A law deemed "the most anti-LGBT legislation in the country" is sparking a quiet revolution in conservative North Carolina.
North Carolina recently passed a law that allows businesses to discriminate based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and requires individuals to use the bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex. This leaves the door open for legal discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, and makes it nearly impossible for transgender and queer people to use public restrooms.
Local establishments have started quietly posting messages of support for LGBT patrons. Some post friendly signs outside their establishments while others post memos on the their bathroom doors saying customers can choose which one they want to use.
Others still have taken to social media to air their grievances with the anti-LGBT law. All have the same message: We are a North Carolina business that doesn’t discriminate.
Many shop owners say that welcoming all identities is just business as usual.
"We have designed our whole store to be welcoming to the whole community," Leila Wolfrum, general manager of the Durham Co-op Market, told Revelist. "We wanted to make sure that everyone knows that no matter who they are, they are welcome here."
Other business owners have more personal reasons for airing their support. Jessie Williams, the owner of Edge of Urge clothing, wrote on Instagram that her store is open to all. She told Revelist she knows the pain of feeling like an outsider.
"Growing up I wasn't a skinny, perfect girl…" she said. "I'm just very familiar with what it feels like to not be in the norm, so Edge of Urge is that kind of place that excepts all kinds of people."
Lindsey Ewing, the owner of Sup Dogs restaurant, said she never considered who used bathrooms before the law passed.
"We just want to be welcoming and allow people to be who we are," Ewing told Revelist. "We don't understand why people are so closed-minded about it." She posted a sign on the restaurant's bathroom doors welcoming anybody to either bathroom — as long as they remember to flush the toilet.
By the looks of it, these displays are not going unnoticed.
"Supdogs, as a gender queer individual, this makes things so much easier," a commenter posted on a picture of Sup Dogs’ bathroom sign. "Thank you so much."
The public displays of support moved one former North Carolina resident so much that she created an online directory of the businesses that post them.
Emily Waggoner, whose partner is transgender, told BuzzFeed she was "devastated and depressed" by the law's passage, but inspired by the community outcry. She scoured social media for businesses posting transgender-friendly messages, and reached out via email, Facebook and Twitter to those that didn't. She took her findings and compiled them into an interactive map, which trans visitors can use to find a place to pee in peace.
But the message behind these signs goes farther than bathroom breaks. Rusty Sutton, a Raleigh business owner who has been with his male partner for 26 years, says the posts are a form of protest against an unpopular, unjust law.
"There's so much more to [this law] than just the bathrooms …. Sutton told Revelist. "All it is, is just to discriminate against people that they are scared of."
Fear may be the prevailing theme at the capitol, but the 63 businesses on Waggoner’s list have a different message, which Sutton summed up perfectly.
"No matter who you are, what you are, where you come from, what your gender identity is — It doesn't matter," he told Revelist. "We're all human."