Monday, March 30, 2009

Equality Prevails in Gainesville, Florida

By Stephen Wiseman, ENC intern

By a margin of 16 points, Charter Amendment One failed in Gainesville, Florida last week. This ballot initiative would have repealed Gainesville's anti-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT individuals and would have also prohibited the City of Gainesville from ever providing protections beyond those listed in the Florida Civil Rights Act.

I first heard about Charter Amendment One several months ago when a friend alerted me to the disturbing advertisement created by those is support of the Amendment. The ad, created by Citizens for Good Public Policy, showed a young girl entering a women's restroom at a playground. She was then followed by a scruffy looking man while the words "Your City Commission Made This Possible," scrolled over the screen.

The supporters of Charter Amendment One waged a fear-based campaign that specifically targeted transgender people. And although this was contained within Gainesville, the amendment could have had larger implications for the LGBT community.

The victory in Gainesville showed that equality could prevail. Nadine Smith, executive director for Equality Florida said, "This victory sends a strong signal that we will not allow extremists to turn back the progress we have made to secure equality for everyone." Congratulations to all those who worked for equality in Florida!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Equality in the News: March 21 - 27, 2009

Wow! What an exciting week we've had here at Equality NC. Tuesday was our very successful Day of Action, which drew a record crowd, and on Wednesday, Sen. Albertson introduced this year's Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which includes sexual orientation and gender identity). Your local media round-up is below:

Employment Non-Discrimination:
  • Under the Dome had a post about our Non-Discrimination in State Employment bill.
  • A new study by the UCLA Williams Institute found that gays & lesbians are more likely to live in poverty than their heterosexual counterparts. This further exemplifies the need for an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Pam Spaulding covered the story on her blog.
School Violence Prevention Act:
  • New Bern's Sun Journal featured an article focusing on the personal effects of bullying and the School Violence Prevention Act. The article also has some wise words from Ian Palmquist, which you can check out right here.
  • Keep checking the Bullying Blog for regular updates on stories, or share yours by e-mailing them to Wes.
Day of Action:
  • News 14's great coverage of the Day of Action, featuring Kate Mabe, can be streamed on their website.
  • Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend wrote an enlightening blog about her experience with the Day of Action, specifically discussing how her meetings with members of the NC Legislature's Black Caucus here. We (via Pam) even got a shout-out on the LGBT-centric Towleroad blog!
Marriage Discrimination Amendment:
  • News 14 also covered the Elon University Poll, showing a majority of opposition for a constitutional amendment here.
  • For any polling geeks out there, Under the Dome couldn't get enough of that Elon poll, with posts on wording, the consistency of answers to three questions, the Family Policy Council's reaction, the change since a previous (differently worded) Elon poll, how it compares to the conservative Civitas poll and national polling, and how this poll undermines a "whereas" in the bill. All that lead up to this little item in the News & Observer.
  • Durham's City Council debated a pro-marriage resolution to be submitted to the General Assembly in support of marriage equality. Pam, as usual, is in the know and shares that information here.
  • ENC Board Member Addison Ore wrote a touching op-ed advocating for marriage equality in Greensboro's News & Record, and we highly suggest you check it out here.
  • Durham's not the only one to show their support - Boone's City Council continues their support of LGBT rights with a unanimous vote to oppose the Marriage Discrimination Amendment, and Appalachian State's student newspaper covered that excellent decision here.
  • Eyewitness News 9 out of Eastern NC focused on the Marriage Discrimination Amendment in a recent two-part sement, unfortunately titled Redefining Marriage. Her's part one and part two.
  • You may be seeing a lot of these pop up in your local news papers. If you came to the Day of Action, you received a great information sheet on some great Marriage Discrimination Amendment talking points, and they might help you to craft your own letters to the editor to combat NC4Marriage's efforts to politicize and manipulate our simple request for equal treatment under the law. Soon, we'll try to have that information online so that everyone can benefit from it.
That about does it for this week. Again, we can't thank enough the more than 250 supporters who came out for the Day of Action and over 400 virtual attendees who contacted their legislators through our online Action Network. You truly made a difference, and don't forget to keep in touch and build on those relationships you were able to begin. Enjoy your weekend and we'll see you next week! :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Random notes from the Day of Action

