Dear LGBT Community:
My name is Melissa Edmondson.
Last week, I was invited to speak at a GOP meeting in my small area to give an opposing opinion on North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law. Why me? Good question. I have no idea.
I am a progressive independent who tends to lean pretty far to the left – the last person you’d expect to be a keynote speaker at a GOP meeting. But there I was, nonetheless. The Republican party chairman, in what I think was a brilliant, heartfelt move, decided that we are a better community when we hear what one another has to say. And he chose me to deliver that message.
Does he regret his decision? I wonder.
I’ve gotten many responses since the meeting, both good and bad. (If you’d like to read the news articles about how it went, you can click here and here. And then a later report about the republican party itself and their standing after the meeting: here.)
The “bad” responses I’ve received generally involve the possibility that I might lose my job or lose business for my employer. He and I have both received those comments from people in our community. Yes, I know this sound ludicrous to some of you who may be reading this while in other areas. But trust me, this is Ashe County, North Carolina, and this is a very real thing here. If you do not fall in the majority with your beliefs, you are practically nonexistent (or some will try to see to it that you are). So far, however, I’m still at my job. Even a heathen like me can still whip up a few real estate closings here and there.
But, honestly, I want to tell you about the other responses. It’s the “good” ones that have bothered me most.
I keep getting told what a “hero” I am. How “brave” I am. How much courage it took to get up in front of all of those people to speak like I did. And every time I hear those words, I feel a sadness that I have had trouble explaining.
At first, I told myself I was just being silly. Maybe I’m just one of those people who gets embarrassed by compliments. Maybe I need to learn to accept them more graciously and have a little more faith in myself. Maybe it was just a self-esteem thing – maybe I needed to be proud of myself.
But no. That’s not it. Not at all.
The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize what’s wrong. I am accepting misplaced credit.
I am not the brave one. You are.
I am a writer; a talker. Speaking my mind is something that comes naturally to me. Sure, it’s a bit easier to speak to people who share my beliefs, but the fact that the room was full of people who didn’t share those beliefs didn’t bother me. When you truly believe that what you are saying is the truth, you don’t care who you are speaking to. You are speaking because you know it needs to be heard. Yes, public speaking is hard. Terrifying even. And if you want to pat me on the back for speaking in front of people, okay. I’ll take that. Because I was scared out of my mind. (I just recently read a James Patterson book entitled “I Funny” which was aimed at middle-schoolers. One of the chapters was entitled “Public Speaking: Or As It Should Be Called – Public Execution). Yes, I was terrified. But not because of what I was saying. I had absolute faith in what I was saying. It was just your normal run-of-the-mill fear of public speaking. Most of us have it.
So, yes. Yay me. I overcame a public speaking fear. Big whoop.
But bravery? HA! No, that is not bravery. What you do everyday is bravery. Especially if you live here.
Although the world is slowly adapting to one that accepts you as you are, change is very slowly arriving to our little area. In some places, change hasn’t arrived at all. You have to live your life as a lie. You have to pretend to be someone you’re not.
Me? Brave? Any time a major event happens between my husband and me, I share it all over Facebook. Pictures of us holding hands. Snuggling. I get to hear the ooohs and ahhhs and bask in the lovey-doveyness of it all. What do you get to do? Hide. You can’t post pictures like that or even hold your loved one’s hand in public. You have to hide behind the veneer of what is ‘allowed.’
You are the brave ones.
Me? Brave? I can walk into any restaurant or store and know that I can shop and dine and not have to wonder if I’m going to be asked (or told) to leave. I don’t have to wonder if this is a safe spot for me to be in and wonder if the person behind the counter is going to treat me the same as others. There is no reason they shouldn’t. I’m just standing here being heterosexual, why should they treat me any different? You, on the other hand? I can’t imagine what must go through your mind every time you walk into an establishment in this narrow-minded area that time has forgotten to visit.
You are the brave ones.
Me? Brave? I can go to the bathroom, for God’s sake. If I need to pee in public, I go to the friggin bathroom. There’s no question. There’s no hesitation. There’s no looking behind me to see if I’m going to be arrested. There’s no feeling I’m doing anything “wrong.” I go pee and I leave. I don’t give it a second thought. Some of you? I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around how hard this must be for you.
You are the brave ones.
Please accept my apology. Please accept my apology for taking the compliments and the praise that should be directed at you. You are the brave ones. You are the heroes. You are the courageous.
Yes, I spoke on your behalf. But I am not you. I don’t understand, and can’t begin to fully understand no matter how hard I try. I am sorry that it was me up there speaking on your behalf, and not you able to tell your story. I was the one that was welcomed into the “lion’s den” as one reporter referred to it.
Would you have been?
Somehow I don’t think so.
Did those people hear me? Was it worth it? I don’t want to be pessimistic here, but honestly I don’t think so. But to tell you the truth, I don’t really care.
They weren’t the ones I was targeting. You were.
Please know that you have friends. Please know that there are more out here than just me. Please know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot. You are fighting one of the bravest fights there is to fight – the fight for equality. You are the heroes, friends. Not me.
They may not have heard me, but I hope you did.