Friday, January 30, 2009

Rapid Response

I'm always inspired by the response from our supporters when we call them to action. Late Wednesday night, the first day of session. I sent out an email asking folks to contact their legislators to oppose North Carolina's version of Prop. 8. Already over 1000 people have taken action!

The response on Facebook has also been outstanding. Not only are supporters there clicking through and sending a message, dozens of folks are posting the link in their status updates so their friends and family can also join in the effort!

Why does it matter? Because legislators really do care what their constituents think. While there are many highly principled legislators on both sides who truly act on their values, there are many who will bend to the political winds.

When you send that email, make that phone call, have that meeting, you're helping build a gust of support for justice and equality.

Do Those Emails Really Work?

The short answer is yes. We've seen time and again that they make a difference.

If you're at the computer and see an alert, take 30 seconds right then to send the message, because they're counting. If you have another minute to spare, edit the message and make it personal. Your story will be remembered more than sample text we send out.

Of course, there are ways to do even more. A personal phone call or an in-person visit have a great impact. Why not build on that online action you took by taking Tuesday, March 24 off from work and come to Raleigh for Equality NC Day of Action (formerly known as lobby day). We'll make it a fun day and help you have an effective face-to-face meeting with your legislators.

-Ian Palmquist

Monday, January 26, 2009

Shaking Bill Clinton's Hand

This morning I had the honor of meeting former president Bill Clinton. I have to say, it was pretty darn cool to shake the man's hand and hear him give his take on the huge challenges our country faces right now. But so much more exciting than shaking his hand was where it happened...

Bill Clinton was in Raleigh today to give a speech at NCSU. While he was in town, he took the time to attend two fundraisers for North Carolina candidates, and one of them was our very own Sen. Julia Boseman.

That's right, the former president chose North Carolina's only openly gay legislator as the beneficiary of his star power.

There are a lot of good reasons why he helped Sen. Boseman out. She went out on the campaign train with him and Hillary during the primary last year. She's always got a tough, expensive race as an openly gay Democrat in a Republican-leaning district.

But, there are plenty of folks around who have helped out the Clintons and have tough races. To have the former President lending his name to our state's only out legislator--one of only a handful in the South--is a powerful signal.

He said North Carolina needs smart people like Julia to guide us through this tough, tough year, and he's absolutely right. It's not just the LGBT community that's lucky to have her working for us, the whole state is benefiting from having her talent and perspective on Jones Street.

Discrimination and Activism at Kid's Exchange

Last week the Triangle Families Yahoo group (for gay parents and their kids, friends, and allies in the Triangle area) was abuzz -- a lesbian couple was discriminated against at "Kids Exchange," a local children's consignment sale at the NC State Fairground.

The incident was particularly pointed in that one of the women was a volunteer at Kids Exchange.

Basically, if you volunteer then you and your spouse get to go to an early sale before the general public can shop. Kathy was a volunteer, but when she showed up with her partner, Amanda, she was initially turned away.

Another volunteer let them in, but then when they tried to check out, they were told they wouldn't be allowed back in again. Insult added to injury!

Now, obviously this is a terrible thing -- being discriminated against is horrible as we all know -- but three great things came out of it.

First, Amanda would not just sit idly by and take it. She went after this injustice, posting on a bunch of local newsgroups. More importantly, she asked people to contact Kids Exchange and gave them the contact info. And lots of people did.

Second, enough of a hullabaloo was created that the News & Observer covered it.

Finally, and best of all, the organizers were responsive. They stated that the purpose of the decade-old policy was not to discriminate against gay couples, and they are polling their volunteers to see if folks want to change the policy to limit shopping just to the volunteer or allow the volunteer to bring in one person of their choosing (spouse, partner, whatever).

Now, the situation isn't settled, and there's definitely still some education that can be done regarding discussing gay families in an appropriate manner, as well as generally being civil in the debate, i.e., there've been some missteps on both "sides" of the issue.

(I put "sides" in quotes because I honestly believe that basically everyone involved is a person of goodwill. Sure, a couple of the volunteers were definitely bigoted, but the organizers of the event do not seem to be, and everyone seems to agree on the positive purpose both of the event itself and the special benefit for volunteers.)

