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Athlete returns to North Carolina to educate lawmakers on HB2 and LGBT equality

Ashley Dai returned to North Carolina, where she played tennis for UNC, to team up with Equality North Carolina, HRC and Jason Collins to talk with lawmakers about repealing HB2.

Former UNC tennis player Ashley Dai teamed up with a slightly taller Jason Collins to talk about LGBT equality and HB2 in North Carolina.

As I flew into Raleigh-Durham on my early morning flight, I popped open my window to something I hadn’t seen in a couple of months: an expanse of gorgeous, luscious green trees. A feeling of nostalgia and comfort wrapped around me when I looked upon the place I had called home for four years.

Two days prior I had no plans to return to North Carolina until next spring. It was only when Outsports co-founder Cyd Zeigler asked if I could be in Raleigh at 10am on Wednesday, Oct. 12, that the ball began to roll.

He hadn’t realized that I had moved to New York City for my graduate studies, so it really wasn’t such an absurd request on his end. Although my initial answer was no, my failure to recruit a replacement to join the panel discussion joining Jason Collins at a community discussion with lawmakers about the anti-LGBT HB2 law made me do a double take.

After going back and forth all of Tuesday, I finally decided to go as I knew I would be filled with regret if I didn’t. It was an opportunity not only to be amongst others who were greatly invested in the effects of HB2 and our state’s well-being in general, but it was a chance to chime in from the perspective of a student athlete. Even if I am retired now.

I thought it was important to share with the community the toll that HB2 has taken, particularly within athletics in North Carolina.

The Carolina I wore across my chest in the most beautiful shade of blue seemed a little itchier to wear at times – and I hated that feeling.

But seeing the support that the North Carolinian LGBTQ community has received over the past few months has been so invigorating. When the NBA decided to pull the All-Star game out of Charlotte, I thought that there would definitely be some major changes with the discriminatory bill.

Yet the changes made were trivial.

When the NCAA took a strong stance by pulling championship events out of North Carolina I again thought that those who held office in Raleigh would get the message.

But still, nothing happened.

Finally, when the ACC followed the NCAA and decided to move its championships out of the Tar Heel State, I still had some hope that this would be the final straw. I thought state lawmakers would have to do something now that North Carolina’s beloved sports events were being stripped away.

Nope. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

It’s absurdly sad that such measures have to be taken in an effort to repeal a hateful bill that cannot even be regulated and is simultaneously seriously damaging the state’s economy. Personally, I wholeheartedly believe that the NBA, NCAA and ACC made the right call. Nonetheless, it’s still bittersweet.

Since the ACC Tennis Championships have been hosted in Cary, N.C., for as long as I can remember, the ACC’s decision has impacted my teammates and coaches as well. I told my teammates that it’s a shame that they can’t defend our title in Cary, but I know they will go win it wherever else it’s hosted.

Nonetheless, playing at Cary was like playing at home. We were able to drive back to Chapel Hill when matches were over, sleep in our own beds and eat at our favorite local restaurants. Best of all: Our fans easily made it to the matches to support us. The ACC tennis championship was always a special time of the year in a special place.

Thanks to the HB2, that won’t happen there again anytime soon. It’s been taken away because of a bill that has no place in our state — or anywhere for that matter.

I’m sure many other student-athletes are feeling how unjust it is that they’re being punished for something that they’ve taken no part in. It makes my stomach turn and my heart heavy to see North Carolina depicted as such because of a bill pushed forward by the state’s Republican party and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

These are the thoughts shared at our discussion last Wednesday at the LGBT Center of Raleigh. Hearing from other phenomenal advocates was extremely encouraging. From Jason Collins serving as a surrogate for the Clinton Campaign to Mayor Nancy Vaughn of Greensboro to State Representative Chris Sgro, everyone had incredible insight and input. It’s safe to say that we all agreed that HB2 has gone on for far too long and has caused way too much damage for no good reason.

At times I felt very out of place sitting amongst such outstanding advocates and thus was incredibly honored to be able to share what I could about the effects HB2 has had on the athletic community as well as at UNC. Furthermore, it was very reassuring to hear that others feel as I do. Which is that HB2 is not an accurate representation of North Carolina, that there is much to love about the Tar Heel State and that we will always be proud North Carolinians who will fight for equality and justice.

As my trip came to an end I found myself with my tennis shoes back on, Carolina in Carolina Blue across my chest, hitting on my home courts with the people who have become my family. I realize now more than ever that Chapel Hill will always be home, a place where I belong and that “unwelcome” is a non-existent word there because HB2 is only a speck of dust in the vastly wondrous place that is North Carolina. And that wherever I go, I will always have Carolina and all its good people in my mind.

You can find Ashley Dai on Facebook. Plus find her on Instagram and on Twitter @SmashInDaiHouse. You can also read her coming-out story here.