Thursday, October 30, 2008

Connecting the Dots

I had the opportunity earlier this month to co-present a workshop on sexual and reproductive rights at the Choice USA ( Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute in Chapel Hill.

Connect The Dots

Choice USA celebrates its 16th anniversary this year, and exists to mobilize, support and train young pro-choice leaders. They do a fantastic job of it, too! (That’s my obligatory shout-out as an Institute alumnus.)

Beyond the training aspect, what really stands out about Choice USA to me is their interest in “connect the dots” between sexual and reproductive rights issues. Some organizations, like Choice USA, are now using the term “reproductive justice” rather than “reproductive rights” to encompass a wider range of issues—including LGBT rights.

I worked with the super Lonna Hays from Ipas on the workshop, using a nifty mapping tool that Ipas, SisterSong, and the Task Force collaboratively created that tracks the status of reproductive justice across the US.

The joint project is called Mapping our Rights and can be found here: (It’s in the process of being updated, but still provides hours of click-and-learn fun.)

As they put it, “Mapping Our Rights illustrates how different state policies affect who we can marry, when or whether we can have children, and if we have access to health care or social security benefits.”

Obviously, there is a great deal of issue overlap between LGBT and the pro-choice movement — and the map shows that beautifully. Advocating for comprehensive sexuality education is typically on the agenda of groups from both camps, as is legislation that protects sexual autonomy and that which increases access to non-judgmental health care.

We have similar roots in the eyes of judges, too, as the decisions of Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas both boil down to a right to privacy. And perhaps because of these roots, we’re also hated by all the same people! Check out the agenda of any anti-LGBT group and you’ll find a heaping portion of woman-hate and anti-choice rhetoric mixed in there, as well.

In addition to sharing issues, we also share humans! Just follow the trail of people who have worked for LGBT rights and reproductive rights to see the overlap. Joe Solmonese of HRC used to head up EMILY’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women. NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina recently gained Sean Kosofsky — formerly of the Triangle Foundation in Michigan — as its executive director. Our own Ian serves on the NARAL board of directors, and I come from a background reproductive rights work.

I’ve really enjoyed seeing the reproductive rights movement grow toward an overarching goal of reproductive justice. And it’s great to know that wherever I happen to be — at a rally with Planned Parenthood, at a PRIDE meeting or at the Choice USA training — I’m in great company.

-- Rebecca Mann, Community Organizer

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Ordinary Evening, Trunk-or-Treating

My little family (one same-sex male couple plus one 6-year-old son) went trunk-or-treating at the YMCA in Wake Forest on Saturday night.

pumpkin jack-o-lantern

Now, we're completely out to our neighborhood. Everyone knows we're a gay couple with a kid. (I mean, when you work for Equality NC, the gay civil rights nonprofit for the state, you're out!)

Trunk-or-treat is designed to be a fun, pre-Halloween activity where folks at the Y drive out to the parking lot, decorate their vehicles, and give out candy from the back of their cars and trucks to the hoards of costumed kids that other folks shepherd around.

Our kid was dressed up as a ghost. (This was good, since we discovered many flaws to the costume, like the eye holes didn't stay in place, he kept stepping on the sheet, and he couldn't hold his bag. Thanks to this test run, we'll now be ready for the real deal on Friday with costume version 2.0.)

We saw some of our neighbors, Kid's friends, and other children from his school. We talked and chatted and visited with teachers, the YMCA staff, and people from our church.

We walked through the inflatable haunted mansion and marveled at the tombstones. We looked at the shrieking, strobe-light-filled haunted schoolbus from afar but kept our distance.

So, what happened next? Was there some negative event, a taunt or shove, some shouted homophobic condemnation?

No, it was just a plain evening, full of candy and camraderie. And that's the point. We were just another family, struggling to keep their child from running around too wild, up-playing the fun and mystery, and trying to find the balance between safety and terror amidst the spooky decorations during the Halloween holiday.

Here at Equality NC, we're always talking about what we're working on, but at the most basic level, what we're actually aiming for is what we all have in our plainest human moments. We want nothing more than the most basic trappings of normalcy, being caught up in the moment and losing yourself as opposed to always worrying about your identity and the identities of those around you.

