The executive director of Equality North Carolina (ENC) has had a busy year during 2016. He has worked tirelessly on issues that surround making Tar Heel State’s LGBTQ citizens better. And, that has not been easy, especially in the face of the alt-Right’s agenda to “push ‘em gays down and strip ‘em of their rights.”
Christopher Sgro, or Chris as his family, friends and colleagues call him, has lent his voice to those whose lives have been challenged. Be it issues of equality, legality, humanity or more, he has never dropped the rainbow flag in his pursuit of social justice.
Hailing from Jenkintown, Pa., Sgro received his bachelor’s degree from American University with a concentration in political science. And, he has put that education to good use. He worked with America Votes and CARE, a national anti-poverty organization, qnotes reported in 2013. At one time he served as U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s director of economic development and worked on her campaign along with that of state Senate campaign for Don Vaughan.
Along with his husband Ryan Butler, they became the founding members of the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina.
Sgro began his tenure with ENC in 2013. Upon his being hired, qnotes reported prior to his taking the helm that he was “deeply honored for the opportunity to serve North Carolina’s LGBT community as Equality NC’s executive director and to build upon the organization’s tremendous success over the past four decades.” He added, “Equality NC has much work to do in order to protect and secure the rights of LGBT citizens across this state, but North Carolina has long stood as a beacon of equality and fairness in the South, and with fresh leadership and resolve, I know it can be done. Alongside our talented staff and dedicated board, I am ready to lead Equality NC in our unflinching fight to make the Old North State a state of equality.”
How little did he or anyone else in North Carolina know that the state would become one of bias, discrimination, and a player on the worldwide stage.
During the fight for marriage equality, Sgro remained steadfast in securing legal rights to wed for same-sex couples. His work, along with a plethora of others, helped bring this to fruition in North Carolina. Then the brakes were put on the right to marry and it was not until the Obergefell decision that marriage equality would be a national law. Still, challenges prevailed. Magistrates refused to issue licenses and another measure was passed to allow them to do so.
The big cabbosh came when the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (also known as HB2 or the “bathroom bill”) and it was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory on March 23. This was all done in a special session called to do so. This came about after the Charlotte City Council passed a non-discrimination ordinance that protected LGBTQ individuals.
The state’s progressives, as well as those around the world were stunned and horrified at what had taken place. That did not stop Sgro, however.
On April 9, Sgro was selected by Guilford County’s Democratic Party to the North Carolina General Assembly as a House of Representatives member for the 58th district in Greensboro, N.C. He was given this seat in order to fill the vacancy left by the death of Ralph C. Johnson.
Oddly enough, especially in the state that enacted HB2, Republican Gov. McCrory was charged with Sgro’s appointment formalities. A proclamation was issued by McCrory on April 30 to seal the deal which confirmed Sgro’s insertion into state government.
HB2 was in its early stages of being law and concern ran rampant with the LGBTQ community. However, there was the voice of Sgro, there to help convince his colleagues that discrimination was just plain wrong and that HB2 needed to be repealed.
Throughout the rest of the spring and into the summer, Sgro continued to push for equality in every decision he made when it came time to vote on measures in the House.
In the fall, one could see Sgro traversing the state working to help elect progressive candidates. On election night, he was poised for victory in Charlotte, N.C., at a TurnOut North Carolina watch party. Some would win. Some would lose. And his time in the House was nearing its end.
Since its passage, HB2 has seen the U.S. and the world’s entertainers, businesses, sports events and more boycott the state. Some did not and gave proceeds to LGBTQ causes. The law also has tarnished an otherwise stellar state’s reputation and its standing as a place for progress in the fight for equality.
In his final, important act as a state legislator, Sgro convened with other House members on Dec. 21 to consider repealing HB2. Surely, with a lot of back room plotting by factions among the Republican Party, his fight would come to naught. The Senate voted to not repeal HB2 and the General Assembly special session ended.
But, this has not dampened Sgro’s desire to fight against oppression, be it laws, bigotry and more. He shared in an email to supporters after the repeal lost:
“Tonight, the North Carolina General Assembly failed you. Again. It’s been 275 days since the passage of House Bill 2. Over the course of today’s special session, they had the opportunity to repeal this disastrous legislation in full and once and for all begin to fix the harms it inflicts. HB2 targets LGBTQ North Carolinians for discrimination and violence every single day. The legislature came back to simply repeal this bill and allow our state to go about the business of protecting all of our citizens. Instead, Phil Berger and Tim Moore decided to play political games with lives and the livelihood of our state. I am bitterly disappointed in their failure of leadership and believe that the 2017 special elections must be an opportunity to remove them from power. Only once HB2 is repealed in full can we protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, and it must be our priority to repeal that bill now. Not a day more can go by, and each that does, we are reminded that our legislature has failed us and all people of this great state.”
Sgro will continue the “good fight” even if he is not in the General Assembly. Up against the ropes, unwavering in his resolve, he will push forward and come back swinging. He is a true champion.