Equality NC's Day of Action was a great success yesterday.
  • We had almost 250 people come to the legislature
  • Folks came from as far across the state as Duck, Wilmington, and Asheville.
  • We had many straight allies come.
  • The full spectrum of age was covered from the older, golden-year gays to the toddler children of gays.
  • The teenagers who came, including one 13-year-old kid, were very involved and outspoken.
  • We had a good collection of young people, as well as people of color.
  • Wandering contingents of home-school parents and their kids who stopped by our area were interested in our work on the School Violence Prevention Act (SVPA). (They also enjoyed the leftover cookies. It's probably best that they didn't wander into the auditorium during the talk on sodomy policy!)
  • We got good news coverage. Kate Mabe, who also spoke at the SVPA press conference, was interviewed by News Channel 14.
  • One of our supportive legislators said that so far this year we have had the largest group of people come to the legislature. (Apparently the folks who came to the marriage discrimination rally a few weeks ago simply milled about in the public spaces and didn't make much of an effort to talk to their senators and representatives.)
  • Our supportive senators and reps were very happy to see us.
  • Antigay senators and legislators were mostly civil, though some of them were "away all day" and unable to meet with their constituents, and at least one of them literally jogged away when he saw some of our folks coming to his office.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Equality in the News: March 14 - March 20, 2009.

Unfortunately, not every week holds such excitement and media coverage as the previous weeks have shown. This week had a few follow-up stories on the School Violence Prevention Act and various LGBT-related issues that directly affect us here in North Carolina. We look forward to seeing you all at the Day of Action on Tuesday - and if you haven't registered - please do so now! And now, the news:
  • Public Policy Polling released their findings on support for the School Violence Prevention Act, and it's no surprise that North Carolinians, across party lines, overwhelmingly support the passage of this bill. You can look at their detailed findings here
  • The NC Policy Watch blog, the Progressive Pulse, featured an article on the public's support of the SVPA written by our very own Ian Palmquist. It's a great article (and we're not just saying that cause we have to!) and you should check it out!
  • The Daily Herald of Roanoke Valley and Lake Gaston did a profile of Angela Bryant, and she gives her support for the School Violence Prevention Act and the Healthy Youth Act here.
  • Thanks to Pam at Pam's House Blend for sharing the results of GLSEN's national youth survey on transgendered students. The study reveals disturbing realities for transgendered youth in schools - yet another reason for passing the SVPA. You can read more those findings here.
  • Another great LGBT blog out of Wilmington, Be Yr Own Queero, wrote a great blog on the Marriage Discrimination Amendment which you can read here.
  • And in some very exciting worldwide news, President Obama announced his decision to sign the UN's declaration on decriminalizing homosexuality. You can read about that here. Well done, Mr. President! Now let's get that Crime Against Nature law off the books in NC!
Enjoy your weekend, and hopefully we'll be seeing you Tuesday!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Greensboro Programs Engage on School Violence Prevention, Transgender Policy Issues

Guest post by ENC intern Greer Cook

Last night ENC's Community Organizer Rebecca Mann presented the School Violence Prevention Act at the Hemphill Library in Greensboro and intern Stephen Wiseman discussed his research findings about the needs of transgendered people in North Carolina. I joined them there, along with Communications Fellow Wes Nemenz and lots of supporters! We had a great group of people representing Greensboro and High Point PFLAG chapters, UNCG students and staff, and faculty and staff from some of the local schools.

Rebecca spoke about the history of the SVPA and where things are now with the legislation following the reintroduction of the SVPA last week. The importance of the enumerated categories within the SVPA namely sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression was discussed and the audience weighed in on lawmakers who where opposed to the inclusion. One audience member said, “Those who want to take out the enumerated categories are saying that bullying is ok”. ENCs Day of Action (March 24, 2009) was also highlighted and a significant portion of those attending last nights forum will be joining us next week in Raleigh.

Stephen’s presentation followed Rebecca’s and it began with an interactive exercise by the audience who were asked to define transgender, gender, and gender non-conforming. Some of the responses included the “negotiation of birth gender” and the “inherent sense of being male or female”. As the binary (male/female) system is sometimes not an accurate descriptor of identity, the authentic gender model was discussed allowing for a clearer picture of gender variance. Stephen’s needs assessment of trangendered persons in North Carolina found that issues related to health care and employment discrimination had the greatest impact on them. Look for more town hall meetings on transgender policy issues around the state in the coming months.

Sen. Julia Boseman Supports the School Violence Prevention Act

Senator Julia Boseman of Wilmington spoke at the Press Conference to introduce the School Violence Prevention Act on March 11. As you all probably know, this bill is extremely important in protecting students across North Carolina from bullying by including enumerated categories of commonly targeted individuals. Julia gives an emotional speech, detailing the unspeakable tragedies that could occur if these children are not protected by this law.

You can help us in getting this legislation passed by contacting your legislator, or by registering for our Day of Action - next Tuesday, March 24. We thank Julia and all legislators, groups across the state, and the public for their support of this legislation.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Or in this case, Mr. Johnson-Long goes to the NC Legislature.

