Photo Credit: Aramie Louisville Vas
Protesters are gathering on the steps of City Hall in Winston-Salem, NC. I am frantically searching my car for parking change. Nothing found, I ride the streets for an empty fed meter. This spur-of-the-moment rally was called in response to a particularly heinous pro-discrimination law passed this week by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. House Bill 2 (HB2) blocks local governments’ ability to pass anti-discrimination measures against gay and transgender people. I don’t really identify as queer, trans or hetero; I barely identify as human. But who doesn’t stand in solidarity with people who want to love and be loved as they please?
The new law also preempts workplace wages, benefits and employee protections. That rule about employees being able to prosecute employers who discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap is gone. North Carolina is a right to work state which means employers can fire you at absolutely any time, for any reason. Before HB2, you could press charges if your firing was a result of discrimination. Now, even if you have evidence that discrimination led to your firing, you have no legal state-level recourse.
This is why North Carolina is being called “a national embarrassment.” This is why boycotts are being called, why film industry bigwigs are refusing to shoot films here. Before people just quit buying stuff in NC, they should think strategically and think about who will ultimately bear the impact. There is no need to hurt small business and working people’s bottom line just to “get at” policymakers – you know, the ones who can pass hate laws and still pay their bills without punishment? However, Google and Apple have already made statements condemning HB2. The NBA may pull out of holding their 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte, NC. There could be serious economic impacts.
At City Hall, I am floored to see over 200 people have made this rally on virtually zero notice. I, myself, found out 15 minutes before the rally and showed up under-prepared. Yet, it’s important this story be told, however we can tell it, in between working our two and three jobs just to survive.
Winston-Salem is a southern city of 235,000. Retailers here tell you to “have a blessed day” after purchasing a soda. Jehovah’s Witnesses are actively knocking on doors. Even the seedier places in Winston are relatively quiet and well-behaved after dark. Despite this complicity, the resistance movement is organized and healthy today on the steps of City Hall. An able emcee works the crowd with chants: “Love not Hate”, “Femme Power!” and “We won’t do/HB2/Winston-Salem works together.” I wish I had the names of all the speakers, but you can fault journalistic technique later. Let’s get back to the action.
“This legislation is the last gasping breath of an Old South whose day has come and gone,” declares the speaker, in English. Periodic pauses allow for Spanish translation. “This is a long night in the journey to a new day.”
“Y vamos a hacerlo juntos!” cries the translator. “We will do it together.”
A Mercedes rolls by the rally and the passenger screams hateful words in a cracking, broken voice. He is drowned out by the supportive crowd. It’s like that car represents the Old South mentioned by the speaker, whose separatist notions are indeed withering on the vine. But they’ll never die completely in legislature without some bold fists bursting the clouds of hate, allowing justice. Seasoned protesters are doing just that in Winston, among them this reporter.
The youth are asked to come up and lead chants. The last speaker takes the mic. “Matt goes by a male pronoun,” the emcee introduces him. Matt talks about his progressive high school where sex ed is still hetero-normative with no discussion of what safe sex or consensus looks like for queer folk. Just before we scatter, the chant of “We Believe That We Will Win” deafens those downtown blocks.
Becky Harman is a petite woman dressed in blue. “I’m here because my son is transgender,” she says in a self-assured way. “And because HB2 is bullshit and discriminates against way too many people.”
We discuss the last-minute turn-out of the rally. Facebook was probably the primary method of info share, and it’s likely only the folks “in the know” saw the post and put on their boots. Still, 200 showed up. I postulate that she must be pretty plugged in to have found out in time to make the event.
“Oh, this is my first protest,” she tells me. “I’ve actually never done this before.”