Grassroots, start your engines!

LGBT citizens engage, fire up homespun activism efforts

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

Scotty Vanhoozier and husband Ben Collins decked out in their “Vote No” T-shirts at the Westin Hotel Takeover Friday in September.

CHARLOTTE — LGBT North Carolinians are wasting no time when it comes to organizing against Amendment One, the anti-LGBT constitutional amendment that will be placed on the May 8, 2012 primary ballot (see story, “Tyranny of the Majority?”).

Just days after the amendment passed the legislature, grassroots activists across the state took to Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to organize and connect. In Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb graduate Tyler McCall and friends founded Neighbors for Equality.

“When everything happened, we started thinking about ways we could be involved and started looking at places that were maybe a little lacking and what was being offered by other organizations,” McCall said. “The big thing we’re looking to accomplish is mobilizing our friends and neighbors.”

Neighbors for Equality’s website at neighborsforequality.org will serve as an “online hub” for on-the-ground activists, McCall said. He and the group hope to connect other like-minded citizens who are individually or as groups working to educate voters and get them to the polls come May.

In Charlotte, one couple felt a similar push to make a difference. The week of the amendment’s legislative approval, Scotty Vanhoozier and his husband Ben Collins showed up at the Takeover Friday event at Uptown’s Westin Hotel decked out in “Vote No May 8” T-shirts. Vanhoozier, a screen-printing hobbyist, had printed them himself.

Scotty Vanhoozier works to perfect his "Vote No" T-shirt on screen-printer he keeps in his garage.

“I knew I’d get a positive, good response at Takeover; I didn’t expect anything less than that,” he said. “I’ve also been showing the T-shirt to our straight friends and, of course, they are all very supportive and on board with not passing that amendment.”

Vanhoozier said the impending ballot campaign is very personal. He and Collins have been together since June 2009. They married in Provincetown, Mass., in May.

“In the eyes of the state, our marriage means nothing, but to us it means a lot,” Vanhoozier said. “I’ve always told anyone that all I want was what my parents had. They got married and have been married for 45 years. I think that this is really the last civil rights movement for this country. It’s very important we as gay people speak out.”

Vanhoozier and McCall are just two examples of a growing trend: average gay folk who’ve had enough and have decided to take a stand. Vanhoozier thinks growing grassroots action is a sign of the “passion of the people.”

Vanhoozier plans to sell some of the shirts he’s made. He’ll collect orders through VoteNoMay8NC.etsy.com. McCall and Neighbors for Equality are planning on doing the same. Both say all proceeds will benefit Equality North Carolina, the statewide LGBT advocacy and education group that will be leading opposition to the amendment.

“If I can only sell 10 T-shirts for $10 each that’s still $100 they didn’t have yesterday,” Vanhoozier said.

Alex Miller, Equality North Carolina’s interim executive director, said movement across the state on the grassroots level is exciting and encouraging.

“There is a lot of energy around this issue and there are a lot of people who feel strongly not only about the amendment, but also about how important it is to stand up and oppose it in a public way,” Miller said. “It’s great to see there’s a lot of energy and absolutely we appreciate folks creating merchandise and donating.”

McCall and his fellow organizers said they’re excited about the prospect of working with a statewide campaign. Being based in Western North Carolina, McCall expects Neighbors for Equality to play a unique role.

“Sometimes we forget about the rest of these little areas across the state,” McCall said. “Maybe we will have a bit more reach into these passionate communities that have developed in some of these small towns.”

Miller said his group will be working on ways to create a cohesive and coherent message around the forthcoming “No on 1” campaign.

“We applaud the energy and motivation we’ve seen since the amendment was passed and we hope to continue to have good, open communication and good working relationships with all of our coalition partners across the state,” he said. : :