Viewpoint

In this fight, let’s embrace N.C.’s motto

Diana Travis, center, and MaryAnn Mueller, seated to her right, cheer the passage of Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance last month.
Diana Travis, center, and MaryAnn Mueller, seated to her right, cheer the passage of Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance last month. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Growing up in Charlotte, my mother made sure I understood and embraced North Carolina’s motto: Esse quam videri. To be, rather than to seem. In 1969, she insisted I come home from college in Boston one weekend to be interviewed by The Charlotte News to help readers understand what gay people were really like, since the only “gay” person the paper had interviewed at the time was a man who thought he was inhabited by demons.

She also came out as the mother of a lesbian to her book club, her bridge club, and finally by writing letters to the editor when police began raiding gay bars during an election year to whip up fear and anger. Mother even flew to Boston to be on a morning TV show to express her unmitigated support for her daughter. Sadly, she died in 1994 before any meaningful legal protections or rights for LGBT folks had taken place in North Carolina.

Now, nearly 50 years after my mother’s show of courage, imagine my joy when the Supreme Court ruled that my partner of 25 years, MaryAnn Mueller, and I could marry – or the thrill I felt for my beloved Charlotte when I witnessed Mayor Jennifer Roberts bang her gavel on February 22 after a 7-4 city council vote had approved a nondiscrimination ordinance to protect LGBT people.

What a bleak period of lies and distortions followed the passage of this ordinance – culminating this week in a hastily and secretly crafted bill by the N.C. General Assembly to destroy the Charlotte protections and all others that might come later. I truly felt sick to my stomach that our state legislators could so blatantly distort the Charlotte ordinance, stoking fear in so many people – including members of my own family, who were warned their daughters could be attacked in a bathroom by a predator dressed in women’s clothes.

The state I love at its core is welcoming to all kinds of people, and I recoil at the vitriol spewed by a hateful minority. Now, I am calling on my straight allies to please take heed of our state motto. Don’t just seem to be our friend, please be our friend. Stand up and speak out.

To my many business associates, please take action and speak up for a safe and inclusive state. To my friends who graduated with me from Myers Park High School in 1965, you have done so much to make Charlotte a great city. Now, please help us make our state better, too.

It may be that the only recourse for LGBT people in North Carolina is for a federal antidiscrimination law to be passed, since our state leaders have folded under pressure from extremists. But how great it would be instead if equality minded North Carolinians like my courageous mother would step up and take our Esse quam videri to heart. Let’s topple this hateful law and make our state be welcoming to all.

Diana Travis of Charlotte owns and operates Goose Busters! with her wife MaryAnn Mueller.

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