Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pastor’s Message God Showed Us

By Rev. Susan Smith

[Article featured in Rev. Smith's weekly column for The County News, a newspaper reaching Caldwell, Catawba, Rowan, Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties, on the recent faith press conference sponsored by Equality NC.]

Acts 10:27-28 (NIV)

“While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”

Last week I was invited to join other faith leaders from across the state at a press conference in Raleigh to stand together in opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act which would prohibit all forms of legal relationship recognition for gay and lesbian couples. We were from different denominations and faith traditions, serving the one God who is in all, and through all.

Faith-based condemnation against gay and lesbian people is at the root of the legalized discrimination they face in our country today. Those who quote scriptures chapter and verse continue to rail against the growing demands for full and equal civil rights for gay, lesbian, bi- sexual, transgender, and questioning people. “We cannot allow them to marry because we are standing on the word of God!” say those who are fighting to stop them.

The case to deny full and equal civil rights to others based on religious arguments is an old one. Standing on the word of God was used to justify and defend slavery, deny women the civil right to vote, and deny people of different races the civil right to marry. Scripture was used to justify and defend segregation. The KKK holds Bibles in their hands while they burn crosses. It is a tragedy that the good news of Jesus Christ has been such bad news historically in the struggle for full and equal civil rights for all of God’s children.

In Acts 10, Peter was a Jew called to a Gentile’s house by God. His faith tradition required him to reject them as unequal, but God gave him a revelation that expanded his spiritual consciousness. He said to them, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.”

So it is today with faith leaders who have had a revelation about sexual orientation. Science has proven conclusively that it is seated in the brain, not the genitals. People do not choose minority sexual orientations to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning. They have the same normal desires for family and marriage as heterosexuals.

Marriage in America is a civil right giving legal protections for committed couples in important areas such as family law, insurance coverage, property ownership and much more.

In the landmark 1967 civil rights case Loving v. Virginia; the United States Supreme Court unanimously decided that the State of Virginia denying marriage between people solely on the basis of racial classifications violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I believe that the civil rights movement for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and questioning people is moving in the same direction, and will be won for the same reasons. People of faith may continue to be divided on this for a long time. Some still use religious arguments to condemn interracial marriage, but they cannot deny the civil right of marriage to interracial couples.

Just like Peter, many faith leaders today have had a revelation. God has shown us that gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and questioning people are his children, and that we need to accept them as equals before God just like Peter did with the Gentiles. Humanity is advancing, and our God consciousness is expanding. Faith leaders who do not agree will sooner or later have to accept their civil right to marry.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Not Exactly the Job-Creation Legislation We Voted For

Last year’s midterm elections ushered in a new wave of North Carolina leadership on the promise of job creation in a state facing severe deficits and double-digit unemployment. Unfortunately, we’re not exactly getting the job-creation legislation we voted for.

Take for example the priorities of North Carolina Senator Jim Forrester who, at the beginning of the year, promised to forego an eighth attempt at a "Super DOMA" in the Tar Heel State in order to focus on more pressing economic issues. "It will probably be brought up next year," Forrester told the Gaston Gazette on January 19, 2011.

Fast-forward four weeks later, and Forrester went back on his word. While even his own hometown newspaper acknowledged that “there are more pressing issues to attend to,” the Gaston County Republican sponsored Senate Bill 106, a proposed constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite sex couples, as state statute already does, as well as outlawing civil unions or domestic partnerships. The N.C. House followed this month with its own narrower version (House Bill 777), that represents the same divisive, discriminatory and distracting legislation which would effectively write discrimination into our state's founding document.

The anti-LGBT amendment joins a host of other social legislation that prompted Taylor Batten, The Charlotte Observer's editorial page editor, to manifest what many were already thinking in his recent article "Lawyers, guns and money, but no jobs."

In it, Batten writes,

"...almost three months into the session, jobs have been the primary focus of very little legislation. What has your legislature, led by House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, been doing instead?

Fighting to repeal federal health care reform.

Working to expand gun-owner rights.

Making emergency room doctors almost completely immune from any penalties for practicing sloppy medicine.

Trying to decline $461 million in federal money for high-speed rail that would instead go to another state.

Requiring photo identifications from voters.

Overturning already-completed annexations.

Contemplating a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Working to bar the state from giving any money to Planned Parenthood.

Aggressively expanding charter schools.

And one out-of-touch freshman even introduced a bill creating a new currency based on the gold standard, in case the Federal Reserve defaults.

You may agree or disagree with some or all of those initiatives. Either way, they have next to nothing to do with creating jobs or balancing the state budget.

And those, sadly, were the two imperatives that deserved attention above all else."

But with your help, we can push our politicians to keep their promises as we also push for equal rights for all North Carolinians.

