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Why You Shouldn't Boycott North Carolina

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Since Amendment 1's passage in North Carolina, I've heard too much about efforts to boycott our state. While I understand that this is a natural response to the passage of such a discriminatory act, one that targets innocent North Carolinians for the worst of reasons, misunderstanding and bigotry, I'm asking everyone to take a deep breath.

The Southern LGBT community has a lot to be proud of and deserves credit for the leadership we've provided to our region. North Carolina was the first Southern state to elect an openly gay elected official, and we were the last to adopt this sort of amendment. Our state stood fast against the marriage-amendment movement for 16 years. In fact, before North Carolina even considered this amendment, three fifths of the country had already adopted it, including the liberal bastions of Hawaii, California, and Oregon. While I had hoped that we would been the first state in the country to defeat a marriage amendment, I remain extremely proud to have stood with an extraordinary group of activists, elected officials, businesses, and families who worked diligently against it these last eight months. When your amendments passed, we cried with you. When your marriage laws were enacted, we celebrated with you. Now, while North Carolina's LGBT community is suffering from this difficult loss, we deserve the same support and solidarity we provided you; we do not deserve your enmity.

Across North Carolina, our cities, our centers of higher education, and our mountain and Outer Banks vacation destinations all rejected this amendment. Here in Orange County the marriage amendment lost, with 80 percent against it and 20 percent in favor of it. In Chapel Hill, where I serve as mayor, the amendment failed even more spectacularly: 86 percent to 14 percent. Statewide, the LGBT community and our allies fought hard. The Coalition to Protect All NC Families, Equality NC, churches, synagogues, student organizers, and even my mother worked tenaciously to defeat this amendment. They did an admirable job. Together we canvassed, phone-banked, gave speeches, educated, put out signs, didn't sleep, and always believed. Thousands of individual North Carolina donors contributed to the effort. However, on Election Day, as polls have noted, too many North Carolinians still didn't understand what this amendment would ultimately do, and so we lost.

While winning eight out of hundred counties may not seem like much, it is important to recognize that the Great Eight (Buncombe, Chatham, Dare, Durham, Mecklenburg, Orange, Wake, and Watauga) are also home to what Americans love most about North Carolina. These counties include the cities of Asheville, Pittsboro, Cape Hatteras, Durham, Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Boone. These eight counties represent about 28 percent of the state's population and are centers of education, the arts, business innovation, technology, and tourism. Even in counties where the amendment passed, like Guilford, New Hanover, and Forsyth, their county seats -- Greensboro, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem -- soundly defeated it. Now, more than ever, the North Carolina LGBT community needs to know from you that the work we've done fighting this amendment and creating these wonderful places is acknowledged by our friends from elsewhere.

Our LGBT community wants what everyone wants: equal protection under the law. Without protections, our rights to visit our loved ones in the hospital, protect our children, and manage our personal assets are at risk, and in some cases have led to suffering and traumatic outcomes. We need your support to convince the rest of North Carolina that these issues are important and that equality is the only solution.

End this talk of boycott. Visit North Carolina, and help us have the conversations necessary to move this state forward. None of us can do this alone.

Mark Kleinschmidt is the first openly gay mayor of Chapel Hill, N.C.