This year marks platinum anniversaries for not one, but two different community organizations here in Charlotte. For two decades, the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN) and the Charlotte Business Guild have served community members in untold and myriad ways. No doubt, qnotes has long covered both groups’ events, successes and achievements, but no amount of paper and ink will ever accurately tell the story of how these groups, and others in Charlotte and across the Carolinas, affect people in positive, life-changing ways.
Both RAIN and the Charlotte Business Guild were founded in 1992. It was one of several landmark years in Charlotte’s LGBT history in the early 1990s. In 1990, the Human Rights Campaign set up its first field committee in Charlotte, expanding efforts to help defeat Jesse Helms. In 1991, Tonda Taylor formed Time Out Youth. That same year, Charlotte hosted the international conference for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG).
In 1992, as RAIN and the Guild booted up, local activists began working toward the adoption of an LGBT-inclusive public accommodations ordinance. Though the effort would ultimately fail, being voted down by the city council in November 1992, it was a significant first step toward expanded legal rights for local LGBT citizens just four years after Charlotte’s first gay advocacy group, First Tuesday, was founded.
Other community achievements would continue. In 1994, students at Winthrop University in nearby Rock Hill, S.C., formed their LGBT student organization. The same year, NC Pride brought its festival and parade to the streets of the Queen City.
In the years to follow, Charlotte took a turn to the not-so-pleasant. Years of regressive politics resulted in controversies over the gay-themed play “Angels in America” and local arts funding. State Sen. James Forrester from nearby Gaston County introduced and then successfully passed the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Community empowerment and capacity-building took a back seat as LGBT citizens put their advocacy into defense mode.
In the face of such opposition, outcries for change were prompting growth again. New advocacy groups like the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee were created. As the millennium came and went, local citizens began to push again for expanded civil rights and changes in local law and policy. The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte was founded.
Groups like RAIN and the Charlotte Business Guild, among others, have been through the thick of both the good times and the bad times. Scores of community leaders, professionals and volunteers have worked with the organizations, striving to keep people alive, to keep gay business flourishing and to provide support for those most in need.
Our history and the history of organizations like RAIN and the Charlotte Business Guild are all intertwined. They tell a story of a changing society. They mark the ebb and flow of political culture, of discrimination, of loss, of challenge. More importantly, however, they share the collective experience, knowledge, wisdom, passion and commitment of real people with real courage working in the face of real obstacles toward real, lasting and positive change. That’s the real story. That’s what really counts. That’s what will shape the future. That is what history will remember.
Charlotte’s LGBT community is growing up. Our organizations are becoming long-lasting institutions. With reminders of the past and remembrance of those who came before, we each will continue to move forward with unity — for the betterment of ourselves, our city and our world. : :