Monday, December 15, 2008

Get a Red Ribbon License Plate

Our recent update on the Red Ribbon license plates -- to help increase AIDS awareness -- made me realize that I need to order one. (Basically, there need to be 300 ordered before the DMV will produce them, and the AIDS Alliance currently only has 100 orders.) You should consider it, too.

Red Ribbon License Plate

In general, I don't think of my life as being directly affected by HIV/AIDS, but with just a little thought, I realize that it totally is.

I was adopted as a kid by my Aunt Evelyn. Her best friend was a young man named Donnie, and he was the hero of my young years. He was friendly and energetic, and he always, always took time to play with me and teach me games. He died when I was nine-years-old, and it wasn't until years later, when I was a teenager, that I found out his death was from complications related to AIDS.

I also used to work for a hospice organization. While HIV/AIDS isn't the top cause of death in hospices/of patients under hospital care, hospices were a leader in providing palliative (i.e., pain-relieving as opposed to curative) care for people with HIV/AIDS.

Here at Equality NC, I've interacted with many people who are HIV+ or who have AIDS. We've partnered with the Alliance of AIDS Services - Carolinas on many projects. (Also, I love AASC's Drag Bingo -- that is always extremely fun and entertaining, and it's always attended by a diversity of people, young and old, families with kids, college students.)

Last year, one of the guys on my rugby team was hospitalized for a life-threatening infection and ended up discovering he was HIV+.

HIV/AIDS is everywhere, and anything we do will make a difference.Certainly the least I can do is pay a token fee for a license plate. I hope you'll consider that, too -- click here to download the application.

-Ian Palmquist

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Elephant in Our Room

There's been a lot of coverage in the LGBT press recently about cutbacks at organizations working for our rights. There's no denying it's scary. There's no denying we've had some worrying moments.

Here at Equality North Carolina, we've been holding our own and created a conservative budget for the coming year. It means we have to wait to create and fill staff positions in the areas of policy and communications. It means the four of us on staff will need to be a bit more creative and stay focused on our priorities: getting our anti-bullying bill passed, holding back a constitutional amendment against marriage equality for the sixth year in a row, showing our power and dignity through Lobby Day on March 24, putting on an even bigger and better Equality Conference & Gala to re-inspire activism next year, making sure everyone feels valued within our glorious statewide movement.

We're ready and we know why. It's because we're fortunate and truly honored to represent the needs of extraordinary people all across our state. People like all of the college and high school students who attended the Equality Conference & Gala this year, or all of the energized young folks who gathered at Prop 8 rallies held across the state. We salute the people involved with local AIDS groups; local PFLAGs; pro-equality churches, campuses, and nonprofits; pro-equality blogs, websites, and publications; and NC Pride and all the local Pride events we attended this year.

We salute our friends at Replacements, Ltd., Food Lion, Haas McNeil & Associates, PA, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, and all the other pro-equality companies that so generously sponsored this year's Equality Conference & Gala in the face of an economic meltdown. We salute the 88 individuals who made gifts or pledges at the gala in response to a matching challenge from Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation--the challenge was to raise $5,000 and we raised almost $14,000 in amounts ranging from $5 to $1,200.

We salute our board members, interns, and volunteers who all stepped up this year to help us raise needed money and inspire needed activists. We hosted 750 people at five special events across the state this year. Just think of the ripple effects. Just think of the future. With friends like ours--with the sheer amazing variety of people who have joined us--we're ready. Most of all, we're grateful.

--Kay Flaminio

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Now?

Over the weekend, I was talking with a few folks about the recent election. (Surprise, surprise!) One of the guys I spoke with was particularly disheartened by the number of antigay initiatives that passed in other states. He wondered, “What's next? Where do we go from here?”

Well, first, we celebrate. Sure, there may have been some setbacks across the country, but here in North Carolina we have every right to be optimistic. Not only did a slew of LGBT-positive candidates get elected, but several antigay candidates and officials in the state lost.

We can go into next year knowing we have more allies in place and expect a more moderate, perhaps even progressive statewide government. This is particularly good news for our big antibullying initiative.

All of ENC PAC's Senate candidates won, including the embattled and openly-gay Senator Julia Boseman. Most of the endorsed representatives and judges were selected, and LGBT allies made some amazing advancements in the executive branch.

Even at the national level, a number of noteworthy homophobes are now out, and Barack Obama is the most pro-equality president ever elected. His message of inclusivity and equality bodes well for us all.

Of course, after celebrating we should also mourn. The loss of marriage equality in California was particularly bittersweet, as were the antigay state constitutional amendments passed in Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas.

Here in North Carolina, I was particularly saddened at Judge John Arrowood's loss – he was the first openly-gay judge at the state level in our judiciary. Having an out person in such a prestigious position was a great boon for our community, and John's loss diminishes the visibility of gay folks in the state.

Finally, though, we plan our future moves and start back working again. Every civil rights battle is filled with two steps forward and one step back (and we should all be glad we got that instead of the converse of one step forward and two steps back, which also tends to happen).

Every loss is an opportunity for more discussion. The more visibility our issues have and the more dialog we generate, the better we'll all be.

We have some great chances now to develop coalitions with our allies and teach people how gay issues are essentially issues of fairness, which affect everyone. If everyone's not equal then no one is equal.

Where do we go from here? Simple: We go forward.

-Shawn Long

Monday, December 8, 2008

I Have Seen the Future...

Around this time last year, there was a blog meme going around called "pretend to be a time-traveler." I haven't seen anything similar this year, but it made me think of a few times in the past when something happened on TV that made me think "I see the future of the gay community."

