A year-end review of the Carolinas’ top stories
2008 was more than just an election year. Our galvanized community accomplished great deeds and made history. The election of our nation’s first African-American president was just one of a litany of amazing events. Right here at home, the Carolinas LGBT community saw plenty of forward movement on our quest for equality.
Our year-end review is broken down into two sections: Community and Politics.
RDU gets a center
This year, LGBT community members in Raleigh and surrounding areas began to organize their first community center. As for now, the group continues to operate under the 501(c)3 status of Triangle Community Works. The board of directors and others have begun the process to achieve non-profit status of their own. When they get final approval from the IRS, the group will begin capital campaign fundraising to open the Raleigh area’s first-ever LGBT Community Center.
CBPM honors two
Scores crowded into the Afro-American Cultural Center (AACC) the Saturday after the 2008 Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday to celebrate the visionary leader’s life and legacy, and to honor two members of the LGBT/Same-gender loving (SGL) African-American community.
Dorae Saunders, a transgender performer from Columbia, S.C., was honored with the Audre Lorde Community Leadership Award for her national visibility, mentorship and contributions to the South Carolina LGBT community.
“There is nothing like being honored by your peers — getting your flowers while you’re still living you could say,” she said. “I am moved and I am humbled.”
DeArcy McVay of Charlotte was honored with the Bayard Rustin Community Leadership Award for his impact as a youth mentor and men’s health educator.
McVay, involved as an organizer in the Carolinas “ballroom” scene, is a “Popular Opinion Leader” with d-UP!, a local project that targets young, popular and influential African-American men who have sex with men to disseminate information about HIV throughout the community.
As a Popular Opinion Leader, McVay helps to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS by working to change social norms amongst his friends by having more conversations about safer sex and risk-reduction.
“I appreciate you, I respect you and I admire you. I can think of nobody better to receive this honor,” said Storm Williams, McVay’s longtime friend.
After receiving his award, McVay thanked Metrolina AIDS Project and praised King and Rustin. “They paved the way for me, to express myself.”
In February, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Carolinas Gala honored two community leaders and a church. Elke Kennedy, Q-Notes’ 2007 Person of the Year, and Charlotte’s Myers Park Baptist Church were both honored with the Equality Award.
Kennedy, whose son Sean was killed in an anti-gay hate crime, has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the need for hate crimes legislation in South Carolina. Myers Park took a courageous stand against the North Carolina Baptist Convention by defending its LGBT members. For their public stance, the church was dismissed from the association.
The 2008 Trailblazer Award, which recognizes an individual who has a record of consistent and significant contributions to the LGBT community and is seen as a role model to others, was presented to the Rev. Dr. Bennie Colclough, pastor of Providence Christian Church in Manning, S.C.
Carter honored nationally
North Carolinian Mandy Carter was honored at the 20th anniversary Creating Change conference, hosted Feb. 6-10 by the Task Force, for her work with Southerners On New Ground (SONG), a North Carolina-based rights group created at the 1993 Creating Change conference hosted in Durham.
“I am truly humbled to receive this award and I do so for everyone who has been, is and will be in the social justice movement,” Carter said.
She began her battle for social justice when she heard a speaker from a Quaker group at her high school. She said that conversation changed her life, and as a result she often follows the lead of the Quakers in her own activism. “We have to go where the people are and we have to interact with them there,” she said.
“The concept of power is that I, we, all of us have the capacity of change. Not everyone acts on it,” she said. “It’s about equality for all… No one gets left out and no one ever gets left behind.”
She also reminded onlookers that it takes time to be included, citing the annual commemorations of the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.
Even though the march was largely organized by a gay man, as each remembrance of the event was planned LGBT activists were told this was not the year for their issues to be heard. Forty years later, things changed when Coretta Scott King herself asked that the LGBT community be part and parcel of the events.
“It takes time. It takes tenacity,” Carter told the crowd. “Our movement is at a historical, pivotal crossroads. The question before us: Are we about justice, or just us? It’s got to be about justice!”
City honors gay leader
Openly gay community leader Tim Griffin was honored with the 2008 Neighborhood Leader Award on March 8. The award was presented by the City of Charlotte’s Neighborhood Development department at its 13th Annual Neighborhood Symposium.
Griffin, president of the Morningside Neighborhood Association, has devoted countless hours toward the revitalization of the Morningside neighborhood in the vicinity of Central Avenue, east of Uptown. The bohemian area is popular with gay and lesbian Charlotteans, artists and musicians.
Griffin and his partner Neil have helped organize the association into a strong and vibrant influence in the Plaza Midwood and Morningside areas. They have also helped create various sub-organizations to serve the interests of the neighborhood’s varied population, such as one group for mothers and children.
Pride Charlotte breaks 10k
In its third successful year under the direction of Charlotte’s Lesbian and Gay Community Center, the 2008 Pride Charlotte festival enjoyed another record turnout. According to Charlotte Mecklenburg Police, 10,000 people attended the day-long festival at uptown Gateway Village on July 26.
Raine Cole, one of the festival’s co-chairs, said the event was “fabulous.”