This entire situation is a microcosm not only of prejudice, but also of activism. These problems exist in all aspects of our life, but the ways to solve them are there, too. It all comes down to visibility and communication.

Never let prejudice go unaddressed. Talk to the person. Talk to their boss. Talk to their organization. Talk to your friends -- have them do the above. Talk to the press -- have them report on the above. Even if you don't get immediate results, everything you do is an investment towards understanding, normalization, and equality.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sodomy Blog

It sometimes seems to me that in the LGBT rights movement, there are issues that are considered "glamorous" and those that are considered less so. The fight for same-sex marriage, for instance, is a glamorous issue. It's an issue that has pervaded into our culture, and much time, attention, and money has been spent in attempts to attain these rights.

Please understand that my intention is not to undermine or belittle the fight for marriage equality. It is, of course, an important and necessary step in the fight for true equality. But there are other, smaller battles that need to be taken on and are occasionally ignored.

Sodomy laws are not a topic that many people are comfortable talking about, for many reasons. Beyond this, they're also a topic that many people feel no need to discuss anymore.

As you may be aware, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003. That case, Lawrence v. Texas, was a watershed moment for the LGBT rights movement. The ruling struck down sodomy laws in 14 states, including North Carolina.

What you may not know, however, is that North Carolina's Crime Against Nature (or CAN) law remains on the books. Even more disturbingly, the law is still occasionally enforced.

In May 2008, two men in Raleigh were arrested and charged under the CAN statute. Though the District Attorney ultimately decided not to proceed to trial, the simple fact that this remains an arrestable offense is unconscionable.

There are many reasons why repealing this law is important to our community. Amongst other things, the statute has been used by landlords as justification for not renting apartments to LGBT individuals.

It's been used by legislators to try and pass legislation in the state General Assembly that would prohibit sex education teachers from mentioning "sexual practices that are not lawful in North Carolina." And perhaps most damagingly, the CAN statute criminalizes the behavior of most LGBT individuals.

We cannot allow this statute to remain valid in our state. We cannot allow this vestige of ignorance and discrimination to continue to ruin the lives of LGBT people. We should not, and must not, allow this topic to be brushed aside anymore.

-Seth Maid

Monday, January 12, 2009

Giving to Others, and Yourself

Next Monday is MLK Day, and the King Day of Service is a great time to begin a habit of helping out someone else. I'm saying don't just do it once, but instead start doing it regularly. I'm going to be doing just that, and I'm doing it for the best reason of all: to benefit myself.

I've had many discussions with a friend of mine about where the line between enlightened self-interest and greediness ends, and altruism and philanthropy begin.

For example, when I go to church, I'm not going to glory in God or anything. (Sorry, God! I'm certain you know what I'm talking about. I appreciate the whole agape, caritas thing. We'll talk later. 8-]) Religion is way too personal and individual to muck it up with organization and dogma.

I'm going because I like the people there, I often enjoy the minister's little philosophical, slice-of-life homilies, and I think it'll be good for my partner and kid to have the church as a resource for us.

My motivations are certainly self-involved, but they're not negative, and the results are positive.

Similarly, I've increased my community involvement and volunteerism. The reason I'm doing it? Because I want my kid to see this behavior modeled and to learn it as a regular part of life.

I don't have any specific expectations on this one. I mean, I could say our trips to spend time with folks in nursing centers will hopefully mean he'll come visit me if I become old and infirm, but I hadn't even considered that until right this moment. (I hope it'll be true if it comes to that, though!)

The purpose of the King Day of Service is "to strengthen communities, empower individuals, and break down barriers." All of that is very useful to the larger whole, but it also helps the individual.

Service, volunteerism, and charity aren't about others versus yourself. If anything, it's about unity over dualism -- true service helps both the giver and receiver.

Why you do something matters, but a lot of time just the fact of doing it is what's important. What we get out of volunteer activity often exceeds our expectations, and in helping others, we help ourselves in ways we don't necessarily know or expect.

"Just do it" is the slogan of the Nike shoe company, and Nike is the Greek goddess of victory. Participating in the day of service, in any capacity, for any reason, is win-win for everyone.

