Equality NC is one of many examples of the incredible folks who make the hygge fam what it is. We’re fond of saying that we’re just space, which is pretty boring. It’s the people who fill our spaces that make us what we are. And the Equality NC team are some of the coolest we know.
Equality NC has a team spread throughout the state – we’re simply home to their Charlotte team, including Rebby Kern, Director of Education Policy at Equality NC and a long time friend of the hygge team’s. They moved in several months ago and have had several of their teammates and fellows work out of their office since.
Equality NC is the parent organization of Equality NC Foundation and NC Pride Political Action Committee. Their work throughout the state focuses on lobbying and advocating for equitable access and equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. The work they do is imperative and all-consuming. We wanted to learn a bit more about the intricacies of their mission as well as how they take care of themselves as a team to continue to fight for basic rights.
We know Equality NC does a lot. What are some of your primary focuses right now?
After the busy weeks leading up to the midterm election, much of our focus is on recharging and planning for 2023. It’s a critical moment for LGBTQ youth in K-12 schools across the country, and we see many of these trends, both positive and negative, reflected in North Carolina communities. We’re pushing for better training for educators and school staff on LGBTQ+ issues, fighting school board campaigns that would ban books with positive representations of LGBTQ people, and protecting transgender students’ rights to feel safe at school and play on sports teams. In the coming months, we’ll be tracking school board meetings across the state and helping to advance local protections for LGBTQ students.
Equality NC is also hosting our largest ever Rural Youth Empowerment (RYE) Fellowship cohort in 2023 – a group of eight young LGBTQ people between the ages of 18 to 26 in rural communities across North Carolina. We will be supporting RYE Fellows to lead their own community based advocacy projects and engage in our broader organizing work.
Fighting for equity for all can be disheartening work sometimes with all the uphill battles you’re fighting. How do you and your team stay passionate and prevent burnout?
At Equality NC, many of our staff and loved ones are LGBTQ and people of color, meaning that when we show up to fight against attacks on our communities, it’s not just work on the line – it’s our ability to live full lives and be safe from harm that is at stake. So, self care is a big part of the work that we do, both amongst ourselves and in the programs we design. We all try to do things that keep us grounded in our free time, and invest in regular time to rest and recharge when needed. Brennan (they/them), our Education Policy Associate, moonlights as a dog walker, and Rebby leads race and equity work within yoga and wellness (which you can check out here).
We also find that working with youth and students is an incredible opportunity to re- energize and find new creative ways to run our programs – there’s nothing like watching our interns make TikTok videos on social justice issues to help our team laugh and feel
curious about how we can share more dynamic, positive stories about LGBTQ people.
What’s something you and your team are most proud of achieving this year?
Earlier this year, our team helped to defeat House Bill 755, also known as North Carolina’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. The legislation would have targeted LGBTQ youth and families, and limited educators’ ability to share factual and age-appropriate information about LGBTQ identity with students. Through the hard work of our team and an incredible community of parents, young people, and school staff, we raised awareness about the harm this bill would cause and blocked it from progressing in the legislature.
Equality NC also endorsed 109 candidates that were on the ballot on Election Day, and 80 of those candidates won – a total of 73% of our endorsed folks. In North Carolina, 7 openly LGBTQ+ candidates won their races, a trend echoed across the U.S. by a record- breaking number of LGBTQ+ people running for office and winning on November 11th.
Our Education Policy team has been working hard to support our endorsed school board candidates across the state, including staffing polling locations on Election Day to advocate for the election of pro-equality school board candidates. We’re proud to share that in Wake and Mecklenburg County, 8 of our endorsed candidates were elected to serve on school boards, including Tyler Swanson (Wake D9), Summer Nunn (Mecklenburg D6), and Stephanie Sneed (Mecklenburg D4).
In light of growing conservative attacks on our K-12 public schools, particularly against transgender and gender non-conforming children, we are proud to work with pro-equality school board members in 2023 to uphold and expand protections for our most vulnerable youth.
What are your organization’s greatest needs? How can others get involved?
Listen, this work isn’t free! Equality NC is deeply appreciative of folks who can contribute to our ongoing efforts by donating, even if it’s just a few dollars. We always, always need folks who can share their time and talents with us by signing up to volunteer in Charlotte and across the state. Like so many LGBTQ organizations across the South, Equality NC has a small staff and
we rely on volunteers to help us reach our community at Pride events, register voters, and mobilize folks to speak up against injustice. We would love for you to join us.