It's important that in the fight for fairness and equality, we don't become so focused on what we lack that we overlook what we have. It's the moments in the present that give us the strength and spirit to work towards a just future.

Happy Halloween!

-T. Shawn Long

Monday, October 20, 2008

Presidential POVs on LGBT Rights

As the statewide nonpartisan advocacy group for North Carolina, Equality NC does not take positions on federal issues or races. However, we have been getting a lot of questions about the main 2008 presidential candidates and their stances on issues that affect the gay community.

voting graphicHere are some comparisons between the positions of Barack Obama and John McCain on the broad topics that affect us.


Obama supports adoption by LGBT folks.

McCain opposes adoption of children by gay couples.


Obama supports ending employment discrimination against the LGBT community and supports ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act).

McCain opposes employment nondiscrimination for LGBT folks and opposes ENDA.

Hate Crimes

Obama supports hate-crime legislation that includes protections for LGBT people.

McCain opposes hate-crime legislation.


Obama supports the Ryan White CARE Act (the largest federal program for people living with HIV/AIDS) and supports comprehensive sex education aimed at preventing HIV/AIDS.

McCain supports abstinence-only education to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS (he voted to end funding for outreach specifically to the gay community) and does not support the Ryan White CARE Act.


Obama opposes same-sex marriage. He supports civil unions (with separate but equal rights) and opposes a federal anti-gay marriage amendment.

McCain opposes same-sex marriage. McCain says the issue should be left to the states and most recently opposed a federal anti-gay marriage amendment but supported a state one.

Military Service

Obama supports openly gay military and wants to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

McCain does not support gays and lesbians serving in the military and supports the military’s “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy.

-T. Shawn Long

Friday, October 17, 2008

How Low Can You Vote?

With North Carolina as a presidential swing state for the first time in a long, long time, we're getting a lot of attention from Barack Obama and John McCain. Of course that race deserves attention from all of us, but LGBT and Allied voters need to be paying attention all the way down the ballot.

There's no question that who is the next president, and who we elect to the U.S. Senate and House will mean real difference for the direction of our country. But state and local races are too often overlooked, and the candidates we elect have as much or even more impact on our lives.

No matter where you live in North Carolina, you can vote this year for Governor, Lt. Governor, the eight agency heads on the Council of State, a Supreme Court Justice, and six Court of Appeals Judges, not to mention your state Representative and Senator.

Before you vote, take a moment to educate yourself about the candidates for these offices and the local offices on the ballot in your area.

It's also important to remember a couple key things about the ballot. If you're planning to vote straight-ticket for the Democratic or Republican party, you must first separately vote for your Presidential choice, then vote straight ticket for the rest of the partisan offices. But you're not done! All Judicial races and some local offices are non-partisan, so you have go all the way down the ballot or flip it over and vote separately in those races. If you just check the straight ticket box, you won't have voted for President or Judges!

So how low can you vote this year?

-Ian Palmquist

Monday, October 13, 2008

Your State, Your Rights - Vote!

Elections are getting quite a bit of press this year, and I know here in the ENC office we feel this election is extremely important for the LGBT community.

voting graphic

I’ve heard more people talking about this election than the one we had four years ago, and that one generated a ton of discussion. I’m sensing a lot less division amongst the public in general, though, and I’m surprised and pleased at the attention North Carolina is now getting as a swing state. It’s thrilling to listen to BBC radio and have them cut to interviews in Durham, NC.

People still have differences of opinion, obviously, but somehow the disagreements don’t seem quite as vociferous. People, in general, seem to feel that it’s time for a change. (Are you better off today than you were four/six/eight years ago? Vote accordingly!)

Though the national campaigns in general, and the presidential one in particular, tend to get all of the press, people need to remember that it’s the local elections and local races that have the most direct affect on our day-to-day lives.

For example, Equality NC has made a lot of progress for gay folks in the NC legislature in the past few years, but an antigay governor would basically stop and potentially undo the progress we’ve made.

