After spending some time in the Smoky Mountains, my friend Kathy suggested Asheville, North Carolina for the scenery, a tour of the Biltmore Mansion, a community of arts and artists, and good restaurants. I was reluctant to spend time and tourist dollars in North Carolina because of House Bill 2, passed by the North Carolina General assembly in March 2016. Along with requiring that people use restrooms in accordance with the gender listed on their birth certificates, this state law overrode a nondiscrimination ordinance passed in Charlotte on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning people, and it also enacted a new state-wide policy of non-discrimination in public accommodations that did not include LGBTQ individuals. Any person who believed that he or she had been discriminated against due to sexuality in North Carolina had no recourse in North Carolina courts. In direct response to this law, many performers like Bruce Springsteen refused to tour in North Carolina. Federal funds are being withheld from state institutions. National sporting events are being relocated out of state. Recently the state of California passed a law that no government or state travel or meetings will be allowed or funded in North Carolina.
As I drove to Asheville, a song by Cole Porter kept running through my head: “Why Can’t You Behave?” Come on, North Carolina! It breaks my Constitution-loving heart to think that any group of persons is not afforded the same protections and rights as everyone else in the state of North Carolina. The lawyer in me is particularly offended. But, I chose not to boycott the state; when I started this journey over a year ago, I vowed to see the entire country – good, bad, indifferent, or ugly. And, there are plenty of people in North Carolina who do not agree with their lawmakers who will suffer economically if the boycott continues.
The town of Asheville is a welcoming place, and one would never really know about the controversy in Raleigh. Asheville is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, steeped in history, and historically a place to restore health and vitality. Southerners coexist with the multiply-pierced and tattooed and foodies and students and young and old and yes – LGBTQ folks as well. Biltmore, the Georgia Vanderbilt masterpiece built in the late 1800s, is grand.
Some restaurants were fresh and innovative, although I must admit I preferred the food in Charleston (the exception – Nightbell by Chef Katie Button – go there!). The art deco buildings of the era are lovely, but not South Beach-y.
Yet, the whole time I was there, I had this uneasy vibe. It’s like the feeling when something is stuck between your teeth – annoying and ever present in the mind. I did not find it reassuring, for example, to drive on parkways named for Evangelical Christians. I prefer a little more separation between church and state.
I don’t think I can return to North Carolina until this is all sorted out. By “sorted out,” I mean repeal – not little amendments here and there or the use of existing or newly-enacted federal laws to nullify this travesty. Ideas are like people; when they get old, they die. The times, they are a-changing. I’m looking forward to that. I’d like to see Charlotte someday.