GREENSBORO — Four candidates vying for the opportunity to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole took to the airwaves on Tuesday evening at a public university, televised debate run entirely by student broadcasters and journalists.
N.C. State Sen. Kay Hagan, Chapel Hill businessman Jim Neal, podiatrist Howard Staley and attorney Marcus Williams spoke on issues of the economy, rising fuel prices, health care, LGBT equality and the impending General Election race against Dole.
The event was the first televised debate of the North Carolina U.S. Senate Democratic Primary and aired on UNCG campus television. At least two local television stations, CBS-affiliate WFMY News 2 (Greensboro) and FOX 8 WGHP (High Point), also offered live video feeds via their websites. The debate was hosted by University of North Carolina-Greensboro Spartan TV’s Chris Brown, the main anchor of “UNCG Now.” Brown was assisted by “UNCG Now” Political Correspondent Micah Brooks Beasley and Luke McIntyre, editor-in-chief of the UNCG student newspaper, The Carolinian.
On LGBT Civil Rights, the candidates were asked their positions on the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the U.S. Armed Forces and hate crimes legislation.
U.S. Senate candidates answer questions on gay rights
Courtesy UNCG Spartan TV/YouTube
Hagan, who has been accused of sidestepping questions on LGBT issues and refusing to openly discuss LGBT equality publicly, loosened up and spoke frankly regarding her policy positions on DADT and hate crimes.
“We have lost a lot of good people who have been doing good service to our country,” Hagan said. “We need good capable people serving us in the military. I think we ought to do away with that policy. I also support hate crimes legislation.”
In the past, the Hagan campaign has refused to answer questions regarding the senator’s gay rights positions when asked by Q-Notes staff. Hagan has also not spoken directly to LGBT media, standing in stark opposition to Neal’s consistent and open discussion with a wide array of LGBT-focused outlets. Hagan also refused to answer direct questions regarding equality issues from Durham, N.C., blogger Pam Spaulding during an April 1 BlueNC.com live blog.
Hagan has also stated she believes marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples, but that the issue should be left up to the states.
Staley and Williams, two of three lesser known candidates in the race, employed the use of anti-gay rhetoric in their responses, despite the former’s seemingly positive position on DADT.
“I think they should be able to serve openly,” Staley said of LGBT people seeking military service. At the same time he cautioned against allowing an environment that could lead to a “community of just gay people” inside the Armed Forces.
“I don’t like to use this analogy,” Staley responded, “but just look at the Catholic Church and the problems they’ve had with an all male clergy.”
Williams said he thought DADT had been “effective” as a policy.
“I understand alternative lifestyles exist and I applaud people who are law abiding and working hard and contributing to society,” he said.
Williams later asked why it was necessary to “have to identify an individual who happens to be gay or straight?”
Neal, who is openly gay, called DADT “flawed legislation” and said he was against “any kind of discrimination, against any person, for any reason.” He said he is against the nation forcing its citizens to lie about their identities in order to serve their country.
Neal also noted the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, reminding Williams, an African-American, of the history of discrimination in North Carolina and America, especially as it related to constitutional marriage prohibitions.
Williams called Neal’s use of the Loving decision an “erroneous analogy.” He said race was “easily identifiable, indelible and arbitrary.”
He added, “Whether someone exercises a gay or alternative lifestyle is not any of those necessarily.”
Brown told Q-Notes he felt the debate was a success. “It was a positive feeling overall,” he said, reserving concern over Staley and Williams’ use of anti-gay rhetoric.
“As a gay man, I regret their positions,” he said. “I hate that we live in an age where people can still think that way.”
In a statement following the debate, Neal said, “The people of North Carolina who were able to see the debate will benefit tremendously from it when they go to the polls May 6.”
Neal continued, “The differences between me and Sen. Hagan could not be more stark. Clearly the contrasts were there.”
A fourth candidate, Duskin Lassiter, did not participate in the debate.