  • Contact Your Legislators.
    We’ve made it easy for you to let state legislators know, that we, the people of North Carolina, are more interested in them keeping their focus on creating jobs, and not furthering hateful discrimination.

  • "Write" the wrongs of this harmful legislation. Help us send a message to the legislature by volunteering to get people in your community to complete postcards to their legislators in opposition to the anti-gay amendment. We'll make it easy by sending you a kit with everything you need.

  • Build a State of Equality.
    Join our statewide movement against this type of LGBT discrimination
    with a donation to Equality North Carolina today.

  • Help Others Stay Connected to the Action.
    Recruit friends and family to join the Equality North Carolina Action Network
    so they too can receive important local alerts and updates on legislative affairs affecting them.

-Jen Jones, Equality NC

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The STARTA Something Big? Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduces the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)

A bill that would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as prohibited basis for workplace discrimination was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today.

Despite the fact that nearly 90% of Americans favor equal employment rights for LGBT citizens and the apparent readiness of President Obama to sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (or ENDA)—a bill that has been introduced in every Congress but one since 1994—it is unlikely to pass in the current House of Representatives.

Conservative opponents argue ENDA would disallow faith-based businesses from making personnel decisions based on their religious beliefs.

But these critics fail to see ENDA for what it really is: a long-overdue jobs bill.

Throughout the country, LGBT people live in fear that they will lose their job if their employer finds out that they are LGBT. It is intolerable that people are forced to hide who they are in order to secure or maintain employment. And with so much of our government’s focus on the economy and creating jobs, each job that is lost due to prejudice compounds the unemployment challenges not just for the LGBT community, but for our nation’s economy as a whole. It is a core American value to judge people on their work ethic and work product, not on who they are.

ENDA will make the American dream available to LGBT citizens nationwide.

Think this is all hyperbole? Think again.

The National Transgender Discrimination Survey results show that transgender people in throughout the U.S. suffer from tremendously high levels of job discrimination and economic security, with 26% losing a job just because of who they are and 90% experiencing mistreatment or harassment, or hiding who they are to avoid it. Transgender people experience twice the unemployment rate as the general population and almost four times the poverty.

Add to these facts the finding that in 2007, 28% of LGBT adults reported experiencing workplace discrimination with 21% reporting discrimination on a weekly basis.

Factoring in unemployment benefits, wasted training expenses, and lowered productivity—of both the abusers and their victims—discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace costs all of us as much as $1.4 billion per year in lost output. This amount is substantial by any measure, but given the need to restore our nation’s economic well-being, it is downright unacceptable.

Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia recognize these realities and have already enacted anti-discrimination policies that protect employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Over 100 localities have adopted similar policies. Taken together, these protections extend to 40% of the US population.

For the majority of our country however, including in North Carolina, there are either no laws protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination and harassment or inadequate laws that do not protect all members of our community.

That is why we need a federal standard calling for equal treatment of all employees. That is why we need ENDA. Because whether or not you get to keep your job should not depend on where you live.

In the meantime, you can also catch this cause at work here at home. Yesterday (3/29), Equality NC secured introduction of House Bill 472: Nondiscrimination in State/Employment by Representatives Luebke, Brandon, Fisher and Harrison, along with 14 co-sponsors. Click here to learn more about this important legislation.

The vast majority of North Carolinians join the rest of the nation in opposing employment discrimination against LGBT people. And so this bill falls in line with public opinion, protecting state employees from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It amends the State Personnel Act by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes for discrimination in hiring; denial of promotion, transfer or training; retaliatory demotion, reduction in force or termination; and harassment.

Let’s hope ENDA can be the STARTA something bigger.

Until then, we must ensure that equality works here at home.

-Jen Jones, Equality NC

Monday, March 28, 2011

In North Carolina, Bullies Come In All Shapes and Sizes

You may have caught last week’s Fresh Air, when Terry Gross interviewed columnist Dan Savage and Terry Miller about their marriage, the adoption of their son, and the impact of their “It Gets Better” movement, on teenage bullying.

The "It Gets Better" movement, as it's now called, spurred by a rash of teen suicides in 2010, is based on the premise that if older gay people offer hope and encouragement to gay teens, the teens would realize that their lives were worth living. Thereby, Savage and Miller created a YouTube video about their own experiences being bullied as teens, to tell teenagers a simple message about the future: It gets better.

The "It Gets Better" movement is now a global sensation, receiving over 10,000 video submissions, including entries from the likes of President Obama to Ke$ha. This month, Savage and Miller also published a companion book, It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying and Creating a Life Worth Living, featuring essays from more than 100 of the video contributors.

Notwithstanding the recent success of Savage and Miller’s now-viral campaign and its premise of older advocates offering encouragement to gay teens, we’re proud to say that Equality North Carolina was ahead of the curve. In 2009, ENC helped to win passage of a historic law assuring North Carolina public school students have the inclusive anti-bullying protections they deserve. In the end, our hope was that by curbing bullying in North Carolina classrooms, we would lessen the likelihood that local teens would lose hope and be tempted to take their own lives.