“The turnout was tremendous and there were a lot of new faces in the crowd,” she said. “It was a wonderful day. People were happy and having fun.”
Cole said she’s been pleased with each festival’s growth. “For the second year in a row our attendance has increased by nearly 30 percent over the previous year. We would certainly like to see this pattern continue.”
Economy hits LGBT community
As the nation spiraled headlong into recession, it wasn’t long until LGBT community members, non-profits and businesses began to feel the pinch.
Several national organizations have had to cut staff and trim programming. Local organizations are undergoing their own challenges. SC Equality announced in November it needed $30,000 before year’s end. EqualityNC says it is “holding its own,” while tightening down a conservative budget and holding off on new staff hires.
LGBT business owners are shuffling through, as well. Among the hardest hit have been realtors. Raleigh resident and realtor Michael Sullivan of the Fonville Morisey Realty company told Q-Notes in October that he’s been facing a tight housing market for at least 18 months. Although he can’t explain it, his business has picked up slightly in the past two to three months. But nothing is guaranteed.
“We’ve been struggling with this for close to two years now,” Sullivan said. “This bailout is going to help, but it won’t be an immediate fix.”
While hopeful — Sullivan says he’s “overly optimistic about the end of the day” and not worried about his retirement — he’s also afraid that it will take too long for the market to pick back up.
“I think it will take six to 12 months for the market to rebound,” he said. “But I don’t think the real estate market will get back to what it was three to five years ago, probably in my lifetime.”
Thank God it’s finally over. That’s what most Americans are saying. The 2008 election season was more like the 2005-2008 election season. After more than two years of campaigning, candidates finally made their farewell bows, re-entrances or debuts the day after election day.
Perhaps the biggest story for the LGBT Carolinas was Jim Neal’s courageous primary battle against State Sen. Kay Hagan. Both vied for the chance to go head-to-head with incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole. While Neal and Hagan ran neck-and-neck for a while, Hagan’s campaign cash and TV ads paid off. She won in a landslide. Come November, good ole’ Liddy was out of office and North Carolina, once again, claimed at least one Democrat in the Senate.
Charlotte schools pass policy
In one of the biggest school board victories in the Carolinas, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education passed an inclusive anti-bullying policy protecting LGBT students.
Following the 6-3 vote, MeckPAC chair Phil Hargett told Q-Notes, “We realize this policy is not just about gay students, that it is about all students, but we are happy and very excited that sexual orientation and gender-identity are protected.”
The new CMS policy protects students on the basis of about 20 “real or perceived” characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender-identity. It also calls for inclusiveness training and detailed record-keeping of bullying incidents.
Columbia passes pro-LGBT ordinances
In an historic occasion for the LGBT community of the Palmetto State, the Columbia City Council passed new public accommodations and housing ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender-identity.
The motion passed unanimously on March 5. Columbia is the first municipality in the state to offer such protections and only the third in the Deep South. Atlanta and New Orleans offer similar protections.
“We have passed one of the most comprehensive bills in the country, in one of the most conservative states in the country,” said C. Ray Drew, executive director of the S.C. Equality Coalition (SCEC). “South Carolina, and states like ours, represents the front lines of our battle for LGBT civil rights in this country.”
Council members Daniel Rickenmann and Tameika Isaac Devine introduced the statutes and pushed for their passage. Rickenmann and Isaac Devine stated, “When we work together and respect each other, we can make Columbia an even better place to live.”
Openly gay freshman takes office
An openly gay freshman at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG) won the student government spring election for student body president by an overwhelming majority in mid-April.
Michael Tuso, 19, a native of Raleigh, officially took office Apr. 29. His duties as student government president include overseeing funding for hundreds of student organizations, serving on the university’s board of trustees and acting as a liaison between students and university administration.
Tuso had to overcome obstacles of age, academic class and sexual orientation to win the right to lead UNCG’s more than 16,000 students for the next year. His prior involvement with the student government was primarily focused in the Student Senate Finance Committee.
Tuso told Q-Notes that he wants to find ways for student government to work more closely with student organizations. “An issue I’ve been pushing a lot is collaboration. There is a lot of disconnect between the Student Government Association and student organizations.”
‘Naked Boys’ ill-received
This certainly wasn’t a good year for “Naked Boys Singing.” Two times during 2008, the acclaimed gay-popular musical faced challenges from Carolinas institutions. In May, North Carolina government officials refused the musical’s performance in a state-owned venue in Winston-Salem. In September, The State newspaper in Columbia censored coverage of the musical produced by MBF Productions. The difficulty in spreading news about the musical lead MBF to cancel it.
Ding, dong the witch is dead
On July 4, former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms died. The LGBT community erupted with joy. However disrespectful it might have been, the relief of knowing one of history’s most anti-gay bigots had finally passed was like music to many queer folks’ ears.
“Jesse Helms will be and should be the historical ‘reminder’ of just how bad it can be when an elected politician can legislate so badly,” activist Mandy Carter told Q-Notes in July. “I don’t know if there could ever be ‘another Jesse Helms.’ I think he was one of a kind. So, we can now add him to the list of the icons of the ‘old segregationist South’ that are no longer with us.
“I say never forget and never again,” she added.