Since Creative Loafing's 2014 Pride issue, the LGBT community has experienced some big wins, both statewide and nationally, in the fight for marriage equality.
The U.S. District Court's ruling in the bizarrely titled General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper case in October 2014 and the June 2015 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize gay marriage nationwide was cause for celebration among the LGBT community, but advocates are quick to point out that the struggle still continues for many in the state and around the country.
"It's not, 'What's next?' It's, 'What's continued?' That's something that I think everyone should understand," said Jason Boone, co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign North Carolina Gala and founder of Stonewall Sports Charlotte, an LGBT intramural sports league. "Yes, that was a huge win for our community, but there are so many continued battles, so I've actually posed that question to several people, 'Why do you ask what's next?' It's not like marriage equality is the only thing we've been focused on. There's so much more out there."
In the lead up to Charlotte Pride Week, Creative Loafing met with Boone and other Charlotte LGBT advocates who work every day to accomplish that "so much more": Matt Hirschy, director of advancement with Equality NC; members of Campus Pride, a Charlotte-based national nonprofit advocating for more LGBT-friendly colleges and universities; and Crystal Richardson, attorney and advocate involved in multiple LGBT organizations.
Below, these people discuss what lies ahead for Charlotte's LGBT community, from Charlotte Pride Festival and Parade 2015 in Uptown on Aug. 15 and 16, to the years beyond that.
The following excerpts are from separate discussions with each of the groups or people listed above.
On Charlotte's LGBTQ community today
"The community that I've found in North Carolina has been better than I ever thought it would be. Growing up here was very different from the current life here. [Hirschy recently moved back to Charlotte from Greensboro] Coming back to Charlotte, the reception has been open and welcome. The other thing is, there's a lot more connectedness here than in Greensboro between LGBT organizations, and I think that's central in the fact that there's just more (organizations) here." - Matt Hirschy, director of advancement with Equality NC
"I feel justified that we made the right decision to stay in Charlotte because of all the good people who are doing amazing work, all the organizations that are here and that are putting their heart into this parade and into Charlotte Pride."
"My husband and I have lived here for 18 years and seen so much growth. That's why when people say, 'Oh, (Campus Pride) is based in Charlotte,' I say, 'No, our home is Charlotte. That's where we live, that's where we breathe and that's where we chose to make our extended family.'" - Shane Windmeyer, co-founder, Campus Pride
"Honestly, I see a divided community. Being in so many LGBT organizations, I see a lot of the same people, we're in a lot of the same spaces, and I know that we're not really hitting the broader areas of Charlotte. I do a lot of things that are non-LGBT and have a lot of friends in different spaces and you don't really see LGBT voices uplifted in that space."
"When you invite a lot of the non-LGBT world into our spaces, I don't know if it's a matter that they don't feel welcome or that it's not open to them, but (the activist community) is a lot of these little solos. One of the things that I would love to see happen is a more integrated LGBT community. LGBT folks are so diverse; they're all colors, shapes, sizes and backgrounds and I think we have to be more intentional about making sure that we're supporting all LGBTQ folks in our city and our state." - Crystal Richardson, attorney
Issues to face moving forward
"I had people tell me, 'Guess you're out of a job' (after the marriage equality laws passed). I always think of Martin Luther King's quote, 'An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.' We still have folks who can be fired from their job. Especially transgender folks who are becoming more comfortable coming out and transitioning at work, and I know so many stories of them being treated poorly and feeling uncomfortable to where they leave their jobs. People are turned down for housing or public accommodations. (LGBT people) pay taxes here. We go to school. We work here. We're all just human beings trying to live. Until we have a lived equality in that aspect, there's so much work to be done."
"I didn't realize how much I hide who I am. In certain spaces I can be LGBTQ but I cant be black. In certain spaces where I can be black I can't be too gay, or I can't be too feminine or too soft. You do that for so long it conditions you until you realize, 'Oh, I'm not even being myself.' It took me time to realize that I was doing that."