Back in the late 80s, there was a pretty good sci-fi TV show called "Alien Nation" (based on a pretty bad sci-fi movie of the same name). The series was about a group of aliens, called Newcomers, that came to Earth and were trying to incorporate themselves into human communities.

In one brief throwaway scene on one episode, a group of these Newcomers couples were getting married. The futuristic bit? One of the couples was two guys. It was the smallest thing, but it made quite an impression on my teen-age self.

Science-fiction often offers glimpses into a future where oppressed groups have achieved some kind of equity. The sci-fi TV series "Babylon 5" from the mid-90s had two of the main male characters go undercover as newlyweds. In the Babylon 5 universe, sexual orientation is an unremarkable quality, like a person's handedness.

Fantasy TV also has a history of gay-friendliness, ranging from the lesbian overtones of "Xena" in the 90s to the explicit lesbian love on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in the early 2000s.

Buffy was particularly remarkable in how it developed its gay love story over a period of time, with one of the main characters, Willow, slowly coming out to herself as she fell in love with her friend, Tara, after previously having shown an interest in one of the male leads.

The series was also notable in how it pushed the envelope on how explicitly same-sex relationships were shown on television. Initially the network wouldn't even show two girls kissing, but by the end of the series, it regularly showed woman kissing and sleeping together.

Sometimes television can set the tone for our society, but more often it simply reflects changes that are already coming. Gay marriage is quite simply and clearly the future.

After all, TV says so.

-Shawn Long

Monday, December 1, 2008

Family of Choice

The LGBT community has been fortunate in its adoption of the idea of creating one's own family of choice.

The concept is that we create our own families, i.e., we form them from people we care about, regardless of whether they are biologically or legally connected or not. They are the family we choose for ourselves.

I was reminded of the importance of that this past Thanksgiving.

The ENC staff spent its time with various members of our biological/in-law families. My partner, kid, and I were with my partner's parents in Garner. Ian time-shared his holiday with his family and his partner's family. Kay traveled to New York to be with her parents. Rebecca spent the holidays with her husband's parents.

On Saturday, Craig and I reinstated a tradition we call our "Friends Thanksgiving," where we invite friends to come over. One of my best friends (who I consider my non-bio brother) brought his new boyfriend.

While we were all talking about what we actually did on Thanksgiving, it turned out that this new guy had spent his Thursday alone. His family lives up in Pennsylvania, and since he is estranged from his mother, he basically never gets to see them.

This struck me as incredibly sad. In fact, it's almost tragic. How pointedly lonely to spend a holiday based on fellowship solo.

It's terribly how homophobia and discrimination have isolated so many people in the gay community, whether it be because their family rejects them for being gay, they lose their job for being HIV-positive, or their church deserts them for being an abomination.

I'll certainly be going out of my way to include this new guy in future events. It's trite to say, but truly, love is what life is about, whether that love be philia or agape (or yes, perhaps even eros).

Being able to share affection with someone else, and in turn choosing to spend time and special occasions with them, is the surest positive affirmation of life we can make.

Let us all make the choice to include people in our lives who we care about, or simply like or are fond of, whenever we can. It's the simplest message, but also the most basic, primal, and necessary one.

What is more quintessentially human than our capacity for love?

-Shawn Long

North Carolinian Led Fight for Marriage Equality in Connecticut

I'm so proud to see a fellow North Carolinian getting well-deserved attention for her work on marriage equality. Anne Stanback, who hails from Elizabeth Dole's hometown of Salisbury, has led Love Makes a Family's marriage campaign in Connecticut for nearly a decade.

Check out this great profile of Anne and her work in Hartford Courant:

Kudos to Anne for here amazing work and dedication, which are an inspiration for those of us here in her home state and around the country.

We're proud to count Anne and several members of her family as dedicated supporters of Equality North Carolina.

Working for Change

[by Ashley Clingman, ENC Intern] I have been fortunate to work with Equality over the past semester as a student intern. As a law student I have become increasingly concerned and interested in the legal issues facing the LGBT community. From my school experience and my work with Equality, I have come to believe that the legal issues facing the LGBT community are of the most important, because these issues touch on both political and legal areas of our society.

Because work within the political arena can be slow and frustrating, we must always try to think of new and creative ways to work for change. Politicians tend to be so afraid of change, when really they should be afraid of what happens when we stop allowing our legal system to evolve with the growing demands of society.

I think we should all be striving for change on a daily basis. This is one of the reasons I am proud to be a part of Equality. Everyone involved with Equality understands and vigorously works toward making North Carolina an LGBT-friendly state.

My part in creating change this semester was done by researching the North Carolina Administrative code. The NC Administrative Code is a compilation of the administrative rules of approximately 26 state agencies and 50 plus occupational licensing boards.

These rules mandate how each of these state agencies must regulate the operations of their departments and establish policies that determine how governmental agencies treat people, define rule language, budget money, set up employee expectations, and determine non-discrimination policies.

The goal of my research has been to identify areas of the law that need to be changed in order to promote equal protection for the LGBT community. Once there has been identification of where and how discrimination is occurring, the next step will be to create the necessary changes to stop the inequality.

Change is not quick or easy. We all can do our part in the fight for LGBT equality. Being a part of Equality and working directly at this year’s conference reminded me why it is so important to continually ask questions, identify problems, and work for change. If we challenge the status quo, solutions are possible. There are a lot of people working hard for change (ex. elected officials, lobbyist, volunteers, and student interns), and I am proud to be a part of the diverse crowd who is striving to create equality and positive change with North Carolina.