Featured photo: (L-R) Brianna May and Kasey Mayfield were denied service at Warehouse on Ivy in Winston-Salem last year because they are gay. Now, they’re speaking out to raise awareness for equality. (courtesy photo)

by Kasey Mayfield

Nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic that has devastated so many families, kept loved ones separated and thrown an exhausting damper on any semblance of a social life, my fiancé Brianna and I decided to cheer ourselves up by diving into something that was supposed to be light and fun: wedding planning. But within a few days of searching for venues near our hometown of Winston-Salem, we discovered that this dreadful period had additional challenges in store.

One of the first venues in which we expressed responded to my initial query by asking for more information: How large will the wedding be? What dates did we have in mind? And this one: What’s the groom’s name?

I responded that my fiancé is another bride, that her name is Brianna. And within a few hours, we received a brusque reply: “We do not host same-sex marriages.”

Reading the letter felt like a punch in the gut: Same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in North Carolina for almost seven years, since before Brianna and I had even met. But anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment still plagues so much of our state. 

It felt painful to be denied service because of who we are. As Brianna and I talked it over and did more research, we realized that what happened to us was just the tip of the iceberg of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination. Every year, LGBTQ+ people experience discrimination in so many areas of life: People are fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, kicked out of restaurants, denied care from medical providers and turned away from businesses because of their sexual orientation or gender identity every day. A 2020 study found that 1 in 3 LGBTQ people — including 3 in 5 transgender people – experienced discrimination in the past year alone. 

All of this is able to happen because North Carolina, like many states, does not have statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people; these protections don’t exist at the federal level either. Here in NC, the responsibility has fallen upon local leaders to pass inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, and a half-dozen, including Greensboro, so far have done the right thing. Now, it’s time for the Winston-Salem City Council to follow suit by listening to the hundreds of constituents who have raised the issue through the NC is Ready campaign, and passing protections, too. 

Brianna and I were left vulnerable to discrimination and couldn’t do anything to stop it from happening again — and sure enough, after the venue turned us away, we heard from another gay couple whose contract was also canceled from the same venue just a few weeks before their wedding.

In spite of our negative experience with this business, we know that Winston-Salem is rapidly evolving, with residents opening their hearts and minds to LGBTQ+ people. And we’re proud to be a part of that change. Last year, shortly after we hung a rainbow flag outside our house, we received a letter from a young queer person in the city who wanted us to know that seeing the flag meant so much to her, inspiring greater courage and confidence. We had enough of an impact that she remembered our address while driving by — and that was just a mindless act of decoration. 

Think what we can do as a community if we actually worked with intention and compassion to make a difference. How much safer and more welcome would LGBTQ+ people feel if our city council passed a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance? How much more affirmed would we be if our US senators, such as Richard Burr, voted for the Equality Act to enact these protections federally? The positive outcomes of these policy victories would be immeasurable. 

Brianna and I want our city to be a part of the momentum that LGBTQ+ North Carolinians are feeling across the state as ordinance after ordinance pass with unanimous support. We want to ensure that no LGBTQ+ person is made to feel the way we felt while opening that rejection email. We want to see our elected officials — both locally and in the US Senate — come together at last and vote to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. It’s time for action. 

Kasey Mayfield lives with her fiancé Brianna May in Winston-Salem.

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