-Shawn Long

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Anti-LGBT Group "Feeling the Pinch"

In December, the anti-LGBT Christian Action League announced it's $15,000 in the red, and fighting Equality NC's efforts appears to be one of the reasons. According to their website, Rev. Mark Creech blamed the shortfall on fighting "egregious forms of legislation that would have passed in the last session of the North Carolina General Assembly." Given how much time I saw Rev. Creech spending making sure gay and transgender kids don't have clear and effective protection from bullying, I'm betting he's talking about fighting us.

A little background: the Christian Action League is one of two right-wing groups that have lobbyists at the legislature working against equal rights every day. (The other is the NC Family Policy Council.)

The League's Creech and his friends at NCFPC are truly dedicated to their work.

I know these guys. We talk in the halls and in the cafeteria. Once in a blue moon we even find ourselves in coalition together (supporting lobbying reform, for example).

The thing that always amazes me is the way they can smile and be so friendly when a centerpiece of their agenda is to ensure that it's legal to discriminate against me.

So, although I don't wish anyone ill in these tough economic times—we're bracing ourselves for a tough year at Equality NC too—it's a little bit nice to know we're making enough progress to make them spend more on defence.

The article also outlines some of their agenda for 2009:

At its recent Western, Central and Eastern Conventions, the Christian Action League reported on some of the legislation it expects to have to address in 2009:

  • Legislation giving special rights to homosexuals
  • Replacing abstinence only based sex education with comprehensive sex education, which essentially promotes the use of condoms
  • Legislation that would use taxpayer money to study the merits of legalizing medicinal marijuana in the Tar Heel state
  • Modifications to the current ABC system

Yep, we're at the top of the list again. No surprise. The anti-gay industry knows that scary homosexuals are the best fundraising tool they've got.

But, let's look at that agenda again, and here's what it amounts to:

  • Keeping a whole segment of North Carolinians from being treated equally
  • Ensuring schools continue to lie to kids about sex despite all the evidence that "abstinence only" sex education doesn't work
  • Denying funding to a medical study they don't like, and
  • Making it difficult for folks to have a drink

They can dress it all up in carefully crafted language. But when you get down to what they really mean, their agenda is far outside the mainstream of what most North Carolinians believe.

I bet their supporters will come through for them, and Rev. Creech will be back in those halls smiling at me on January 28. I just hope we can keep him on the defensive in 2009.

-Ian Palmquist

Monday, January 5, 2009

Milk - the Past, and the Future

I started the new year off by seeing "Milk,"the Gus Van Sant film starring Sean Penn, based on the life of gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. (Thanks to ENC volunteer, Joe, who took me out to see the movie.) It was a good film, well done and well acted, but I was disappointed.

The movie felt dated. It told an important story of a seminal figure from, and time for, the gay rights movement, but it didn't resonate.

I was a kid when the actual history unfolded, but I definitely remember Anita Bryant, the Twinkie defense, and Milk's assassination.

Watching the movie, I felt like I was watching history, but it was simply history that had passed, not history that was still relevant to today's civil rights struggles. If the movie had come out 15 years or even a decade ago, it would have seemed more significant and made a societal impact, but watching it in 2008 it was simple passe.

(It was the difference between watching the Broadway show, "Rent," when it first came out and was so progressive and timely, and then watching the movie in the early 2000s, when it was simply an old and tired story.)

"Milk" constantly referenced Prop 6, which would have banned gay teachers (and teachers who supported gay rights) from California Schools. Given last year's struggle and loss with CA's Prop 8, which repealed gay marriage in that state, I couldn't help but wish the film had come out a year earlier, before last year's voting.

Still, even with the movie feeling old before its time, we're still fighting the same basic fight. North Carolina still doesn't have a comprehensive antidiscrimination law that protects workers from being fired based on sexual orientation, nor do we have an antibullying law that protects kids in schools from being harassed by homophobic bullying.

"Milk" is a part of the past, and our state's history of homophobia is something that needs to join it there. Times have changed, but our state is lagging behind. This year, 2009, is a great time for all of us to help bring it forward.

AP photo of Harvey Milk

-Shawn Long