Activists: Thursday’s pro-gay rally will send message

Grassroots groups plan pro-LGBT rally at state legislative building

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: June 1, 2011 in News

RALEIGH, N.C. — Grassroots activists from across the state will march on the North Carolina Legislative Building on June 2. Planned in response to an anti-gay marriage rally in May that attracted conservative church-goers and hate group leaders, organizers of Thursday’s rally say they will send a strong message to legislators in each party.

“We want to make it clear that this is not only a message to the conservative, GOP members of the legislature,” organizer Angel Chandler, of the North Carolina chapter of GetEqual, told qnotes. “It’s also a message to the Democrats who are often pitched as our allies. We expect them to stand up and fight for us. They often get LGBT votes and support and we’re calling out to them…It’s not only the GOP, but also the Democrats who aren’t standing up for their LGBT constituents.”

On May 17, some 3,500 people attended a an anti-gay rally on Halifax Mall. There, radical leaders from across the state and nation including hate group leader Tony Perkins spoke out in favor of an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment that could bar recognition of both marriage and other same-sex relationships. Perkins’ group, the Family Research Council, was listed last year as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Chandler’s group and others hope their rally will encourage LGBT and ally North Carolinians to speak out. She says groups like the statewide Equality North Carolina are doing a great job but that more action is needed.

“Equality North Carolina does important work with their lobbying and petitions and postcard campaigns,” Chandler said. “[Our work] very much complements that and I think it is necessary. Looking back at all the social movements in this country and around the world, rallies, marches, non-violent direct action and civil disobedience has been absolutely necessary for change. This rally is just the beginning.”

Chandler says Equality North Carolina has not offered official support or involvement in Thursday’s rally, but Jen Jones, the statewide group’s communications director, told qnotes that they have helped to promote the event and are involved in other grassroots initiative.

“We have brought on an Eastern North Carolina organizer and a faith community organizer,” Jones said. “Both are working on a grassroots level with people in communities we haven’t been able to touch — diverse communities that are chock full of moderate and undecided voters on particular amendments like this and other social issues.”

Jones and Equality North Carolina maintain that the push for the anti-LGBTamendment comes from a relatively small group of legislators pushing a radically conservative agenda. Among other conservative lawmakers, there is support for more important issues.

“There’s a lot of support for turning to the issue at hand, which is the economy,” Jones said. “There are legislators who are sympathetic to the argument that this type of amendment is a distraction from what they should be working on. It’s not the type of social legislation they were elected to work on.”

Jones notes that neither House nor Senate Republican leadership have signed on to the proposed amendment.

“Our work has primarily been in talking with those legislators in leadership about these priorities and how they are perceived from the outside looking in,” Jones said.

While activists gather in Raleigh, others are pushing for more direct action as well. North Carolina businessman, philanthropist and advocate Mitchell Gold told a crowd of Charlotte LGBT leaders last week that constituents should target House Speaker Thom Tillis in his home district. Tillis represents Cornelius, N.C., and a portion of Mecklenburg County.

“We have to educate Speaker Tillis and get him to understand that this legislation was brought about by senators and representatives in the House from their religious beliefs,” Gold told attendees at the May 25 Lesbian & Gay Fund luncheon. “There is nothing civil about it. They brought this legislation because of their own personal religion — outdated, ill-informed and horrifically painful to a lot of people young and old.”

He added, “We have to educate Speaker Tillis and if that means going to his church on Sunday and sitting in those pews and standing up with a sign that says ‘End the Harm,’ I dare Charlotte to do that and if you do I will be there with you.”

Chandler hopes her efforts to get people to Raleigh will inspire others to act.

“I think that this is more for the LGBT people in North Carolina and our allies and those who are frustrated not only with the lack of progress but now the regress in our equality, or at least the threat of that,” she said. “We are gathering people together who want to send a strong message to legislators that we are here and we are their constituents and there will be consequences to their actions.

Jones said Equality North Carolina will also keep up pressure inside the halls of the legislature, pointing to the group’s May 17 counter to the anti-gay rally staged by conservatives.

“While outside people were shouting at the building, we were having a press conference inside the building with faith leaders and legislators,” she said. “I’m hoping our voices will be the ones that are heard.”

North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast without a constitutional amendment on marriage and other same-sex relationships, though it has been proposed for the past seven years. Leadership in the formerly-Democratic-led legislature kept the amendment at bay, but 2010 midterm elections swung the majorities in both the House and Senate toward Republicans. It’s the first time the state GOP has held control in both chambers in over a century.

Thursday’s rally will include speakers from across the state including state Rep. Patsy Keever (D-Buncombe), Durham blogger Pam Spaulding, openly gay former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal and congressional candidate and Asheville City Councilmember Cecil Bothwell, among others. Organizers expect around 500 participants.

— Learn more about the June 2 rally at facebook.com/event.php?eid=109963092422801.