"I've seen trans issues take off as the full-on centerpiece of public discourse like never before ... and perhaps for the first time ever, trans issues have been at the forefront of a two-week news cycle."
That's what I wrote in this column last month. Six weeks later, it's still true. HB2 has continued to roil this city and state, and even national politics as it continues to shape this year's election season and keep LGBT — and particularly transgender — issues at the center of political discourse and public conversation.
More than a decade ago, when I began my career as an LGBT advocate and journalist, I never would have imagined how far we would have come in public debate on these issues. I never once thought trans issues would advance so quickly. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that the rights of transgender people would become one of the most hot-button issues of a gubernatorial and presidential election year.
There is now no doubt that we've reached a historic tipping point that will forever change the lives and experiences of LGBT people in the U.S. We're witnessing a wholesale transformation in the treatment of LGBT people by average citizens, lawmakers, the media, religious institutions and governments from the local to the federal level. We're not only moving toward, but finally arriving at a place where LGBT people can lead rich and fulfilling lives with full acceptance and embrace in the broader civic and social lives of our communities.
The fight against HB2 is just the latest sign of forward momentum, but the debate's focus on transgender inclusion and broader conversations of employment non-discrimination has finally moved the needle on topics that other LGBT rights advances never quite touched.
Who could have imagined, for example, that a Republican governor would ban anti-LGBT discrimination in state government employment? It took HB2 and the resulting backlash, to make the seemingly impossible possible in a state where LGBT advocates previously couldn't even convince Democratic governors to do the same.
In the immediate, as we stare down the fall elections, LGBT advocates and community organizations will be as tempted as candidates running for office to focus on the most hotly contested portions of HB2. Bathrooms and access to safe spaces for transgender people will remain the go-to topic du jour. While that issue is vitally important for transgender people, it's not the only issue we should be focusing on.
The challenge for LGBT advocates will be to think of the long-term; to look past the current debate when possible, recognize the larger implications of this tipping point and learn how to take advantage of the upswings in support. Cash and other resources are flowing into Charlotte and North Carolina — from national advocacy and political organizations and the donated proceeds of high-profile entertainers, among others. We'll be tempted to use those resources on a single campaign, instead of looking strategically toward building better community infrastructure and sustainable projects and programs to benefit the daily lives of LGBT people once many of these current legal questions are answered and laid to rest.
There's a long list of actionable areas that can benefit from current broader discussions on HB2 and LGBT equality. As we've seen with Gov. Pat McCrory's executive order banning anti-LGBT employment discrimination, we've been presented an opportunity to finally make bolder, better advances for our own equal treatment. We should push harder for local and statewide laws protecting our rights. Additionally, we can and should take full advantage of this time to loudly address the social and health issues that rarely get the attention they deserve — issues like substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and mental health, the rejection of LGBT youth by their parents, safe spaces in faith communities, continued efforts to decrease HIV/AIDS and how those issues intersect with race and socioeconomic status. It is these concerns that lie at the heart of the powerful, personal struggles faced in our community members' daily lives.
The fight over HB2 will result in tangible successes expanding our legal equality, in that I have no doubt. But legal equality, in and of itself, won't create a better, more healthy and more inclusive community for LGBT people. As nasty as the fight over HB2 has been and will continue to be, I know it will result in better, real-life outcomes for our community. It's our responsibility to make it so.