You know how you still love that one dear old friend even though she's always doing dumb stuff like sleeping with douchebags when there are perfectly nice, kind gentlemen who want to take her out? As of mid-2012, this is how I feel about my beloved, effed-up North Carolina.
I'll start with the most recent disappointing news to come out of NC. Last week, the Republican-controlled State Legislature voted to override Governor Bev Perdue's veto of a budget plan that eliminated financing for Planned Parenthood (La Bev is a Democrat, as if that's a surprise). Here's the New York Times editorial folks on the decision:
If left to stand, the cut in financing would take away roughly $200,000 from Planned Parenthood clinics in the state. It would not reduce the number of abortions (they are not financed by state money) and could actually increase abortions by making affordable contraception less available. What is certain is that women would be hurt, and Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide birth control, cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and other health services for low-income clients would be badly impaired.
Ain't that some shit?
Cuts to Planned Parenthood are particularly burdensome in largely rural states like North Carolina, where women typically have fewer options for healthcare and have to travel farther to see a doctor. For a few months, I volunteered at the state-funded public health clinic in Buncombe County, and I saw firsthand how far low-income rural women had to journey and how long they had to wait just to get basic care for themselves and their children. It sometimes required an astonishing amount of coordination and logistics resulting in hours of time lost from already low-paying jobs. If any or all of North Carolina's nine Planned Parenthood health centers are forced to close because of this new legislative attack, the burden on women and already-overworked state health clinics will be enormous.
This enormous (though honestly not unexpected) blow to women's health comes on the heels of the May passage of stupid-ass Amendment One, which defined a union between one man and one woman as the only legally recognized form of marriage. This in a state full of LGBTQ individuals who are contributing on every imaginable level to the uplift of the community! I've got LGBTQ friends who live in urban and rural settings in North Carolina and who work everywhere from salons to farms to churches to gas stations to (gasp!) schools, by and large doing a kickass job at keeping NC a safe, beautiful place. To see their efforts scorned and their lives disrespected -- well, it puts me in a fighting mood.
Why do I care so much about what goes on in a place I only spent a couple years in way back in the mid-2000s? I fell in love with North Carolina back then and I don't imagine I'll ever fall out of love with it. I'm prone to crying when I make my twice-yearly pilgrimages back to my favorite state. For one thing, it is so very beautiful -- each time I see them, the Blue Ridge Mountains alone break my heart and mend it all at once. Asheville is my favorite city in the world (hence the heart in the tattoo above). I haven't spent any time on the Outer Banks, but I hear it's a gorgeous part of the country (by way of reference, it's a small chain of barrier islands located near the squiggly coastline on the right side of my tattoo).
I'm no NASCAR fan, but I dig Charlotte for its yummy restaurants and its unrelenting friendliness. Plus, how can you disapprove of a place that installs hundreds of white wooden rocking chairs in its airport? You can thank Wilmington for some of your finest television programs, including (but certainly not limited to) the dearly departed "Dawson's Creek." And there's so much fun to be had in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro: art, education, music, sports, shopping, you name it. As for the rest of the state -- well, drop me along any country road and I know I'm not too far from a family farm and a delicious roadside BBQ shack where, if you ask nicely, you can inevitably hear some pretty freaky local ghost stories.
North Carolina's second-greatest treasure -- besides its blessings from Mother Nature -- is its people. Warm, kind, funny, creative and smarter than anyone gives them credit for, North Carolinians are an interesting and diverse bunch. Some people in the South (particularly South Carolinians) will sneer that North Carolina isn't the real South, but it is -- and it's got the bloody, painful history to prove it.
While some places in the state are about as progressive as it gets, North Carolina is home to some haterade-sipping jerks in high places who encourage the prejudice and ignorance evident in these two recent legislative nightmares. But here's why I have hope: there are some very passionate folks fighting the good fight who remain undaunted in the face of these setbacks. I'm thinking specifically of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina and Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Inc., North Carolina's two PP affiliates. You can donate directly to them here -- even a little bit would be much appreciated.
And I'm also thinking of the awesome Campaign for Southern Equality, an organization devoted specifically to obtaining and protecting marriage rights for the LGBTQ community (full disclosure: the executive director is my kickass former college professor, the Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara. It's more of a brag than a full disclosure, actually.)
When I hear people talk about North Carolina as a backward, cousin-marrying state full of ignoramuses, I remember the proud North Carolinians who are fighting day by day to make the state an even better place to live and work. And then I remember why I fell in love in the first place.