My Child Is Leaving North Carolina Over New Anti-LGBTQ Laws

Photograph courtesy of Shannon Fleming

By Shannon Fleming

August 21, 2023

“I don’t know when I’ll see my child again after they board that plane,” Shannon Fleming, chair of the Granville County Democratic Party, writes in an op-ed. “Because of NC Republican lawmakers’ intentional and targeted hatred of the trans community, my family is being ripped apart.”

Last Wednesday, as North Carolina Republicans gathered in the Legislative Building in Raleigh to overturn Governor Cooper’s veto to protect our transgender youth, I took my trans child to lunch at Applebee’s.

Normally, I would be attending the protests around these veto overrides, as I have done in the past with the other atrocious bills this extremist supermajority has been ramming through the NC Legislature as quickly as possible. But this time, it was more important that I spend the time with the person in my family who was impacted by the hatred being codified into law.

They wanted boneless chicken wings. And we needed to talk about what was next for our family.

See, I had sat and listened through the committee hearings for these bills, before they made it to the General Assembly. And I had heard what the “second wave” arguments will be, when they move to pass the next, more extreme versions of this bill. This current version impacts trans youth, up until they’re 18 years old. But the arguments made by some Republicans in committee hearings were that since the brain didn’t mature until 25, a person isn’t mature enough to make decisions about transitioning until they are mature mentally.

Our rights are stripped from us in small bites, not all at once.

My child is 21. Yes, they are an adult who stands taller than my 5 foot 3 inch frame, but they’ll always be the little baby I held in my arms as a young mother myself, swearing I would do anything to take care of them – no matter what.

“It’s not safe here. We’ve known that, but now the time has come.”

They agreed. And so, they secured a plane ticket to leave the United States. We compared prices between airlines and found a flight leaving in a few weeks. They have never been on a plane and are nervous about flying. But knowing that this was a possibility, they’d  already ordered their passport and it had arrived a few weeks ago.

We discussed where they are going. The nerves about flying. Moving to a country where they only know a little of the language and know just one person they met online. The concerns of finding a job under these conditions and what happens if they can’t find a job before the first visa runs out, and what the next step is since they can’t return to the United States.

While they could just leave North Carolina for another state, the extremism that has taken root in North Carolina—the state that my family has called home  for 7 generations with the birth of my child—is in other states too. It’s not safe here.

I am disabled. I’ve been informed by my doctors that airplane travel will aggravate my physical disabilities to a point that it’s highly recommended that I don’t travel by plane. So, them leaving the United States means I won’t see them in person again until it’s safe enough for them to return.

We have a few more weeks together until they leave. A few weeks to sort through their room. To go through their belongings and know they can’t keep their childhood keepsakes because they can’t take it with them. Just a few weeks to try and keep a happy face and pretend that this is like they are going off to school or something…but it’s not. Because I don’t know when they can or if they will be able to return home.

I don’t know when I’ll see my child again after they board that plane. Because of NC Republican lawmakers’ intentional and targeted hatred of the trans community, my family is being ripped apart.

I am trying to find positives. We have so many privileges. My child can leave. So many can’t. My child felt safe coming out to us because I’m also in the LGBTQIA community. So many trans people are still closeted because they aren’t in safe places. I am able to put my child on a plane instead of in a casket. There are mothers out there that won’t be able to say the same, with the passage of these hateful laws.

When I became the 3rd Vice Chair and then the Chair of the Granville County Democratic Party, I was often asked what my goals were. At the time, I didn’t discuss openly what was happening in my family because I was waiting for explicit permission from my child to discuss it. Now, I have that permission.

I’m not looking for a career in politics. I don’t have a political background or a degree in political science or anything like that. I got involved because these lawmakers—from their abortion bans to their attacks on the LGBTQIA communities to the dismissal of the disability community through their refusal to pass Medicaid Expansion—have personally impacted me or someone I’ve loved deeply. As the saying goes, “The personal is political.”

And there are people in your life who are quietly—or loudly—being impacted by the hatred that the NC GOP writes into the laws of our state. And the extremism is going beyond the legislature and into the other branches of government. I deeply fear what will happen to the trans community and the LGBTQIA community as a whole if our next governor is someone who calls us “filth.”

I’m sending my child away to keep them safe. But I’m staying right here and I’m going to keep fighting until my last breath, until it’s safe for them to come home.

I promised them when they were a baby that I would protect them. That doesn’t stop now. And it extends to all the other trans youth. And the LGBTQIA youth. And all the other marginalized communities being hurt. Because it goes the other way too, “The political is personal.”

I can’t fight alone.

I wish I could, because this would have been over years ago. But this fight is going to take all of us, collectively, to protect each other from the hate that is being codified into law.

And it can feel like it’s so futile, like no matter how much you scream, that it’s just going into a void and nothing is changing and it is just getting worse.

But, I don’t believe it’s futile. Even here in rural Granville County, I’ve found people who have been willing to listen. I’ve found people who aren’t happy about their rights being stripped away. And as the Republicans  have been attacking bit by bit, we can also build a grassroots coalition to counter this attack.

Remember, they wouldn’t be cheating with gerrymandering and passing these atrocious laws in the middle of the night—with no debate—if these laws were something for which they could get majority public support. They know they can’t get the majority. So we just have to turn out in the numbers that we actually are in, and we can fight back against this.

The best thing you can do is get involved. If you’ve never volunteered before, consider taking a shift. If you have volunteered, consider stepping up to a leadership position, such as precinct chair or be a poll worker.

If you’re passionate about fighting back, run for office! We need to make sure there is no seat unopposed in 2024, from the local levels all the way up to statewide offices.

If you just don’t have time to volunteer, donate to support ongoing efforts to fight back against the GOP and how they are seeding extremists into municipal seats to prepare them to run for higher office in later elections.

There are multiple ways and opportunities to help stop the NC GOP from destroying other families the way they are doing to mine. Feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to assist with getting you in the right place to help, and you can donate from right here to help us fight back.

Thank you for listening to my family’s story.

Just know that I’m going to be right here in NC fighting this, until my baby can come home.

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