On April 24, I participated in a peaceful, silent protest in Ashe County, North Carolina.
This is me:
Note that you don’t see my face in this picture.
I’ll come back to that. First, let me pause here and tell you about my life for the past few days.
Right now, it’s 1:30 a.m. My husband is trying to sleep beside me and I’m still lying awake after having cried my eyes out for the past few hours. Here’s why.
Hours ago, following two days full of verbal attacks and name-calling, I received a public notification on my facebook page that contained a hurtful, harmful comment about my child.
When I joined in this silent protest, I joined for two reasons. The first was that a staggering amount of money was used in taxpayer funds to place “In God We Trust” on a courthouse in one of, if not the, poorest counties in North Carolina. Regardless of my religious affiliation, I could not sit idly by and watch as funds went into a boastful display of Christianity on a public building while my neighbors in this county are going without food and a place to sleep. I wanted to do something about it. After a conversation with a Christian who didn’t mind the letters being on the courthouse, we realized that were more alike than we thought. While one of us was fine with it and the other was not, we could agree on the fact that the funds could have and should have been spent in more needed areas. Together, we developed a fundraiser called Agreeable Disagreers. Our goal was to collect the amount of money back that was used on this sign and put it back into the community where we felt it was needed most.
My second reason for joining the protest was that I believe in humanity. In diversity. In inclusion. Just the same as the speech I gave against HB2 last week in this small conservative community, I felt it was important to speak up for the minority. For the people who did not believe in the Christian God. Was I one of them? No. Just like I wasn’t a member of the LGBT community when I gave the speech, I was also not a “non-Christian.” I was just speaking on their behalf.
Now I wonder what I’ve done.
My life, and the life of the photographer who envisioned this protest, have been nothing but a living hell for the past few days. We have been called every name you can think of. We have been threatened. We have been told to get out of town. We have been called attention-seekers and cowards in the same breath.
All in the name of God.
But we kept going. We kept moving because we felt it was worth it. We felt the stares in public (real or imagined? we didn’t know) and feared the backlash. We were told by “well-meaning” friends (ha!) to worry about things such as our jobs and our standings with our hobbies and interests in the area. We were told both blatantly and subtly to shut up.
But we didn’t.
I was attacked by a “Christian” who was the recipient of my help a few Christmases ago. He and his girlfriend needed help providing presents for their children at Christmas because of their financial situation. Without knowing this man at all, I rallied the troops and my husband and I showed up at their home a few days before Christmas with a truck and carload full of presents for their four children. I’m not telling you this story to tell you what I did. I’m telling you this to tell you what he did. In the name of his God, he accused me of being someone who would go to hell because of participating in this protest. Me. The person who provided a Christmas for his family.
And he did this all in the name of God.
And then, to add to everything, tonight happened.
Tonight, someone brought my child into it. They told me that my child and I were going to hell. Yes, they told a mother than her child was going to hell. Along with also posting private information about her and her previous school.
And then you know what else? In my fury and rage while conveying the events to members of my family, they sided with this person. They said that I shouldn’t be doing all of this. That I started it.
I am beat up. I am tired. I am defeated.
Is it temporary? I don’t know.
I started this peaceful protest as a person who believed in love. Who believed that love would win in the end. A person who believed in tolerance. In compassion. I was a Christian who believed that everyone had the right and privilege to live in this beautiful America and be whomever they wanted to be.
This was me. Three days ago. A Christian who believed in kindness.
I respectfully apologize for being in that picture holding that sign. I no longer believe in kindness. I no longer believe in anything.
And I will never call myself a Christian again. I wouldn’t stoop that low.
My face was hidden in that picture because I live in an area where I would be blasted and condemned for taking a stand like this. This photo and the others were symbolic of what it’s like to have to hide your voice in a land of bullies. But it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m turning around.
My name is Melissa. That was me in that picture.
But it’s not anymore.