A battle was won, but the war raged on—at least in North Carolina. Members of Equality NC, one of the oldest LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the state, will tell you that long before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015, they knew that a favorable verdict was only the beginning.
And when, a few weeks before the ruling, Senate Bill 2—legislation that allowed state magistrates to refuse to marry same-sex couples on religious grounds—became law, they knew that the fight for equality would endure long after the crowd that celebrated outside the high court's stomping grounds dissipated.
"We're still fighting that battle," says Crystal Richardson, Equality NC's director of advocacy. The fight continues with Ansley v. Warren, a lawsuit arguing that Senate Bill 2 is unconstitutional.
They've been at it ever since.
Tierra Ragland, the group's organizing specialist, is focused on outreach and religious freedom laws—an effort that led her to make contact with religious leaders to urge them to speak out against the legislation during interfaith forums. But not everyone embraced the concept.
"We tried, in the beginning, to engage with some of the religious right and religious fundamentalists, but it's very hard to get them to talk to us, to have a dialogue," Ragland says.
- Illustration by Shan Stumpf
And when, in 2015, Charlotte failed to expand its nondiscrimination ordinance—which sought to prevent people from denying public services based on sexual orientation, but failed to include protections on the grounds of gender identity—another battle commenced.
Equality NC ended up standing on the front lines, trying, via a grassroots campaign, to rally voters in Charlotte to side with those who supported more inclusive legislation.
"We were really pushing out to the [voters in the city of Charlotte] who our pro-equality leaders are, why it's important to make sure you vote," Richardson says. Equality NC helped with voter registration and worked with local groups like MeckPac and the Human Rights Campaign to support TurnOUT Charlotte, an effort to elect and re-elect city council members who would have a pro-LGBTQ mandate.
Their persistence paid off. Public pressure and the timely retirement of several officials left vacancies that would ultimately be filled by representatives who in February passed a new ordinance that included protections for everyone.
"They were very brave and courageous to really take a stand," Richardson says. After all, Governor McCrory and other state Republicans had publicly vowed to take action if Charlotte approved the ordinance.
They found that bravery doesn't always lead to the end of war. And instead of celebrating yet another victory for the LGBTQ community, members of groups like Equality NC again dug in—bracing themselves for yet another fight.
To its credit, Equality NC was there when the legislature held the special session to pass HB 2—the law that has, in the months since McCrory put his signature on it, cost the state millions and sullied North Carolina's reputation.
And this November, the group plans again to man the front lines—to get out the vote and take the state back from those who they say have made it a laughingstock across the nation.
"Now is what's so critical," Richardson says. "Kinda like where we were in that TurnOUT Charlotte moment where we're like, 'OK, we lost, and now it's time to really educate the community about who are our pro-equality candidates.'"
So they'll knock on doors and dial phone numbers until their fingers hurt. They'll call on their friends and like-minded organizations to join in the effort until the last vote is cast this November.
The time is now, they say. This war, at least the legislative side of it, must end. And they hope the residents of the state they love will help them deliver the decisive blow—a victory for Roy Cooper and a changing of the guard in the statehouse.
"That is our number one outcome," Ragland says. "For the overall organization, it is to unseat Governor McCrory and seat Roy Cooper, because he is a pro-equality candidate that we feel would be better on LGBT issues. As a whole organization, yes, that's our goal."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Front Lines"