RALEIGH—Tabor Winstead doesn't remember all their names, but he remembers their faces.
"That was my family," he said through watery eyes. "Every Saturday was Latin night at Pulse. I worked lighting at the club. I knew all the faces."
Winstead recently moved to North Carolina and wasn't at Pulse on the night of the massacre, but his heart bleeds for the victims who were savagely gunned down at the gay club where he worked for three happy years.
"It rips me to the core," Winstead told a crowd of wet-cheeked supporters who gathered for a Sunday night vigil in Raleigh. "We have to come together as a nation."
The Orlando nightclub shooting happened 500 miles away from North Carolina, but for the LGBTQ community and its allies here the hate struck close to home. Ten weeks ago, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed into law a discriminatory, anti-LGBT bathroom bill known as HB2, officially ushering in the state's addlebrained era of public toilet tyranny.
The bathroom law, a nasty and transphobic piece of legislation, is based on the false premise that LGBT people are a menace to society. It's a preemptive attack on civil rights that encourages divisiveness and hate, creating a problem rather than responding to one. And as Orlando painfully reminds us, prejudice and hate don't need much encouragement to become violence.
"When you are pushing forward a system based on a culture of hate, what do you expect to happen?" James Miller, executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh told me at Sunday night's vigil.
Many in North Carolina are refusing to take any part in the state-sanctioned discrimination. Businesses in the Research Triangle—especially those in the feisty town of Carrboro—are giving the rest of the state a master lesson in civil disobedience by openly challenging the legitimacy of the bathroom law and the governor himself.
Many businesses have slapped rainbow flag "Safe Space" stickers on their front doors, and a few establishments have even hung posters in the window reading "No Bigots Served," with a picture of Governor McCrory and other leaders of state government. The bathroom signage in Carrboro's Steel String Brewery indicates that their restrooms are "All-Gender," while the urinal splash guards at Tyler's Restaurant & Taproom feature the governor's smiling face for target practice.
The Triangle's resistance to the state's conservative political leadership started long before HB2 was a thing, but the bathroom law introduced a measure of urgency to the fight for LGBTQ rights.
"We were working on Project Safe Space before HB2, but when the law passed we were like, shit, we gotta do this now," says Sarah Shook, a singer/songwriter for a local country band who started the rainbow sticker campaign with fellow musician Erika Libero.
Project Safe Space has since recruited several dozen businesses to adopt the campaign, which has since spread to other cities in the state. The sticker comes with a pledge made by business owners to convert their establishment into a legitimate LGBT safe zone.
"I, the owner/operator of this establishment, hereby pledge to make my business a Safe Space, welcoming, friendly, and respectful to all regardless of race, sexual orientation, or appearance. I further pledge to maintain a properly trained staff to ensure my business is run according to the Safe Space pledge, whether I am physically present and available on the property or not. I offer this pledge being of sound mind and entirely of my own volition." —Business owner's pledge
Shook says she wishes the safe spaces campaign wasn't needed, but we're clearly not there yet. The Orlando nightclub shooting is a deadly reminder that discrimination and violence are still very real threats facing the LGBT community faces every day in this country.
"It's like Nazi Germany, where one group of people is walking around afraid of another group," Shook says. "Hate is taught, it's not instinctive. People need to wake the fuck up."
As for Winstead, the former Pulse employee, he says the best way for the LGBT community in North Carolina and the rest of the country to honor those who were killed in his former nightclub by continuing to spread peace, love and acceptance.
"My message is don't be discouraged, because love will win," he said. "Don't let them stop you from living the life you were born to live, because love always wins."