Fighting for protections. (Photo Credit: Daniel Jędzura via Adobe Stock)

I was born and raised in the South. Like many, I grew up in the church with a mother who instilled both faith and love in me from a young age. But I was also taught values that would eventually cause me great distress as they were at odds with what I knew about love.

Growing up, I did my best to treat people with kindness and empathy. I was bullied but also found friendship. I experienced grief and hardship. I loved and lost. As an adult, I realize that all of the obstacles I’ve faced have made me stronger. I am proud of the successes I‘ve achieved both personally and professionally.

Unfortunately, due to my sexuality, I sometimes have to deal with discrimination. As a white woman in North Carolina, I have been able to avoid many obstacles. Yet, when I came out as a lesbian, my life changed dramatically.

Coming out was something I rarely considered before I met my wife Titi* and fell in love. Our love made me brave. I was 34 when I told my family, friends and work colleagues. I knew there could be consequences, but I’ve never regretted my decision.

When marriage equality passed in North Carolina, I felt hopeful. For years, I feared that something was wrong with me, but now the law was saying it was okay to be myself. Titi and I were married in 2016. Planning was not easy, we received scornful looks and hurtful rejections from wedding vendors who had no interest in working with two brides. Despite reluctance from some, our wedding day was beautiful and, surrounded by some family and friends, our dream of marriage came true.

America is supposed to be the land of the free, but the LGBTQ community still lacks freedoms that others take for granted. I hope the election of a President who supports LGBTQ non-discrimination protections sends a clear message: Americans are ready to see their LGBTQ neighbors protected from discrimination and treated with dignity and respect. In North Carolina, discrimination against LGBTQ people is still legal in housing, public spaces, by lenders and in healthcare. There are no state laws to protect us from hate crimes. In fact, North Carolina has a law that bans its cities from passing non-discrimination ordinances. This is harmful and disheartening.

While we are both lesbians, my wife presents more masculine than I. She has short hair and dresses androgynously. Due to this, she experiences even more discrimination than I do on a regular basis. She often gets dirty looks and rude comments from strangers. People have questioned her when she enters the women’s bathroom, assuming she was in the wrong place. She’s gone to job interviews and seen the faces in the room deflate when they see her masculine appearance despite her professional attire. She doesn’t look or dress like a stereotypical woman, and as a result, she faces ill-treatment, a lack of opportunities and outright discrimination.

When we go on vacation, we have to search to see if there are any local gay spaces so we have an indicator of the level of tolerance in the area. We check to see if hotels are affirming. It’s stressful to worry about things like if we will feel comfortable in a restaurant or if we’ll be welcomed.

We love North Carolina; it’s our home and where we are raising our family. We know the state and federal policymakers can do more to protect LGBTQ North Carolinians, and we deserve protection. We simply want laws that allow us the same freedoms and protections to which every American is entitled.

We can all agree that every American should be able to live their life without fear of harassment or discrimination. No one should be at risk of being denied housing, or healthcare or refused service simply because of who they are or whom they love.

As North Carolinians, my family and I want full access to the rights promised in our Constitution. We need our state lawmakers and Congress to deliver on the promise of equal opportunity and equality for all and pass comprehensive laws that protect ALL Americans.

Mary Perez is a resident of Concord , N.C.

* Since the publication of this article, Mary’s spouse Titi has come out as transgender and uses he/him/his.

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