By this point, you’ve probably all heard plenty about Tuesday’s election. About the governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia that went to Republicans, about the loss in Maine that overturned the legislative decision to allow same-sex couples to marry.
There was one piece of news that literally hit home with me on Tuesday–and that was the news that my North Carolina hometown, Chapel Hill, now has an openly gay mayor.
I often talk about what growing up in North Carolina was like for me–how in many ways my public high school experience there was pretty limiting. Being gay was just simply not an option in my teenage world in Chapel Hill. I didn’t know any gay people, at least not any that I could relate with. My peers and I were very focused on dating, and dating boys specifically. I was in the closet for more than three years after leaving home–it took a while to undo some of the socialization of my childhood and meet those queer folks who I did relate to and whose friendship allowed me to explore my own sexuality.
Chapel Hill is an interesting place within North Carolina because in many ways it’s much more liberal than the surrounding cities and regions. Jesse Helms, the well-known and always controversial former Senator representing North Carolina was often quoted for saying:
Why build a zoo when we can just put up a fence around Chapel Hill?
He was referring to the liberalism of my town–but what I’ve come to realize since leaving North Carolina almost eight years ago is that it is, in the end, all relative. Chapel Hill was liberal in comparison to the rest of North Carolina, but particularly for me as a young person there, that didn’t mean too much.
So now, looking back, I wonder if having a gay mayor would have changed things for me growing up. Would it have made me see that being gay was an option, even for a political figure? Would it have opened up my world a little bit?
Maybe not. But after meeting a young person from my high school at a recent presentation and hearing him say that things there haven’t changed so much since I left, I want to hold on to some hope that this could be the catalyst for a new reality for the young lgbtq people growing up in my town.