Kid (my son, Isaiah, age seven, picture to the right) went with me to see our press conference last Wednesday announcing the antibullying bill.

(There was a certain reluctance on his part, initially. When I told him I was taking him with me to work, his reaction was "Awww, man, you mean I'll miss school? I love school!")

It was a beautiful day, thankfully, warm and sunny, so the transit between locations was pleasant. While he waited at the ENC office for us to head over at noon, he entertained himself on the computer (playing Poptropica, a safe, kid-friendly, multiplayer online game recommended to us by his first-grade teacher).

He got to visit a bit with the ENC staff, as well as meet a bunch of ENC interns and volunteers. Stephen, our trans policy person, was particularly great with him.

We all walked over to the legislative building together, and Kid got to tour the capitol grounds. We even spoke to several legislators and lobbyists while we waited.

When it was time, we crowded into the glass-lined press room. I was worried about whether there'd be space for us, but there was just enough room. In addition to the speakers standing at the front, folks were also lining the walls, and the press stood in the back.

It was a great press conference, and from what I've been told it was remarkable in terms of the number of legislators who attended, as well as the number of people who spoke out in support of the issue.

Kid was enthralled. I'm sure a lot of stuff went over him, but he definitely understood the basic issue. In fact, afterwards when I was explaining the history of the School Violence Prevention Act and how it didn't pass last year, he wanted to know how anyone could be against stopping bullies in school.

Now, this was a tricky question. I always try to be honest with him, and I don't want to be overprotective. (I only try to insulate him from most of the ills of the world, not all!) Still, even as I told him that everyone wants to stop bullies and that people just disagree on the best way to do that, I realized that wasn't true. If the bill didn't provide specific protections for gay kids, it would sail through without any problems. Some legislators do, in fact, think it's OK for gay kids to be harassed. Sometimes the bullies in school grow up to become bullies in government.

I didn't tell him that, though, but then again, I didn't need to. He knows about bullies. He's told me he gets hassled sometimes (even by his friends) for having two dads and/or having no mom.

But at least now he also knows that there are people working to stop this, too.

The next day, I asked him what his favorite parts of the day were. He said he liked getting to eat a hot dog and chips for lunch, and he was happy he lost his loose tooth so he got money from the tooth fairy.

Nothing is more zen and in-the-moment than kids. It was an educational day for both of us.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Equality in the News: March 6 - March 13, 2009

With this week's introduction of the School Violence Prevention Act (House Bill 548, Senate Bill 526), there was a good bit of coverage in the media, so let's get right to it:

School Violence Prevention Act
  • Triangle folks can see what Raleigh's local newspaper, the News & Observer had to say about the press conference here.
  • WRAL's site featured an impassioned editorial in support of the bill.
  • The Rocky Mount Telegram featured an excellent article with lots of quotes (including one from NC PTA President Debra Horton, who says the bill will "ensure that all children in North Carolina have a safe and supportive environment where they can realize their full potential"). That article can be read here.
  • The Fayetteville Observer gives an interesting take on the bill's introduction, with a "if gays get protected from bullying, it's a slippery slope to other gays trying to get their gay rights"-style quote from Family Policy Council President Bill Brooks. Glad the article included quotes from 16 year-old Kate Mabe's impassioned plea for the bill.
  • The folks at Blue NC wrote a great article that includes some great quotes from the Presser, and you can find that here.
  • Pam's House Blend featured Mabe's full testimonial and video of her speech (which can also be found with other bullying stories on the newly launched Prevent School Violence North Carolina's Bullying Blog).
  • A basic AP story also ran all over the place, including WRAL, WBTV, the Greenville Daily Reflector, the Rocky Mount Telegram, the Greensboro News & Record, WCNC, WBT, WXII, the Shelby Star, and WFMY. Another blurb appeared in the Asheville Citizen Times.
Healthy Youth Act

  • This bill, which Equality NC is supporting along with many other NC organizations, seeks to offer a choice between comprehensive and abstinence-only sex-ed. It's approval by the House Education Committee got lots of coverage around the state, including articles in the Charlotte Observer, the Asheville Citizen Times, and others.
  • An excellent editorial in the Charlotte Observer makes the case for this important bill.
  • The Wilmington Star-News also supports the bill based on the success of a similar program in New Hanover County.
  • In addition to blogging extensively about the School Violence Prevention Act and constantly putting the word out about our Day of Action, Pam mentioned the good news which you can find at the end of that entry.
Other News
  • Q-Notes is keeping the Marriage Discrimination Amendment issue fresh by posting an article about it's introduction last week with some great quotes from our very own Ian Palmquist.
That about sums up the news from this week. Much of the news being reported about the SVPA is a recycled AP News story that doesn't feature many quotes - so make sure you become a reporter yourself by asking friends, neighbors, and co-workers if they've heard about it and try to garner some support.

