When the Fight’s at your Doorstep: On the Front Lines of LGBT Life in North Carolina

Keshet recently sat down with James Miller, the Executive Director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh. North Carolina has recently been at the center of debates surrounding “bathroom bills.” James took a few minutes out of his busy schedule (OUTraleigh is just around the corner) to chat with us about his world as a Southern, Jewish, gay man.

Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is James Miller, and I’m the Executive Director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh. A fun random fact about myself: I use gardening to relieve stress.
 
What motivates you to do the work that you do?
When I was younger, I lost two very important people in my life to suicide. These two people were my chosen family after I had come out of the closet in Wilmington, North Carolina. In everything from culture, to art, to history, these two men created a safe space for me to grow and to come into my own.
 
Unfortunately, one tested positive for HIV and decided to take his life. The next day, the grief overtook my other friend and he also chose suicide. To this day, I still hold myself partially responsible for not being there for them. The work goes on; each community has their fight, but I dedicated myself to challenging stigma when and where ever encountered. Access to mental health services, educating individuals on HIV and STI’s, elevating the voices of the oppressed… these have been my fights.
 
How has the recent political climate of North Carolina impacted your work?
The storm has been brewing for many years now. Gerrymandered districts and extreme conservative voices have led the state I love into the Dark Ages. I chose to move back here five years ago to fight this oppression, to fight for the state I hold dear. Calls to the LGBT Center of Raleigh’s crisis line, since HB2, has increased eight-fold. Our walk-ins have easily doubled.
 
Our job in this State is to educate and elevate the voices of trans individuals and people of color as they are the ones being scapegoated at the legislature.
 
We’re not a political organization, but this legislation has truly brought the fight to our doorstep. And while I love the activism/leadership being created, I hate to think that it is being created on the backs of those who are the most subjugated in our community.
 
If you could time travel, what words of wisdom would you pass on to James of 15 years ago?
Two very specific things:
1. “Get out of the closet… its dark in there.”
2. “You CANNOT save everyone.” It is a lesson I have to relearn every few months here. We lose someone in our community fairly regularly and every time it breaks my heart.

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