“As a parent, the very real possibility of having to witness my son growing up around pointless discrimination via these policies is heartbreaking,” Elim Craighill-Middleton writes.
As Shannon Fleming wrote for Cardinal & Pine a couple weeks ago, “Our rights are stripped from us in small bites, not all at once.”
In mid-August, that’s exactly what happened: Manufactured panic over a vulnerable part of our population swept through North Carolina with new branding, though we’d seen it before with the infamous HB2 “bathroom bill”.
On August 16th, our legislature did it again, passing legislation that threatens to turn students against teachers and set off an unnecessary chain of reactions that touch every county in North Carolina.
September 1st marked the first day where this state chose to actively restrict almost any gender-affirming healthcare for youths, as well as keeping trans students from being allowed to participate in many vital parts of school life.
Here in Rowan County, my family has already felt some of the results. I’m a father to one child, chief food-giver to my four dogs, husband to a wonderful man, a cook, and the 3rd vice chair of Rowan County’s Democratic Party. I’m a consummate product of the 90s. I grew up watching Star Trek, listening to U2, drawing countless animals, and playing in the woods behind my neighborhood.
I’m also a transgender man.
It was a very different time then, looking back at my life 32 years ago. ‘Trans’, ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ were whispered more than spoken; I had never heard those terms until I’d already realized that I belonged in one of those groups. Mental health supports like therapy were things that were hidden, considered shameful. School-based support for young, queer students was practically non-existent, and though I can’t prove it, I suspect that was one of the factors that led my private school to ask me to select a public school for my sophomore year of high school rather than return to the place I’d attended classes for a decade.
I had supportive family and friends, but had I been forced to live not only through that difficult experience, but also state-sponsored bullying, I can’t say I would have made it out alive. It was already easier to imagine not existing than it was to imagine a day where I might be comfortable in my own skin, or not subject to a creative variety of slurs and disappointment from my peers and yes, even teachers.
Some of my LGBTQ+ friends and classmates now live on only in memories and hearts as a result. I’m certainly not unique in this; nearly every one of us has a similar story. North Carolina’s recent legislation targeting trans students’ participation in sports and critical aspects of regular school life serves as a stark reminder of where we’ve come from; We shouldn’t be returning to it.
While conservative lawmakers argue that such laws are meant to ensure fairness, the real impact is the sense of exclusion and isolation for the kids that are the most vulnerable.
As a parent, the very real possibility of having to witness my son growing up around pointless discrimination via these policies is heartbreaking. Moreover, these policies have reached my county and our over-stressed, underfunded school systems. While these laws technically only affect minors, they’ve written a blank check out to those who wish to discriminate.
Here in Rowan we’re already seeing an uptick in slurs, vandalism, littering in yards with any sort of Pride or Progress flag, and more.
These are not singular incidents. It’s critical to realize that the laws made in Raleigh do not exist in isolation. These words have consequences and only serve to divide us. Harassment and hate will never be the answer. Intended or not, validating bigotry only serves to hold back families and impoverish our commonly-held societal morals.
While many lawmakers continue to play games with our budget, they returned just long enough to send one message before flying back out to warm beaches and foreign getaways – and that message was heard loud and clear on both sides of the aisle.
Nobody wants to be discriminated against, nor would anyone choose to be. My family, for now, is choosing to remain in North Carolina. We counter “You’re not welcome here” with “I choose to be here anyway.” But ultimately we will remain collateral damage until policymakers stop and realize that these sweeping changes mean that real lives will be disrupted. I choose to stay hopeful – but in Raleigh and beyond, things need to change.
And, leaning into that Star Trek from my own youth, as Spock once said, “Change is the essential process of all existence.” From my community to yours, let’s look towards a future with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, instead of a chosen few.