Why You Should Be Optimistic After Amendment One: A North Carolinian's Perspective

It would perhaps be redundant to say that I was devastated when Amendment One passed on May 8th. After spending the past nine months fighting against the amendment, after organizing rally upon rally, after sacrificing countless hours of sleep working on voter mobilization campaigns, and after walking from Greensboro to Raleigh in protest, there was a part of me that just wanted to be bitter. There was a part of me that wanted to simply give way to the frustration and sadness that naturally follow this kind of defeat. In so many ways, I was tempted to give up on my home state.

But as the weeks have gone on, my attitude has changed profoundly and my sense of defeat has been transfigured into a spirit of pride, compassion, and hope. It may be hard to feel proud, hopeful, and compassionate in the wake of Amendment One, but let me tell you why you should.

In the wake of Amendment One, you should feel proud, and perhaps a feeling of pride is easy to understand. In spite of the outcome of the vote, we can't forget the fact that hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians stood up for equality and justice in our state; we can't disregard the fact that the fight against Amendment One has created a stronger, more robust progressive community; and we can't ignore the pioneering inroads that were drawn in the battle against Amendment One -- the NAACP, countless conservative leaders, and leaders of faith across the state raised their voices for equality. While we have much to mourn, we have so much to be proud of.

So feel proud of yourself, your loved ones, and your community, but don't get so caught up in pride that you can't feel some compassion. I usually keep things secular, but as a born-n'-raised Methodist, I can't help but think that Jesus' simple instruction to love and understand your enemy is more important now than ever. We may be frustrated that there are people in our state who do not stand for the equality of all, but this cannot be a cause for hatred; rather, it must be an inspiration for engagement. What so many of us fail to recognize is that living in a diverse community and being raised in a family that teaches tolerance are privileges that not all people have. So, instead of vilifying individuals who supported Amendment One, we have to move forward seeking a relationship of mutual affirmation with those very people we consider to be our "enemies."

Also, when we look at where support for Amendment One was strongest, we see that the divide was clearly between urban communities and rural communities -- which brings me to another point of compassion. As a state, we must own the fact that the divide between these two types of communities is indicative of a larger problem. In so many ways, North Carolina is failing its rural communities. Rural communities do not have the same access to resources, education, and economic power that urban communities enjoy, and the outpouring of support for Amendment One in rural North Carolina is as indicative of those factors as it is of "ignorance." The outcome of Amendment One doesn't ask us to treat rural communities with contempt. Instead, it challenges us to find policies and strategies that better address the needs of our entire state.

So after Amendment One, you should feel proud and you should feel compassionate, but more than anything, you should feel hopeful about the future of our state. While hopefulness may seem paradoxical on a surface level -- after all, our state did just enshrine discrimination into our constitution by a vote of 61 percent -- it's something that I see plainly as a campus activist. Throughout my anti-amendment activism at Duke University, I was constantly amazed by just how much support I received from my classmates. The numbers alone speak volumes: at both Duke and UNC, 95 percent of students voted against the amendment. Furthermore, Duke Student Government unanimously voted to oppose Amendment One, and Duke College Republicans issued a joint statement with Duke Democrats opposing the amendment. During Duke's "Last Day of Classes" celebration, I even had one student run up to me drunkenly, give me a high five, and yell, "I voted for Mitt Romney and against Amendment One!" Clearly, something is changing in our country.

To me, the vast support for Amendment One is indicative not of the strength of conservative communities, but of the success of the LGBTQ rights movement more generally. Why did so many conservatives show up to the polls? They showed up because they are on the defensive. They showed up because, in their heart of hearts, they realize that they have already lost. What is made abundantly clear by the preferences of young voters is that the future belongs to equality. As a nation, as a state, and as local communities, we are inevitably becoming a world where LGBTQ people will see full legal equality. And although it didn't happen on May 8th, we have every cause to be hopeful -- because my generation will make it happen way before any of us can pay off our college loans.