as a result of this legislation, compounded with the anxiety these youth already face related to bullying, harassment, discrimination, and violence. 

In those states that have enacted extreme legislation, families are determining their next steps for how they will maintain healthcare or where they will reside as these bills go into effect.

North Carolina advocates –  youth, families, medical providers, clergy, and educators – have told your stories in committees, signed on to open letters, visited your representatives, been interviewed, attended rallies and press conferences, and written your local papers. Because you have shared your opposition to this onslaught, lawmakers abandoned or softened bills. 

Local and statewide organizations have provided support to youth and families, organized responses, and provided education and ways to get involved. It has been all hands on deck.

That’s the only way it can be in times like these. If you have not gotten involved, there are still plenty of entry points.

We will continue to advocate throughout the rest of this legislative session, which will hopefully come to some kind of end during the summer, and we will be ready for local struggles. Pride season will kick off, as communities consider ways to keep themselves safe from threat and hold onto these celebrations, born out of historical resistance. We will express ourselves, reclaim our space and our time. We will turn our eyes to local elections and protect our boards from extremist takeover. 

One of the groups fighting to erase our youth and families is Moms for Liberty; they are well-connected, well-resourced, and they are strategizing to take over every school board in this state. We must not allow it. Pay attention and participate as much as you can in local elections and governance.

In the past couple of years, the two questions I have gotten most are: “Why is this happening?” and “How do you maintain hope?”

First, this is happening as a backlash to progress we have made as a movement for our rights and in our awareness. Second, because the far right is fighting an uphill battle for legitimacy and survival, they need people to vote for candidates who would pass white supremacist and other extremist legislation. They believe they can isolate trans people from other marginalized communities, even the larger LGBTQ+ community, through propaganda and scapegoating, so that folks who don’t usually vote for their candidates suddenly will.

Even other organizers ask me why I don’t lose hope. I do sometimes. As an eighth generation North Carolinian, I love this state, but not just because of its borders, beaches and mountains.

Mostly, it’s because of the people. 

In my 20 years of advocacy, I’ve given so much to help secure rights and protections we’ve later had stripped from us. One way to think about hope is through our wins. One-third of North Carolinians are now protected by local nondiscrimination ordinances passed since the prohibitions against them in HB142 became sunset. 

This is substantially more than pre-HB2. I may have not had hope about local protections in March 2016, but in May 2023, I know we are overcoming that horrible legacy.

Another way I maintain hope is to focus on the truth. I know the truth is on our side, that reliance on misinformation about our community is just one of many signs proving we are on the right side of history. We are fighting for people we know and love, so that we will have a future. We know we are fighting for our lives, our safety, our rights, and those of our youth, families and community. We have had our culture burned down and suppressed throughout history, and we always rise from the ashes. 

Sometimes hope is a natural byproduct of positive conditions. Other times, we must dig deep to find hope, because it is not a miraculous state of being and it is not necessarily passive. 

In other cases, we must cultivate and nurture it, because hope is a moral imperative. None of us can rely on the generations after us to do this work; we must believe that we can make the change, together, for their sake. When we believe we can change things, we are more likely to act. 

For me, hope is built in the forward movement, and while I may gain short-term hope by certain policies passing, long-term hope comes from all of us, putting our resources and skills together to build a united force for liberation and for the future. Without you, this legislation we are seeing would be far worse. 

Those that seek to promote violence against us may win some ground this session and cause suffering as a result, but I know that you won’t let it stand. I know we won’t leave anyone behind. I know that we will always fight back, and I know that we will win.

Artie Hartsell uses they/them pronouns and is an eighth generation North Carolinian employed at Equality North Carolina. They have their undergrad and graduate degrees in social work from UNC-Charlotte. Based out of the Queen City, Hartell is an LGBTQ+ inclusion training consultant and a seminary student.

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