But despite these past legislative successes, now, more than ever, it’s important to remember that bullies come in all shapes, sizes…and even ages.

Instead of dealing with pressing economic issues as promised, North Carolina Republican Senator Jim Forrester and a small group of NC legislators are pushing to pass an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. The bill is meant to write discrimination into North Carolina’s founding document and, with a series of votes, write part of the state’s population out of rights and protections they deserve. This month, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James revealed the real purpose behind the proposed amendment: making LGBT people unwelcome in the Tar Heel State. "We don't want them here," James told the Raleigh News & Observer.

That’s one heckuva message to gay teens.

What’s more, this proposed bill is considered the most extreme version of an anti-LGBT amendment, including:

  • not only limiting marriage to gay and lesbian couples, as state statute already does, but also prohibiting any other form of relationship recognition, such as civil union or domestic partnership--forms of recognition that a majority of North Carolinians clearly support;
  • potentially taking away private benefits such as health insurance for LGBT couples, unmarried opposite-sex couples, and their children and challenging private contracts between couples; and
  • writing bigotry and discrimination into our state's founding document, and, with the same stroke, removing the rights and responsibilities that are currently available to some couples.

Once again, Equality North Carolina is taking the lead in fighting these bullies for you and yours. And this time you can join ENC and other fair-minded North Carolinians who believe basic rights are not up for vote and these bullies need to be put in their place!

Join Us on the EQUALITY IN ACTION Tour.
Following the success of our Winston-Salem, Durham and Charlotte events, Equality North Carolina invites you to get informed and involved through a series of statewide town hall meetings devoted to discussing the proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. Upcoming stops on the tour include Greenville, Raleigh, Wilmington and Asheville. Supporters who cannot attend a local stop on the EQUALITY IN ACTION Tour can follow the @equalitync action on Twitter at the hashtag: #equalityaction.

"Write" Anti-LGBT Wrongs With the EQUALITY IN ACTION Postcard
Getting our postcards signed by friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers is a great way to both bring the anti-LGBT amendment issue to light while also letting local legislators know that fair-minded voters in their district care about equal rights. Request your pack of postcards today.

Help Fund This Fight to Build a STATE OF EQUALITY.
Join our statewide movement against LGBT discrimination with a donation to Equality North Carolina today. A special thanks to everyone who has recently made donations, with an extra special thanks to all who have become monthly donors--a great way to provide sustained support during this pivotal time!

And as always, thank you for joining with Equality North Carolina—your statewide source for LGBT rights and justice—as we grow our own local movement to fight against this proposed legislation and for the shared rights of all North Carolinians.

With your help, it indeed does get better.

- Jen Jones, Equality NC

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Remembering Legendary LGBT and HIV/AIDS Activist Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

She was a legendary silver screen beauty;

an Academy-award winner;

a friend of Michael Jackson.

But Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor’s most important role came in her later years as an ardent HIV/AIDS activist and ally to the LGBT community.

Following the death of friend and fellow thespian Rock Hudson from an HIV/AIDS-related illness, Taylor was among the founders of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) and started the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF). In the process, Dame Taylor helped raise millions of dollars to fight AIDS. And, at a time when other stars stayed quiet, she became one of the first public voices to speak up about the AIDS crisis.

One of Taylor’s final tweets (yes, she was on Twitter): “ Give. Remember always to give. That is the thing that will make you grow.”

In that sense, Taylor had grown larger than the big screen she commanded.

And in this, we honor her life.

-Jen Jones, Equality North Carolina

Monday, March 21, 2011

Equality NC Takes Back the Town Hall Meeting

The town hall meeting concept has taken a hit of late, evolving from simple public meetings to scenes of violent scuffles, most recently witnessed during the vitriolic health care debates of 2009. Night after night, in town after town, media outlets projected images of Congressional members placed in the proverbial firing lines of embittered constituents, changing the face of these public forums from havens of dialogue to hotbeds of anger.

But last week, Equality North Carolina “took back” the town hall meeting concept when representatives from the statewide LGBT rights organization hit the road to harness the energy of citizen engagement...this time “for good.”

Productive Dialogue on the Proposed Constitutional Amendment
The EQUALITY IN ACTION Tour—a series of statewide town hall meetings devoted to civil discourse surrounding the proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, among other issues from the General Assembly—kicked off March 17, from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Winston-Salem.

Instead of harkening back to the more polarizing town halls of old, in this fair-minded forum from the Triad, Equality NC began responding to the public’s desire for answers and action against the amendment, and, in the process, enlisted help from a packed room representing the majority of North Carolinians supportive of legal recognition for the state’s gay and lesbian couples.

