North Carolina Businesses Rally To Protect Civil Rights After Its Government Passes Anti-LGBT Bill

This is what fighting bigotry looks like.

Immediately after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law House Bill 2 (HB2), which blocks transgender people from using public restrooms according to their gender identity, criticism poured in from all corners of the country. But the law has not been exempt from resistance inside the state, either. 

A number of North Carolina businesses and institutions have declared their bathrooms safe for transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. In a map compiled by designer Emily Waggoner, dozens of private establishments, including cafes, restaurants, art supply stores, and churches, are making it clear to North Carolina's lawmakers that they will not follow in the steps of the state government and restrict access for transgender people.

Among them is Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, known fondly in the community as "the gay church," according to its spokesperson Morgan Siem. 

"For us," Siem told A Plus, "there wasn't a 'decision' to provide safe bathrooms for trans people, it was just a given. We didn't need a committee or a forum or a discussion or a vote to decide if we'd treat all of our members with the same level of dignity and respect or not. The more diversity we can attract, the more we celebrate."

Hurriedly passed by the state legislature last week, the law not only restricts transgender people from using public restrooms according to their gender identity, it also blocks North Carolina cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances that protect gay and transgender people. 

The law, which McCrory said was to prevent "a man [from using] a woman's bathroom," has been widely lambasted, particularly by many North Carolinians who don't see the law as representative of their views. 

"While many of us, including our Pastor Nancy Petty, will continue to show up at the rallies, speak up at the legislature, write letters, sign petitions, etc., we are hurting knowing that this is even still an issue these days," Siem said, adding that many of the church's staff members, including Pastor Petty, are gay.

Demonstrations have been held outside of McCrory's mansion, and powerful corporations like Google and Facebook have strongly condemned HB2.

On Monday, a lawsuit was filed against the state of North Carolina in a federal court, arguing that HB2 violates people's equal protection, privacy, and liberty rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and their civil rights under Title IX of the Education Act of 1972.

North Carolina isn't the only state making national headlines for passing anti-LGBT legislation. Georgia has also been the target of criticism for a bill approved by its state legislature that would allow religious groups to turn away lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But the strong backlash — among others, the NFL hinted that it could hurt Georgia's chances at hosting the Super Bowl — has prompted Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the bill.

For its part, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church has seen firsthand and can vouch for the difference that religious tolerance and acceptance can make within local communities.
"People come to us shocked that they are welcome, shocked that they do not have to hide their true selves, shocked they can come with their partners... They have often had to overcome years of trauma just to be able to walk through our church doors. We do not want them to be hit with another slap in the face after such a huge emotional victory," Siem said. "We know it takes a lot to trust that you're safe and welcome in a church when your experience in the past tells you otherwise. We'd like to honor the strength it takes to show up at our doors and still want to be part of a faith community. "

A Plus has reached out to other North Carolina businesses and Emily Waggoner for comment.

Cover image via Shutterstock.