Sherri Zann Rosenthal shares her recollections about the LGBT struggle for equality in the Triangle
by Jim Baxter . Contributing Writer
Openly lesbian Sherri Zann Rosenthal is Assistant City Attorney for the city of Durham.
Sherri Zann Rosenthal, assistant city attorney for the City of Durham, had been to lunch with the county Bar Association earlier on the same day she was interviewed by Q-Notes. “As friend after friend came in, I started thinking back,” she said. “In 1985 when I first became an attorney, I felt so alienated from the bar.
“It was just these old white men. I had to sort of push myself to talk to them, because for the most part they had zero interest in me. With some exceptions. But now who makes up the county bar is very different. It’s multi-racial now and it really wasn’t back in the ’80s. The way men and women interact is very different. So it’s really interesting.”
Rosenthal has seen a lot of changes in the community around her, and she’ll be speaking about them at NC Pridefest on Saturday, Sept. 30. As a keynote speaker, she’ll share her reflections on Durham’s early Pride parades and Pride activists.
Rosenthal was a founder of the Lesbian Newsletter, which was published in Durham for over 20 years. She led the campaign to get domestic partner benefits for the City of Durham and co-led the campaign for employees of Durham County, which both succeeded. In 2004, she received the Human Rights Campaign Carolinas Community Service Award for her work on domestic partnership benefits.
She was the attorney for Senate Vote ’90, which was an anti-Helms political action committee that originated from the gay and lesbian community. She currently serves as Secretary of the Board of Directors of NC GALA, the gay and lesbian attorneys association.
“‘Our Day Out’ was the very first march and rally in 1981, and yes I was there. It was fascinating because there weren’t very many of us marching down the street and a bunch of obviously very poor folks were looking at us very oddly.
“‘Our Day Out’ came in the wake of anti-gay attacks at the Little River in Durham, which resulted in the death of one man, Ron Antonovitch. But there were years of community organizing in other areas that made that first event possible.
“Many had been active in movements for other peoples rights — civil rights, all kinds of voter registration drives, protesting against racial discrimination, but it was after the Antonovitch murder that more public organizing around coming out as being gay began to happen.
“My impression, and this could have been just where I was coming from, was that there wasn’t much happening among men at that time. That for the most part it was women who were doing the community organizing and political organizing, with some real exceptions like Lightning Brown, Faygele ben Miriam, Carl Wittman and Allan Troxler.
“Later on, AIDS hit and women were very, very involved in the organizing around that, and that’s really where we had more men and women joining together.”
“Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists was another group that was a big thing at the time. There were also ‘Take Back the Night Marches.’ A lot of the women who were doing community organizing were very involved in those.
“One of the most interesting things about Pride then and now is that back then it was all participants. Now it’s more of a spectator event. That’s a huge change.
“There are more of us, that’s part of it, but I also think that culturally the really good thing about it is that Pride — as well as being for community activists – is also for folks who are not organizational or public in their being. People who do not see life though a political lens. And that’s great. I think that’s why the numbers are up.
“The numbers are also up because people aren’t afraid.”