Silence = betrayal

Editor's Note

by O'Neale Atkinson  Editor Emeritus  
Published: March 17, 2012 in Editor's Note

The 2012 Human Rights Campaign (HRC) North Carolina Gala was a night filled with speeches from advocates working for the rights of LGBT people across the country and fighting against discriminatory legislation in North Carolina. For me, one of the most stirring speeches of the evening came from CNN anchor Don Lemon who was presented with the HRC’s Visibility Award. According to the HRC’s website, the award recognizes “LGBT individuals who are living open and honest lives at home, at work, in the media and in their greater community.” Considering the fact that Lemon is viewed by millions of people daily through his work at CNN and that he chose to formally come out following the release of his book “Transparent” in May of 2011, I cannot think of a better person to receive such an honor.

What really sold his message for me was not the fact that he brought his partner up on stage for a quick kiss, although that was simply heart-warming, but rather his call to action in the form of a quote from Martin Luther King. “There comes a time when silence equals betrayal,” Lemon quoted to the audience of over 1,400 captivated listeners. Of course, Lemon wasn’t the only speaker to motivate the crowd to speak out and be active in the fight for equality, but his was the only speech that illustrated the consequences of remaining silent. When it comes to our equality I have to agree with Lemon and Dr. King — silence equals betrayal.

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is the first Charlotte mayor to publicly support HRC. Not only did he participate in a welcome video for the Gala, he was also a speaker at the event. During his speech, Foxx stated publicly that on May 8, he would be voting against Amendment One.

Despite having a mayor who is against Amendment One, Charlotte’s City Council currently has no intention of entertaining a resolution stating that Charlotte opposes the amendment. Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh have all passed resolutions opposing this amendment and I think it is beyond time that the Queen City follows suit.

During a public panel discussion in February, Charlotte City Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield was asked about a city resolution opposing the amendment and responded that historically Charlotte City Council has not taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh. While this may be the standpoint of the City Council historically, there are a number of reasons why this logic is absolutely flawed.

I truly cannot and do not want to imagine a world where we simply responded to all situations based on historical precedence. Historically in this country women weren’t given the right to vote, people were segregated by race and individuals practicing occult or non-Christian beliefs were tried unjustly. There comes a time when a society has to grow up and realize that doing things, or not doing things, based on “the way it always has been” is just plain stupid.

Following her statement, Mayfield did encourage the audience to take action and contact their City Council representatives and let them know that this issue matters to the people of Charlotte. I have no doubt Mayfield is against the amendment and would support a resolution, but I also understand that she can’t be the only person on the council bringing up the issue.

In my mind I imagine Mayfield must feel like most of us that have ever been the only gay person in their office or workplace. I have worked in several businesses where I chose to keep quiet about my sexual orientation, at least for a time, not because I feared discrimination, but because I did not want to be qualified as “the gay one.” I am so much more than just an openly gay man and Mayfield is much more than an openly lesbian woman serving on the City Council. If Mayfield is the only person on the council bringing up the issue I am sure it will be perceived as biased or self-serving to the eyes of the rest of the council, especially if no other councilperson is receiving feedback from their constituents about the issue on a regular basis.

Outspoken representatives like Mayor Foxx and Councilwoman Mayfield deserve our support in fighting for equality, however we can’t leave it all up to them. We, as citizens, need to approach our respective City Council members directly and let them know the importance of this issue and that we want them to not only discuss, but adopt a resolution opposing Amendment One. This amendment is not just “something out of Raleigh,” this amendment will impact all of us and we need to take a stand. One seat on the City Council speaking out will not a resolution make.

I ask that you no longer remain silent. If you live in Charlotte and you don’t know your district, go online and figure it out. Then identify the City Council representative for your district and send them an email, follow-up with a phone call and show up for a meeting. Give our supporters on the City Council the voice they need to effectively debate and win this issue. : :