Equality NC Executive Director Ian Palmquist and Director of Community Organizing and Outreach Rebecca Mann led dozens of statewide LGBT supporters through the ins and outs of the proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, as well as other local legislation that could potentially impact all who care about equal rights.

Engaging Grassroots and Grasstops
Following an informative presentation and Q&A on pertinent legislative issues such as the
anti-LGBT amendment, participants broke into smaller brainstorming sessions devoted to the many ways that local communities can become more involved in Equality NC’s grassroots and grasstops efforts.

From the grasstops, concerned citizens participated in group discussions on the best ways to address concerns and seek support from prominent political, business, and civic leaders in their local communities. Supporters were also encouraged to “get back to their grassroots” by “writing” anti-LGBT wrongs in the EQUALITY IN ACTION postcard campaign—a powerful way to bring the anti-LGBT amendment issue to light while also letting local legislators know that fair-minded voters in their district care about equal rights.

The EQUALITY IN ACTION Tour Comes to You

Following the success of the Winston-Salem kick-off, the EQUALITY IN ACTION Tour will take off across the state in separate town halls in Durham (March 22), Charlotte (March 24), and Greenville (April 6), as well as future events slated for Asheville, Raleigh, and Wilmington.

New Ways of Engaging
Can’t make a town hall meeting but still want to get involved? The power and principles of EQUALITY IN ACTION are also available in online advocacy, including:

Supporters can recruit friends and family to join the Equality North Carolina Action Network so they too can receive important local alerts and updates on legislative affairs affecting them.

Help us fund this important fight. Join our statewide movement against LGBT discrimination with a donation to Equality North Carolina today.

To quickly and easily share news and information with friends, fans and followers, supporters can join Equality North Carolina where they already are—on Facebook (facebook.com/equalitync) and Twitter (@equalitync).

The ENC social media mobilization extends to the town hall meetings themselves as supporters who cannot join us at each event can follow the @equalitync action on Twitter at the hashtag: #equalityaction. Share resources, ask questions, get answers, and make your voice heard—however virtually.

Because, in the end, the goal of these meetings is not simply to reframe town hall rhetoric, but rather to speak civilly to the rights and respect at stake—for all.

-Jen Jones, Equality North Carolina

Monday, March 7, 2011

March 10: Women and Girls and HIV/AIDS, Oh My!

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is observed specifically on March 10 every year, and it is coordinated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health (OWH). OWH encourages organizations to hold events throughout the entire month of March.

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is a nationwide observance that encourages people to take action in the fight against HIV/AIDS and raise awareness of its impact on women and girls.

According to the CDC, HIV/AIDS is a serious public health issue affecting nearly 280,000 women in the United States. While men account for most HIV/AIDS cases, the impact on women is growing. In addition, research shows that, when compared to men, women face gaps in access and care.

For a handy fact sheet, go here:

PDF National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Fact Sheet (PDF, 434 KB)

(The new healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, will prohibit insurance plans from putting lifetime caps on the dollar amount that they will spend on benefits. In the past, patients with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or other chronic diseases ran the risk of hitting a lifetime cap and losing access to care. The law also restricts most insurance companies' use of low annual dollar limits on benefits. In 2014, annual limits will be eliminated. In addition, the Affordable Care Act will help those living with HIV/AIDS be better able to afford their medications.)

The Affordable Care Act and National HIV/AIDS Strategy are two important steps in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but HIV/AIDS is an issue that affects all people, and we each need to do our part ot make a positive difference. On National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, OWH calls on individuals and organizations across the country to take action and bring attention to the impact HIV/AIDS has on women and girls.

It helps organizations across the country come together to offer support, encourage discussion, and teach women and girls about prevention of HIV, the importance of getting tested for HIV, and how to live with and manage HIV/AIDS.

Education is key to making a difference with the disease, but action items that people can do in response to HIV/AIDS are most empowering. Some ideas include:

  • Get tested for HIV, and encourage your friends to do so. If you can, offer incentives for people to get tested.
  • Encourage your newspaper or schools to sponsor an essay contest on the epidemic.
  • Submit an editorial or letter on local needs to your newspaper.
  • Encourage radio stations to air public service announcements.
  • Learn about the risk factors for acquiring HIV, and talk about them.
  • Make the choice to practice safer sex and avoid higher risk behaviors.
  • Talk about HIV prevention with family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Tell people about why this day is important to you and people you know.
  • Talk about the epidemic’s impact on your community with friends and family.
  • Provide support to people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Volunteer at a local organization that serves people living with HIV.
  • Help fund an event for the Day or support it with in-kind donations.
Visit AIDS.gov for more information from the federal government about HIV/AIDS prevention, testing, treatment, research, and using new media in response to HIV/AIDS.