Equality North Carolina attended the Pride Month Reception at the North Carolina Governor’s Mansion. Pictured here are (from top left to right) are James Michael Nichols, Kendra R. Johnson, Ames Simmons (front), Eshe Hamme, First Lady Kristin Cooper, Gov. Roy Cooper, Candis Cox, Brennan Lewis. (Photo Credit: Equality North Carolina)

When I made North Carolina my home in 2018 to assume the new role of executive director of Equality North Carolina (ENC), I had a specific vision in mind for the future of this organization.

House Bill 2, and the dehumanizing discrimination it enshrined into law, had rocketed North Carolina onto the international stage when it came to LGBTQ rights. Resources had poured into the state from all corners of the globe. And yet, our community’s most vulnerable continued to suffer and queer and trans folks, particularly those of color, continued to slip through the cracks of organizational LGBTQ support.

Equality North Carolina needed to be brought into the future of the LGBTQ movement — a world where queer and trans folks of color are the ones holding the microphones and our community’s resources are allocated in a way that prioritizes their lives — empowering them to not only survive, but thrive.

We have a long way to go, but we’re getting there. As we’ve laid out this new set of priorities for ENC over the course of the past year, I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished with other organizations and individuals. These victories mark wins not only for ENC, but the North Carolina LGBTQ community as a whole.

In June, ENC played host to the first ever Pride Month Reception at the North Carolina Governor’s Mansion. It was a historic occasion, bringing together community leaders, politicians and everyday folks to celebrate our state government’s first visible recognition of Pride within the physical halls of power.

I used my speech during this reception to draw attention to the ongoing epidemic of violence targeting trans women of color across this country. I called Chanel Scurlock’s name into that room, along with Kanautica Zayre-Brown — a trans woman of color who was still being housed in a men’s prison facility at the time.

Zayre-Brown would later be transferred to a facility that aligned with her gender identity — a massive victory earned by a coalition of grassroots organizations, including ENC, working behind the scenes to hold the N.C. Department of Public Safety accountable. The realities of being both trans and incarcerated are horrific enough. Our trans brothers, sisters and siblings experiencing incarceration deserve to be housed in facilities where they are safe.

This year, ENC also partnered with Campaign For Southern Equality on our Protect Our Youth NC Campaign, a joint legislative effort to end the barbaric practice of conversion therapy across the state of North Carolina. While our bill did not make its way through the Republican-controlled House and Senate, it did inform Gov. Roy Cooper’s Executive Order to restrict public funding for conversion therapy. This move made North Carolina the first Southern state to establish a state-level policy protecting youth from “conversion therapy.” It’s not the comprehensive ban that we wanted, but I remain completely in awe of this victory.

More recently, Gov. Cooper also issued the state’s first Proclamation observing Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20. This move brings unimaginable visibility to the plights of trans people across the state of North Carolina. ENC would like to thank the Governor for his unwavering support of the LGBTQ community throughout the course of 2019.

Finally, the elections across the state of North Carolina brought some incredible victories for ENC’s endorsed candidates. There are far too many wins for me to highlight, but I’d like to briefly underscore the historic significance of Saige Martin and Jonathan Melton being elected to Raleigh’s City Council. These two openly gay men, who were sworn in on Dec. 2, are the first openly LGBTQ people to serve on Raleigh’s City Council. I can only hope that other cities across the state will follow suit in the years to come.

As ENC gears up for the holidays, our staff is doing anything but slowing down. Our endorsement process for 2020 begins in December, and the slate of races across the state next year are, in a word, gargantuan. The sheer volume of open seats provides us with an incredible opportunity to transform the political landscape of not only North Carolina, but the South as a whole.

Everyone has a role to play in this fight, and we can’t do it without your support. Please, spend some time figuring out what your capacity is in the year to come. Whether it’s a financial contribution, volunteering your time or getting involved with a local race, it’s on all of us to roll up our sleeves and help contribute to building a North Carolina that values and supports the most vulnerable members of our communities.

See you in 2020.