"It comes from a Pat Parker quote, 'The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.' That's literally what drives me in this work." - Richardson
"There's a probably a lot of Creative Loafing readers who think that marriage is the end-all, be-all and it is a big step in the right direction but there's a long way to go. The lack of legal protections here for LGBT folks, meaning you can be fired for being gay, you can be evicted for being trans, you can be harassed and you can get bludgeoned and there's no hate crime legislation to protect you in North Carolina. But that being said, we are home to over 20,000 Bank of America employees and all of them are protected."
"The last year for us has been a momentous one, and what we're seeing in the broader statewide and national perspective is a shift in focus for the LGBT community. The question of where we go from here is a big one and has a few immediate answers but it's going to be one that continues to get answered over a wide range of time. Every day someone is discriminated against, every day we lose another trans kid to bullying or suicide, so it is a developing issue." - Hirschy
"One of the issues that I think we're going to see in the next few years is LGBT businesses not getting the support of LGBT folks. Take a look at Petra's (Piano Bar & Cabaret). They're no longer a gay bar, they're a community bar because, in Plaza Midwood, nobody cares if you're gay, straight, trans; it doesn't matter, everybody goes there. On one hand, that's amazing. (The Bar at) 316, Cathode (Azure Club), L4 (Lounge), they do bill themselves as LGBT, but they're a struggling subset in our community."
"I'm 38, my generation and older, we are very dedicated to gay bars, because it's somewhere we could go and stay safe. The younger generation have never known going into a straight bar and feeling uncomfortable. It's a double-edged sword that people can feel comfortable everywhere, or most places. Gay businesses rely on the LGBT support but there are all these other options now. Take 316 for example, they came in as (Stonewall Sports') primary sponsor and have never left our side. Our sponsors give back to the community so much, it's pretty amazing. LGBT businesses continually support the LGBT community in ways that people never know, they have no idea the support they give back." - Jason Boone, co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign North Carolina Gala and founder of Stonewall Sports Charlotte,
"My focus has always been on trans activism, so marriage equality doesn't really affect that very much. I'm going to be doing the same things I've been doing. There is a lack of education everywhere. There are a lot of issues with trans people getting the healthcare they need, because even just general healthcare – if they get sick and go to the hospital – they have issues because they are a trans person. There needs to be a lot of education." - Prin, summer fellow, Campus Pride
"Incarceration, as well. Sometimes, trans people going into a prison or a jail are stripped of everything and their hormones are taken away too. I don't ever hear anybody talking about that. That's an issue as well."- Rebby Kern, programs manager, Campus Pride
"I think one major trend that's going on in the movement is incorporating a lot more intersectionality into the activist work that we do. So not only looking at what affects strictly LGBTQ people, but what affects undocumented LGBTQ people, what affects homeless or disabled LGBTQ people, etc. I think issues that incorporate that intersectional approach are going to be the biggest obstacles we need to approach." - Allison Turner, summer fellow, Campus Pride
"I think that's probably the hardest part of my work. As director of advocacy with Equality NC, I'm in these spaces and at workshops talking about intersectionality, and I realize that not everybody knows about that stuff, so I've really been charged lately with taking that stuff back to (political LGBT advocacy group) MeckPAC or HRC and really making sure that we advocate for LGBT rights for all folks in our area. As I said at the Charlotte City Council ordinance hearing, noone should have to choose between which issues they want to fight for today. If something happens, I'm impacted all at once with all of those issues. So it's important to make sure we have people of different ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, allies, you name it. I think its important that we stand together because that's how we make an impact." - Richardson
On Charlotte Pride Week
"It's a way for me to celebrate the fact that I'm comfortable with who I am, that my family is comfortable with who I am, and even if that wasn't the case, there's a place for me to do that, and it starts with Pride."
"It's also important from a political standpoint, because it is political whether you see it or not; that the city of Charlotte, particularly the candidates and current elected officials, see the fact that there's going to be 150,000 people downtown on a Sunday. It's pretty hard to do that no matter who you are, and they can't say that we're not here. We're here, we're queer and we're on Tryon and Trade." - Hirschy
"I think it's really important to be able to look around a room and see yourself. It's so empowering to know there are others like you and that certain people aren't judging you for being a part of the LGBT community. All individuals should be able to be who they are. That weekend is our weekend to kind of enjoy."
"I also think it's a great opportunity to get to know individual people for who they are. (The body) is just the shell. You're so much more on the inside and until you take the time to get to know folks and see what issues are really important to them, it's kind of hard to move forward and progress. To the outsider, if you've never been and don't know any gay people and have never been to a pride event, I encourage any and all people just to go and learn about the issues." - Richardson
"Any time that you can get people of like minds together, it always strengthens that community, so having 120,000 or more people come together for this common cause is always pretty empowering to the people who participate." - Boone
"I think the Pride festival and the parade are opportunities (for Campus Pride) to say, 'You know what, we're here.' Just like Bank of America, just like Wells Fargo, we chose Charlotte as our home. I think it's very important to get across that we have this national LGBTQ youth organization that does work with all the area colleges, does work in North Carolina, South Carolina and across the South."
"About 60 percent of our work is southern-based, which is so unique compared to the rest of the LGBTQ movement. So that, personally, is one of my motivations to making sure we have good visibility, because this is our home and we take pride in our home." - Windmeyer
In fall 2014, Jason Boone (grey shirt, pictured with founders of other North Carolina leagues) founded Stonewall Sports Charlotte, an LGBTQ kickball league for people in the greater Charlotte area. By the spring 2015 season, the league had doubled from 120 participants to 240, and Boone is expecting 360 this fall.
This fall will also mark the expansion of Stonewall Sports Charlotte to include volleyball, dodgeball and bowling.
"It shouldn't matter who you are, you should be able to play sports and feel comfortable doing it," Boone said. "We should also constantly be giving back to our community."
Stonewall Charlotte has done just that, donating $5,000 to LGBT youth center Time Out Youth following its first kickball season and another $13,000 following the spring season.
Boone said on the first kickball night a lesbian approached him and began telling him a story that would have him in tears when she finished.
"She was planning to drive almost an hour every week to get here because she needed to be a part of something, and where she lived she couldn't be a part of anything," he said.
After serving as director of advancement for statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality NC in Greensboro for over a year, Matt Hirschy moved back to his hometown of Charlotte at the end of June.
He said he's been amazed at how much the culture has changed in the city since he moved away.
"I was raised privileged in South Charlotte and grew up that way. I can remember very close friends with Confederate flags on the back of their trucks, which at the time was totally normal, but as you start to self-realize and come to terms with who you are and how you want to live your life; and that becomes an open and affirming way to your self identity, it does change your perspective."
Hirschy plans to continue his Equality NC work in Charlotte, working to push for a non-discrimination bill across the state that would add sexuality and gender identity to factors like race and gender that are already protected in the workplace.
He also hopes to spotlight intersectionality and trans rights issues in the community.
Although it's an issue Campus Pride has advocated for for nearly 10 years, the organization recently signed a new petition to add optional questions onto college applications that let a prospective student identify as LGBTQ.
Shane Windmeyer, co-founder of Campus Pride, said the adjustment to the Common Application used by many colleges would help keep schools accountable not only for discrimination in recruiting but also for the existing LGBTQ populace attending the school.
"Young people today should have the choice 0x000Ato share about their identity if they're living openly, so the college can be held accountable and responsible for their academic success," Windmeyer said. "We know in high school, for young people going into college, that LGBTQ people have higher rates of depression, suicide, substance abuse; a lot of health factors that are at risk. If we knew that about any other population of student, we would be concerned about them as they enter college to make sure they have the resources and the academic success that other students do."
Crystal Richardson says that, until recently, she considered her entrance into a life of activism as coming during the passing of Amendment One in North Carolina in 2011, but has recently come to terms with the fact she has been an activist-at-heart since doing community work such as volunteering at Urban Ministry Center as a child in Charlotte.
It was the Amendment One issue, however, that got Richardson to begin actively seeking out issues within the LGBT community to stand and fight for.
"After Amendment One, I went to the Charlotte School of Law and there was a symposium and I remember a light bulb went off," Richardson said.
"I had just graduated and didn't quite know what type of law I wanted to practice, so I was all ears with eyes wide open. There was a panel of women speaking about family life, diversity and justice issues and it was just like (Richardson snaps her finger), 'That's what I want to do.' It just connected. After that day I just worked on finding opportunities to be an activist within the LGBT community."