Union County, North Carolina recently held its first-ever Pride events, marking a change in the perception of the county as a place for the LGBTQ+ community. The county has three active LGBTQ+ organizations: Gender Education Network, previously the only LGBTQ+ organization for years, Union County Pride, Inc, and PFLAG Charlotte (which has an active Union County group) and active LGBTQ groups at Wingate University and various schools in the Union County Public School system. This Charlotte metropolitan area is no longer known for being just an area brushed off as “well, it is Union County.” Now it’s becoming a hub for the LGBTQ community.
The road to acceptance was not easy. Despite resistance from some individuals, the efforts of the LGBTQ and ally community helped to promote the events and actually sell them out.
At present, however, the front line in the fight for LGBTQ rights continues in the school systems. Many schools are banning books, flags, clubs and even personal pronouns, with some school boards asking the state legislature to make discriminatory laws to attempt an overcome of the constitutional safeguards in place for decades.
This all highlights the need for response activism at every level of government.
Executively, the federal and North Carolina leaders are very LGBTQ affirming and willing to advance equality (or at least post executive statements about it during Pride month). Many counties and cities are still implementing anti-discrimination ordinances for LGBTQ+ individuals and other discriminated groups. One example of several in North Carolina is the City of Boone, which recently approved an ordinance that increased the number of accepting local towns, cities and counties.
Regardless, some local and county governments want to prevent Pride events or drag shows at businesses and public facilities. Union County prevented the county library from being part of Union County Pride and even tried to take down all internal displays for Pride Month. The librarians fought back and at least were allowed to have book displays for teens and adults. The City of Monroe in Union County is requesting the state legislature to classify drag shows under sexually-oriented businesses to prevent people under 18 from attending. The city tried to prevent drag at Union County Pride, but the city attorney explained to the council that such an action was currently unconstitutional.
Judicially, the Equality Act and the final ratification of the Equal Protection Amendment are pressing issues, especially with the current Supreme Court and the addition of hundreds of federal judges under the previous administration. There have been several important cases for LGBTQ rights, with many being decided in favor of the community at the state level. The Supreme Court of North Carolina in the M.E. v TJ case decided that domestic violence protections must apply for LGBTQ couples. The United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina entered an Amended Consent Judgment in Campos v. Cohen that ruled a transgender person born in North Carolina may correct their gender marker on their birth certificate. To achieve this, they would need to submit a sworn statement, accompanied by a passport; a state-issued ID or driver’s license; or certification issued by a licensed healthcare professional, social worker or case manager that confirms the person’s gender identity. The United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina case Kadel v. Folwell decided that state health insurance must cover healthcare for transgender employees, but the North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell and the Executive Administrator of the North Carolina State Health Plan (NCSHP) is asking the court to reverse the lower court decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Legislatively, the 2023 State Legislative session is similar to the previous year, with many of the same bills being reintroduced. The “Parent’s Bill of Rights” or the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (HB 755), was stalled in 2022 following a warning of veto from Governor Cooper. The 2023 session SB 49 bill (very similar to HB755) could pass even after a veto from Governor Cooper. The “Youth Health Protection” bill (SB 514) which aimed to limit medical treatments for transgender people under 21, is being renamed and reintroduced as HB 43 with a lower age limit of 18 years old in the 2023 session. The “Save Women’s Sports” bill (HB358), which sought to prevent transgender youth from participating in sports and the “Health Care Heroes Conscience Protection” bill (SB515), which sought to allow medical practitioners, health care institutions, and health care payers the ability to discriminate based on their religious, moral or ethical beliefs or principles, are likely to be reintroduced in the 2023 session.
The Federal Legislative recently passed the Respect for Marriage Act following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which ruled that the Constitution does not guarantee the right to abortion and allows each state to decide the availability of healthcare through legislation. The Dobbs decision, which overturned federal abortion protections under Roe v. Wade from 1973, stated the Supreme Court could void the 2015 Marriage Equality Case Obergefell v. Hodges and the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case, which legalized interracial marriage.
This act, passed in December 2022, ensures equal marriage rights and responsibilities for all couples, including same-sex and interracial marriages, regardless of state laws by safeguarding the validity of marriages recognized by one state in other states, even if the initial marriage could be banned in another state.
The journey towards LGBTQ+ equality in North Carolina is ongoing, but the community is making progress. With continued activism and support, we can continue to change its perception.