Similarly, North Carolina has its first openly gay statewide judge running as an incumbent in the appeals court. His presence as an out official sends a powerful message to the legislature when they’re considering issues that affect the LGBT community, and losing him would make it easier for legislators to ignore our issues and our community’s voice.

[You can find a list of openly gay officials on the ENC website at Please let us know of any additions or corrections.]

Along with discussion about the election, however, I’ve also seen and heard a lot of misinformation.

The New York Times ran an article alleging voter registration irregularities in North Carolina, which the state board of election rebuts in this PDF press release. I had a friend of mine talk about hearing that early votes were only counted in the event of a tie, which is totally untrue.

We’re just a few days away from the start of early voting, and it behooves everyone to understand their voting rights and responsibilities.

You can find all the information you need to register, confirm your registration, find your polling place, find out who can vote, and find answers to common questions at the NC State Board of Elections website.

What will be this year’s election results? It’s our decision, each one of us, and only time will tell ….

-T. Shawn Long

Connecticut Supreme Court Recognizes Right to Marry

Today the Connecticut Supreme Court released a 4-3 decision in Kerrigan v. Commissioner of Public Health, finding that civil unions are not equal to marriage and extending access to marriage to same-sex couples.

Importantly, the decision also found that discrimination based on sexual orientation requires heightened scrutiny akin to discrimination based on sex under the state constitution.

Read the complete decision (PDF).

-Ian Palmquist

Thursday, October 9, 2008

We're All Members

I'm sometimes asked why we no longer ask people to make a minimum donation to become members of Equality North Carolina. The simple answer is that we don't want to turn anyone away from our vital cause. We consider each and every one of our supporters to be valued members of our great statewide LGBT equality community. We don't think someone should get to be called a member just because he or she is a donor.

First of all, there's the very practical problem of determining that minimum donation amount. The standard amount is usually $35 or sometimes $50, but we have lots of folks who can only give $25 or even $10--should they be denied membership because they can't give more?

And what about all the folks who can only volunteer? Isn't their time also money? Certainly our interns and other volunteers help us stretch our budget, and there's no denying the power of our online activists when they generate tens of thousands of emails and phone calls to legislators. It's because of them that our voice is heard in the halls of the North Carolina General Assembly.

As soon as you set a dollar amount for membership, you're automatically denying a voice to people who can't make the minimum donation, or to people who can only volunteer time. Plus you're getting into territory where endless hairs can be split. If only our donors could be called members, then we'd have 1,000 members. If both our donors and volunteers are members, then we have 12,000 members. And if all these folks bring us new friends because we respect everyone equally regardless of ability to pay, then our membership is probably more like 50,000.

We are a community rather than a membership organization. In a community, everyone is a member because everyone brings something valuable to the table. Some of us are fortunate enough to be able to make donations and receive donor benefits as opposed to member benefits, but this doesn't make us better. On the contrary, I'd argue that part of the reason we give is to help make it possible for all voices to be heard in our glorious movement. I know it's one of the reasons I give.

-Kay Flaminio

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What About the Children?

A great deal of attention has been placed on the recent constitutional marriage amendments in California, Arizona, and Florida. And the losses of all three certainly do represent an enormous setback to the rights of LGBT individuals. Seemingly lost in the shuffle of these amendments, however, was Initiative 1 in Arkansas. This constitutional amendment proposed making it illegal for anyone cohabitating outside of a valid marriage to adopt or provide foster care to minors. Sadly, the amendment passed by a wide margin of 14 points.


There are many ramifications from the passage of this amendment. Obviously, it will prevent any same-sex couples from adopting or providing foster care. Outside of the LGBT movement, however, it also prevents any unmarried heterosexual couples from adopting or providing foster care.

It is unsettling, to say the least, that the population of Arkansas has taken it upon themselves to decide, based solely on demographic information, who is worthy to care for a child.

Even more disturbing, however, is the fact that this amendment deprives myriad children from having stable, loving homes with same-sex or unmarried heterosexual couples. It is estimated that, at any given time, there are 3700 children in the foster system. Do the residents of Arkansas truly believe that these children are better off staying in the foster care system?