In the meantime, check out the Prevent School Violence NC Bullying Blog which will be updated frequently with a new bullying story from students, parents and educators from around the state.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

NCAE President Sheri Strickland: Teachers Need Clear, Uniform Bullying Policies

Sheri Strickland, President of the North Carolina Association of Educators, makes the case for why teachers support the School Violence Prevention Act. Sherri represented the state's largest teachers' group at the press conference on the bill on Wednesday, March 11.

Rep. Cotham Takes on the Right Wing

Rep. Tricia Cotham did us proud yesterday, sharing her experience as a teacher and administrator, and taking on the Family Policy Council and their allies.

Check out her comments:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's the Stories

Today's press conference announcing the School Violence Prevention Act went off beautifully! I can't wait to see the converage in tomorrow's papers.

Seeing many of our legislative allies and the leaders of our amazing coalition partners standing together and speaking out for safe schools was truly amazing.

What made it so powerful, though, was the stories. We saw emotion today that I can tell you is not an everyday occurence at the General Assembly. Sen. Boseman got choked up—and most of us where right there with her—talking about a high school student who committed suicide after enduring years of bullying. Rep. Tricia Cotham, who has been a teacher and vice principal, told of many situations she'd dealt with her schools, and boldly took on the right wing, saying "they should be ashamed" for putting ideology ahead of the safety of young people. Rep. Rick Glazier and Rep. Cullie Tarleton each shared stories as well.

The highlight for me, though, was seeing Kate Mabe, a 16 year old high school junior from Winston-Salem show amazing poise and courage in standing up and talking of the harassment she faced for being lesbian. Think how hard it must have been for her first to come out in middle school, to face months of harassment in high school, to have to uproot herself and transfer schools to get away from the bullies, and after all that at 16 to get up in those bright TV lights, face a room of reporters and legislators and speak truth to power.

UPDATE: We have video! Check out Kate's remarks on YouTube!

Pictured Top: Supporters look on as Rep. Rick Glazier introduces the bill.

Pictured Middle: Sen. Julia Boseman makes it personal.

Pictured Below: Kate Mabe speaks truth to power.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Something old, something new ...

Guest blog by ENC volunteer, Amanda

Rarely have I found legal advantages to being queer in America, but when I proposed to my girlfriend, Zoe, we had to laugh at the irony of our situation. I’m a bisexual woman, she’s a lesbian transwoman who is legally male, and in any state in the good ol’ USA we can get married with ease. We can have our own biological children and not deal with second-parent adoption. In a world where being transgendered is so often a legal nightmare, it’s nice to find an upside.

I met Zoe at a friend’s party in April 2008, and with my characteristic outspokenness I outed her to the entire room not fifteen seconds after she arrived: “Zoe? That’s such a cool name for a dude!” She wasn’t dressed as a girl that night and when she informed all present that, actually, she’s trans, I realized that I’d really put her on the spot. I tried for the next couple of hours to discreetly pull her aside and apologize, but she just thanked me for helping her get it out of the way all at once. She was shy, but determined to be honest about herself when meeting new people. We ended up spending most of the night with our heads together bonding about gender issues and flirting up a storm. Before either of us could blink, we were completely smitten.

She didn’t exactly bring a U-Haul to our second date, but by the end of the summer we were living together. On Christmas Day I proposed quite spontaneously while she was driving us to a holiday lunch outing. She narrowly managed to not crash the car while crying and fluttering her hands, emphatically saying “yes.”

As far as all our loving friends are concerned, our unconventional situation is cause for rejoicing and excitement. My dad and her sister both asked if we were going up to New England to tie the knot before realizing that our Big Gay Wedding can take place right here. I know there will be complications down the road: getting people to believe that we’re actually legally married, explaining the slightly more complicated birds-and-bees to the kids someday, and the looming question of what happens to our rights when Zoe is declared legally female. But in the meantime, we’re dealing with the more immediate and critical concerns of wedding favors, buffet receptions, vows… and blissfully contemplating our future together.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Equality NC in the News: Feb 27-Mar 5

Equality NC got in the news a lot this week -- can you guess why? Despite the extensive coverage (full list of links at the bottom), most of the articles are simply reprints from two AP wire stories.

Take note of these three items to get the gist of the coverage:

Also, here a few unique items. The topic is the same, but the content is individual:

Here is the longer, more comprehensive list of coverage, most of which is repetitious: