Outward

I Went to North Carolina to Work for Hillary and Against HB2. Today I’m Sad but Still Hopeful.

Jon Bon Jovi and Hillary Clinton at the Reynolds Coliseum on the campus of North Carolina State University for the final campaign stop before Election Day 2016.

Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images

I am on a plane from North Carolina, heading back to JFK, and it’s raining. Of course. This weekend, and on Monday and Tuesday before the returns started to come in, the weather was perfect. Chill in the sunny mornings, jackets off in the sunny afternoons as my friends and I canvassed and worked events in Raleigh, Wilmington, and various and sundry spots throughout Johnston County, Rocky Mount, and Wilson.

We wanted Hillary to win. We—all activists for transgender issues—wanted Roy Cooper to beat Pat McCrory, the incumbent GOP governor who had ushered in HB2, the law that legalized discrimination against queer people. We came to get the votes; we came knowing we’d win North Carolina.

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It was trans activists doing our specific “let’s make the political scene better” thing. It was rooted in more. I’m a Marylander, currently living in Brooklyn, but my spouse grew up queer in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, through the ’80s and ’90s. Not an easy thing. On our first wedding anniversary back in March, she surprised me with a trip to Wilkesboro. The first stop was her childhood home. We wandered around, and the current owner came out. He was a Pentecostal minister. He warmly let us in, showing us out to the deck my spouse’s dad built; we all marveled. The minister asked if he could pray for us, and he laid on hands and said nice, simple prayers about finding what we were searching for, blessing me in my womanhood. I’m not sure he knew I was a trans woman, but no matter. He was nice, and loving, and we spent the day in Wilkesboro.

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The morning after we landed, I rolled to my side after waking up, looked at the news, and saw that HB2 had passed. I turned to my spouse. “So I can’t use the bathrooms here anymore?” I wondered aloud.

We both live in Brooklyn now, but she knew and mourned the progressive tradition of North Carolina. This is the state of the Woolworth sit-in. This is the state of Terry Sanford, pushing for deep investments in education as governor and senator. This is a Southern state that Obama won in 2008.

In the last few years, there was environmental disaster, real voter suppression, HB2, and the murder of Keith Scott. There was also beautiful protest against the depredations of McCrory and the state legislature through the Moral Mondays movement, Black Lives Matter protests against Scott’s murder, and genuine hope that Hillary would take the state. My trans activist friends were going down there for get-out-the-vote efforts, and the choice seemed simple. I’d join with folks to win for Hillary, take out the man who signed HB2, and celebrate in Wilkesboro again—maybe get a blessing from the Pentecostal minister.

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My trans activist friends and I talked with people who were the conservative establishment’s target for voter suppression. Low-income black and Latino communities—house after house, person after person, canvass after canvass, the people we talked to told us how excited they were to have voted early. A friend and I went to public housing where the lower-floor apartments had been flooded out by the recent hurricane. Some of the residents who were still around weren’t sure where they were registered. My friend figured out polling locations, and we told them about the voting hotlines to call if they were hassled at the polls. They volunteered that they had to stop Trump. “He wants to build a wall to keep out me and my family,” one woman said. “Oh no, we can’t let him win, we can’t,” another woman said. We talked about HB2. One of the women had a trans woman friend. “She should be allowed in the bathroom, you know? We have to get rid of that governor.” She read me as trans, and we all agreed on what we had to do and how to make the country we needed to make. We had a lovely moment, a loving America fighting for racial and economic and gender justice, all together, all hanging out on an apartment staircase in rural North Carolina.

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We didn’t see any GOP canvassers. We drove by a GOP office in a small town, where we saw some dudes hanging out in front during the afternoon, but it was dark when we drove by at the end of our canvassing duties in Sunday. We didn’t see GOP literature on any doors, even though we knew there were Trump supporters around us. At one point, I knocked on the door of an empty house, and a car slowed down next to my canvassing partner and I. The man at the steering wheel looked at us. “She’s not home,” he said, “But I’ll tell ya one thing: She’s votin’ Trump.”

Screw that ominousness. We waited out a line of thousands for a midnight rally with the Clintons in Raleigh on Monday. Tuesday morning and afternoon, we went to Rocky Mount and Wilson. If people hadn’t voted early, they wanted to go to the polls. I knocked on doors, let people know I was asking if they’d vote for Hillary. “We can’t let that man win,” people said. I came upon a white woman who hadn’t voted yet. “I’m a poor woman. He’s a rich white guy who doesn’t give a shit about me. I’m voting for Hillary.” I set up a ride to the polls for her.

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The last spot was Wilson, a part of town with old trailers, a couple of whose windows were reinforced by what looked like plastic wrap. Small black children walked through the street parading a Hillary sign—just doing what made sense for these little kids late in the afternoon on Election Day. I knocked on one door. “It’s too late to vote,” one woman told me. “No it’s not,” I said. “You have till 7:30. Want a ride?” She got a ride. Of course she was for Hillary, she reassured me.

If there were intimidated voters, they didn’t pop up on my canvasses. If people hadn’t already voted, they were ready to and happily took our little Post-it notes with the phone number to call if someone hassled them at the polls. My friends and I left Wilson around 6 p.m. for a few final moments in Raleigh and a victory party. I sent excited texts to all my friends who weren’t doing election work. We have this, I told them. We couldn’t see any sign of GOTV work from the GOP. Sure, one friend said she had never seen a GOP canvasser in any of her canvasses in any of the last few elections. But still.

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As trans people, we won so much through Obama. We got federal protections in education, in health insurance, in military service. We got passports that showed our actual gender, and the ability to correct our Social Security records. We got trans people all through the administration. We got access, we got power, we got material improvements in people’s lives. The administration was making moves against the prison-industrial complex. It was sending the Justice Department to call police departments to account for their abuses against people of color, against the communities they were sworn to serve.

There was no way that Trump could win. The polls were settling toward Hillary. The canvasses went so well. The demographics were on our side. We were making, and had made—with a lot of distance to go, because justice and policy change are long games—the kind of America we knew existed underneath the ever-present ugliness.

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Now my plane descends, back into the clouds, toward JFK. It looks like North Carolina got rid of McCrory—a real victory—but it elected Trump.

The supposedly new blue states, the America we thought we had built, it is here on this too-on-the-nose cloudy day. It’s in some policies and a couple of good politicians here and there, maybe a takedown of HB2. It’s in people who voted when they hadn’t thought they would. Maybe that lasts. Maybe that Pentecostal minister realized that my spouse and I were queer but didn’t care. Maybe he just wanted to bless us no matter what. Maybe progressive North Carolina is still there, and my spouse will rest easy knowing that her home state can do beautiful things for people. Maybe there’s still an America that’s the America I thought existed for the last eight years. Maybe we built some things, and a madman shuts it down, but we’ve been in power, and we’ve won a lot, and we’ll win again and turn it back on. Resistance is mobilized with Black Lives Matter and all that lovers of justice have organized as we lived with higher expectations for freedom under Obama. Queer people, people of color, people in public housing and trailers and large houses alike who turned out for Hillary and Roy Cooper yesterday, the activists from North Carolina and those who came in from all over to canvass, the dream of Obama, the dream of progressive North Carolina and the blue-ing of other parts of the country, the dream of all we’ve won. It is covered in shadow, but it is there.

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