Countless research has shown that children who are in and remain in the foster care system are more at risk for dropping out of school, becoming substance abusers, and aging out into dire situations, including homelessness.

In August, Arkansas’ Department of Human Services was forced to investigate the deaths of four children in foster care homes. In light of these recent events, it’s troubling that Arkansas would move away from providing children in foster care with stable and loving foster and adoptive parents, simply based on demographics.

While the passage of this amendment may have occurred outside of the national spotlight, the plight of the children in the Arkansas foster care system, as well as the repercussions of this amendment for the LGBT movement, must be moved into the forefront.

-- Seth Maid and Nicole Stonestreet, ENC Interns

Monday, October 6, 2008

October is LGBT History Month

This month we celebrate as a nation the contributions gay folks have made throughout history. Take a look at this year's honorees ....

LGBT history month icon

In case you haven't heard, October is GLBT History Month.

Like Black History Month in February and Women's History Month in March, the purpose of GLBT History Month is to celebrate and highlight the achievements of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals in history. Hopping on the bandwagon of these other subcultural history months, this month helps to increase awareness of and education on LGBT folks who have influenced our culture and affected our world. Gay folks still tend to be omitted when it comes to popular, public history, and this month tries to correct that oversight and fill the void.

This month was established back in the 1990s, and October was selected since this is when National Coming Out Day occurs. GLBT History Month is supported by the usual suspects of national gay groups, i.e, HRC, GLAAD, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, but back in 1995 it also got the support of the National Education Association (NEA), giving it good mainstream credibility.

Go to for more details – every day of the month will feature a single LGBT person with a video, pictures, bio, bibliographies, and other resources.

[As a sidenote on style, while the official designation of the month is “GLBT,” Equality NC uses “LGBT” as the inclusive acronym for our community.]

Here are the LGBT icons who have been featured the first week of GLBT History Month:

1. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon -- Gay rights advocates, longtime partners, and the first couple legally married in California. Martin died this past August.

2. Stephen Sondheim – Multiple (Tony, Oscar, and Pulitzer) prize-winning composer and lyricist.

3. Gianni Versace – World-renown fashion designer.

4. Sheila Kuehl -- The first openly-gay person elected to the California legislature. She played Zelda in the old TV sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

5. Tennessee Williams – Playwright and author of such works as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire.

6. Alice Walker – Pulitzer-prize winning writer (won for The Color Purple).

7. Greg Louganis – HIV+ diver who won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics.

-T. Shawn Long

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Eyes on Allies

LGBT equality ... from the straight perspective.

“And thanks to our brand-new community organizer, Rebecca (our token straight employee – look, we embrace diversity!), we were there.”

This line is from our first ENCspot blog entry a few weeks ago, and is about me [Rebecca Mann, ENC community organizer]. I’ll have to admit that although I think it’s endearing, I was still a little cringe-y after reading it. It made me think of how being an ally sometimes means walking a fine line between being true to who you are, but not appearing to define yourself as “not gay.”

Soon after I began working for ENC, I ran into a supporter who was concerned about an ENC volunteer who, while leading a presentation, mentioned numerous times that she is straight.

The supporter and others in attendance believed that by talking about her own sexual orientation during the presentation, the volunteer was trying to distance herself from the LGBT folks in the crowd. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know how the topic came up in the first place. But it immediately made me think of similar situations in which I’ve outed myself as straight. … and the times I haven’t and have found myself in LGBT-only conversations, feeling like I’ve invaded “safe spaces.”

So what’s an ally to do? Especially one whose job is to talk with others about LGBT rights?

My philosophy is that it is important to use the privileges we have to try and make the world better for others. And, it’s imperative to recognize that those of us with privilege are the ones traditionally mucking things up for those without it, and therefore we should be the ones working hardest for equality.

To this end, I think men should be flocking to anti-rape rallies, white folks to anti-racism programs, and gentiles to the Anti-Defamation League. (That’s a full plate for you, straight, white, Christian males.)

Likewise, straight people should be doing all we can to ensure LGBT rights. And I think there’s power in proudly doing this work as an “out” ally.

-Rebecca Mann