Moving the Movement Forward: The North Carolina Way
This presentation was supposed to tell us about how NC is going to blossom, how a Southern state under siege can become the region’s leader (and a nation’s blueprint) for the next phase of the LGBT rights and justice movement. And we to whom this message would be delivered have all groaned at the passage of Amendment 1 to the NC Constitution (the anti-gay marriage amendment), by a margin of 61% to 39%. We have watched the Legislature pass a range of severely ideological bills, not to mention make Jesus Christ the State Savior, (right up there beside the state marsupial–the Virginia possum–as well as six other new state symbols).
Prospects for equality in the state do not look particularly rosy. What do we have to give us any hope at all for the future?
Enter one Jen Jones, Communications Director for Equality NC since March 2011, our presenter on January 19, 2014. A native of eastern North Carolina (Morganton), Jen got her undergraduate degree from UNC at Chapel Hill and a law degree from NC Central University (out since she was 15, at these places she was the only lesbian she knew of). She has lived in Chapel Hill for 20 years (including a period where she starved as a publicist and kangaroo for UNC-TV).
Jen actually knew little about the LGBT movement before coming to Equality. Once there she played a key role in the campaign against Amendment One as the Protect All NC Families Communications Director; she also created the RACE TO THE BALLOT–a voter engagement effort that led to her actually running 322 miles across the state to focus attention on the harms of the constitutional ban on marriage equality. For these (and other) efforts, she has received a lot of awards, most recently our LGBT Center’s Community Impact Award.
What better person to share a vision for guiding our path forward into a truly egalitarian world?
Recently married in Washington, DC, Jen noted that it is becoming fairly obvious that getting marriage equality is really just a matter of time. The Amendment 1 struggle and massive defeat, however, made it clear that, without a visible LGBT community, there was no hope. And before this is possible, people’s jobs have to be secure.
So many non-gays don’t see that there is a discrimination problem, and they may even believe that there are laws in place to prevent it--but they are wrong. Federal workers have protection, but no others. British mathematician Alan Turing, whose efforts were crucial to victory in World War II, was subjected to chemical castration and eventually committed suicide. Astrophysicist Frank Kameny was fired. Employers especially get rid of easily replaceable workers. Clear standards for hiring, firing, and promotions are needed (without criteria, you can’t enforce the law).
Meanwhile, anti-gay discrimination not only is legal in NC but also is seen as being widespread. And in that climate, students face the rude awakening that, to get jobs, they will have to go back into the closet once they graduate. In those states that have accepted gay marriage, employment non-discrimination has always preceded the successful marriage vote. Equality NC has adopted a strategy that focuses on employment non-discrimination first.
Fortunately, two polls, one from small business and another from people in general have shown that 64% and 73% oppose discrimination. A bill to provide non-discrimination protection has been proposed in the Legislature for years. This same proposal has gone nowhere this year too, though work with the Legislature continues. On the other hand, NC actually has 18 communities with protections for gay and lesbian people (more than Florida or Texas); in fact, on Tuesday the Raleigh City Council decided to pass non-discrimination (so here the effort will shift to extend to transgender workers). We are accomplishing through local communities what the Legislature will not do.
Part of the effort for equality began with local communities in the Race to the Ballot. This effort began in Cullowee, in far western NC. From there the route went up to Bakersville, Mitchell County, the bellybutton between Boone and Asheville. It concentrated on similar places, knowing that people might get upset. There were town hall meeting open to the public, panel discussions, protests, and concern about violence. During that 5-week effort, Jen circled most of North Carolina, traveling 2500+ miles during 75 events in 25 counties that engaged rural, faith, and business communities statewide, raised over $100,000, registered thousands of new voters, and spurred 10,000 North Carolinians to seed 1 million conversations about the Amendment. In November 2011 in Bakersville, two months after Amendment 1 passed, a gay-straight alliance was started there. The anti-gay marriage amendment lost in every precinct they visited in the Race Across the State: the Bakersville pattern. Victory will come in the Bakervilles of NC.
The effort will take several forms.
- One will target the Legislature. Recent bills show fairly clearly that the Legislature doesn’t care about documented need (voter suppression) or logic (limiting sea level rise to 15.6 inches). Visits by Equality to some offices were not successful interactions; meetings with freshman legislators have gone okay.
- Equality will try to shame progressives into doing more. The effort will proceed to other metro areas than the capitol. (prospects seem good in Rocky Mount). Barnstorming in cities and towns will eventually reach a tipping point. The goal will be to double the number of cities/towns in NC that will protect people.
- Equality will open affiliates in local areas across the state.
- We need more victims; no one cares in the General Assembly. People who experience even minimal harassment are needed—visible people, people who are willing to speak out.
- And there is a need for non-victims — the saying is that if you know 7 gay people, you won’t vote against gay rights. Finding somebody local who won’t be fired to speak on a topic is important. As a personal example of what’s needed here, Harry mentioned personally contacting his home church about its decision to disassociate with Boy Scouts because of their new acceptance of gays.
- And we need more people who can get engaged—such as take LGBT people to do service projects in tough areas, such as repair the roof on a church. Applying for a marriage license is a bold step.
Equality isn’t waiting for the fall elections to hope that results are more rational. Efforts will concentrate on the first half of the year. And negative op-eds do more good than harm in all of this.
So, back to marriage equality. Beginning with ENDA, we’ll get to marriage equality. We’ll get it, though it’ll be imposed from above; there are currently 31 law suits in each of 31 district courts. Last December a ban on gay marriage was struck down by a federal judge in Utah, and in mid-January in Oklahoma (both decisions are being appealed to the 10th Circuit court). Other judges are waiting to see where these cases go. And, in the wings, Roy Cooper is looking at a race for Governor (the only AG in the South to come out for gay equality). After all, we are a small minority… with a disposable income. Money talks
So does rightness. Because of Rev. Barber’s efforts, every NAACP in the country is obliged to support gay marriage.
During the Race, one of the guys with a Bible summed up the harm to gay people. He said that, if our legislators knowingly caused so many harms, we need a new Legislature. If maybe we get a new Governor and a similarly gay-friendly AG, we will win sooner.