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From ashes the phoenix rises
A year of LGBT work in South Carolina

by R. C. Wilson . Contributing Writer

The past year has been a big one for the southern state known to many as the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.” January began with continuing shock waves from last year’s battle to defeat Amendment 1 on the Nov. ’06 ballot. So much time, energy and community resources were focused on winning that uphill battle to defeat the anti-marriage ballot initiative. When the Amendment passed with almost 80 percent support, harsh reality set in about how we far we still have to go.

With no real focus to keep the momentum moving forward, much of the spring months were spent nursing wounds and keeping organizations afloat with waning donations and shrinking staff. The South Carolina Equality Coalition (SCEC) kept pushing forward despite the loss of their executive director and changes in their board.

Now, the future is bright for SCEC, which recently hired C. Ray Drew as its new executive director. Ray, who is a native of South Carolina, is returning to the state with over 19 years of experience with national LGBT organizations.

Faith in America came to Greenville in the fall to show how religion can be used to fuel bigotry. Partnering with Sean’s Last Wish, Upstate Equality and SCEC on their “Call to Courage” media campaign andSoulforce’s “Seven Straight Nights” allies rally, they drew several hundred with both events.

Columbia’s non-profit Nickelodeon Theatre was one of a handful of theatres in the region to show the groundbreaking and award-winning documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So.”

On the college front, LGBT student groups thrived in 2007. The University of South Carolina’s BGLSA and Safe Zone Ally Project held several successful events and members have begun to see considerable changes in the campus climate toward LGBT students. Clemson’s GSA has gained momentum and the group traveled to Columbia to march in SC Pride ’07.

Francis Marion’s GSA, Columbia College’s SPECTRUM and Winthrop’s GLOBAL also made positive progress as each group in the state builds coalitions with their sister schools. Greenville’s Affirm and Columbia’s Outsmart have fallen on hard times, but hopes are high for 2008.

The South Carolina Gay & Lesbian Pride Movement (SCGLPM) also saw a year of changes to their Board and the election of new officers. In September, after less than five short months of planning, SCGLPM put together one of the largest, most successful SC Prides in the 16-year history of the LGBT event. Jacob and Joshua Miller of Nemesis entertained an estimated 4,500 people in Columbia’s Finlay Park, and plans have begun for Pride ’08 to be held over the Sept. 20 weekend at the same location.

SC Pride ‘07 was made possible through a partnership with the Human Rights Campaign and particularly the work of local activist Michael Haigler and the HRC Carolinas South Carolina Sub-Committee. During SC Pride, SCGLPM made a promise to Carolinas Black Pride Movement to hold events more inclusive of LGBT Persons of Color. Columbia Black Pride ’07 was hailed a success and plans are underway for 2008.

SCGLPM was recognized as the 2007 Best Activist Cause or Group by Columbia’s Free Times newspaper.

“Rainbow Radio — The Real Gay Agenda” continued to air pro-LGBT programs as they approach their 115th episode “by gay and straight people, for gay and straight people.” The show received the 2007 HRC Carolinas Equality Award and has continued to book such famous guests as Lily Tomlin, Leslie Jordan, John Waters, Keith Boykin, Jennifer Holiday and others.

After an amazing year of provocative billboard campaigns and proactive outreach and education in the Charleston area, AFFA, the Alliance for Full Acceptance, celebrated its ninth anniversary. Most recently, AFFA began an advertising campaign in local movie theatres, continuing their mission to support LGBT families. Rumor has it one of AFFA’s founders plans to run for public office in the coming year, which would bring a refreshing new voice to Congress.

The S.C. Gay & Lesbian Business Guild had a year of positive impact as they continued to offer networking opportunities for LGBT professionals. The group has generated positive energy with their monthly programs highlighting local LGBT businesses and efforts. They have shown the power of the “pink dollar.”

After starting out the year in defeat, the LGBT community of South Carolina has risen from the ashes in a brilliant display of pride like a phoenix rising. In 2008, the sky is the limit for progress and advancement of LGBT causes in the Palmetto State.

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