For a long time, 45-year-old Erin found the neighbors surrounding her four-acre rural home in Harnett County “extremely pleasant.”
Then, she says, things started changing.
A rainbow flag planted in front of her home disappeared, while other garden flags, decorated with flowers and flip-flops, stayed put.
One day she found trash dumped in her yard and her mailbox smashed in. She reported it to the local sheriff’s office but says no one was ever arrested.
While she was at the local post office mailing a package, the person working the counter recognized her address as the home of “that lesbian witch.”
“We were very out in California. We are not very out here,” says Erin, who with her wife, Heather, moved from Bakersfield to North Carolina six years ago in search of educational opportunities for their two children. They eventually settled in the town of Coats, where Erin works for a local business. (She asked not to include her last name or workplace because clients wouldn’t approve of her personal life.)
“The problem we have here in Harnett County is, I know there are other gay people here. We have not met one willing to be out. There’s absolutely no LGBT community here...We have to travel to Raleigh if we want to experience any like-minded people.”
Erin says the slights aren’t enough to change how she feels about living in Harnett County, citing residents’ values and the rural area’s beauty. The sunrises and sunsets, barns and historic tobacco buildings provide inspiration for her photography. “I don’t live fearfully,” she says.
But with the passage of House Bill 2 – known as HB2 – limiting anti-discrimination protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, she’s especially concerned for LGBTQ teens in the community, who may feel isolated.
“It’s such a vital time in their life that they need the support,” Erin says. “There’s no shame in owning who you are.”