2021 Brings LGBTQ Folks Opportunities for Change

Op-Ed

With 2020 nearly behind us — and truly, the end can’t come soon enough for such an unspeakably awful year — I know that we’re all eager to turn the page and head into brighter times.

My heart goes out to everyone impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and to everyone who has lost loved ones. In my work at the Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE), I’ve seen the need firsthand, hearing story after story of the myriad ways LGBTQ Southerners have been harmed by the pandemic, their health threatened, their incomes flattened, their lives made more chaotic than ever. Over the past nine months we’ve distributed more than $300,000 in grants to LGBTQ Southerners through our COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Program, most to individuals in the form of $100 Emergency Assistance Grants — and every time we opened applications for these grants, we exhausted funding within hours, further evidence of the overwhelming need.

The next few months won’t be easy, and there may be a long road to recovery, but as I join so many in mourning, I also feel hope for what’s possible.

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When it comes to the fight for lived and legal equality for LGBTQ people, especially in North and South Carolina, I’m hopeful that in 2021 we will see major opportunities for growth at the local, state and federal levels.

Most immediately, I’m looking forward to the continued work that LGBTQ advocates, including our team at CSE and our partners at Equality North Carolina (ENC), will be doing alongside city councilors, mayors, and county commissioners in municipalities across the state of North Carolina. This month a key prong of HB142 expired, restoring power to towns, cities and counties to adopt LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination protections. We know that several local leaders are preparing to start the year off by considering passage of local non-discrimination ordinances, adding concrete protections for LGBTQ residents and sending a message that everyone is welcome.

It’s the first time municipalities have had this power in almost five years. I don’t have to remind you about the embarrassment of 2016’s passage of House Bill 2 (HB2), which made North Carolina the number one name in transphobia on a global scale and was later replaced by the nearly identical HB142. The “bathroom bill,” as it became known, targeted transgender people like me for harassment, restricted us from using the restroom [of our choosing], and blocked cities and towns from passing LGBTQ protections. The law had a particularly devastating impact on Black and Brown transgender people, who already face disproportionately widespread transphobia and anti-transgender violence, in addition to grappling daily with racism and xenophobia.

The expiration of the local ordinance moratorium means that every supporter of LGBTQ equality in North Carolina has a job to do: It’s up to all of us to push our local leaders to do the right thing and enact LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination protections. CSE and ENC have teamed up for the launch of NCisReady.org, an online platform through which you can contact your city council, mayor, and county commission and urge them to introduce and pass comprehensive non-discrimination ordinances.

These local protections are vital — because at the state level in both North Carolina and South Carolina, and at the federal level, we all remain vulnerable to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Both states and the federal government lack protections in key areas, including housing, public places like restaurants and stores, and in healthcare settings. This is true despite polling repeatedly showing that a supermajority of residents — 67 percent in North Carolina, 68 percent in South Carolina — support these protections. As we encourage our local leaders to update our policies, we must be engaging in the same hearty discussions with state lawmakers and our members of the United States Congress.
I’m optimistic about what’s possible on the federal level, too. As all eyes remain on Georgia to see which party will control the United States Senate, it’s a relief that Joe Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20. The Biden-Harris Administration can get to work reversing the Trump Administration’s heinous anti-LGBTQ actions and start pushing the country toward a more inclusive future again. We’ve seen commitments from the President-Elect to be a stalwart advocate for LGBTQ people, and the power of a pro-equality leader can’t be overstated.

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These are all potential bright spots of the new year — but no doubt, moving forward will require dedication from all of us. As we push for advancement on issues of LGBTQ equality, we must also sustain and strengthen the ongoing conversations that awakened this year in so many communities about racial justice and the need to dismantle White Supremacy and racism.

I know how trying 2020 has been. But I’m hopeful and ready for the new year — and for all that we can do together to build communities where all of us can thrive.

Allison Scott is the Director of Policy & Programs at the Campaign for Southern Equality.

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