DURHAM — Over 300 advocates and EqualityNC supporters gathered at Duke University’s Bryan Student Center on Nov. 15 for the organization’s long-anticipated, second annual N.C. Equality Conference and Gala. The statewide event attracting participants from locations as far as Boone and Wilmington was held the same day that thousands of citizens across the state gathered to protest the passage of anti-gay ballot initiatives across the U.S.
Conference participants attended several events ranging from sessions on campus activism and the continued push for a safe schools bill to sessions focusing on LGBT health and aging. National LGBT leaders addressed the conference in individual sessions and in large gatherings.
Addressing a gathering of about 40 people, Dr. Janet Joyner addressed how safe schools, or the lack thereof, have an effect on LGBT youth’s ability to perform in school. In a session for college students, Christopher Purcell and Janie Long of the Duke Center for LGBT Life led youth through steps to take when building campus alliances and coalitions. This writer participated in a panel discussion on Mitchell Gold’s book, “Crisis.”
During the opening plenary, national LGBT leaders addressed the conference and spoke about the need to continue pushing for equality across the board. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and Alexander Robinson, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, spoke about the need to include transgender and African-American populations in the fight for equality. National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director Kate Kendell addressed her role as the chair of the No on Prop. 8 campaign in California.
Kendell said members of the No on Prop. 8 campaign had been hopeful about winning at the ballot box.
“If you put the fundamental rights of a minority group up to a vote, they are going to lose,” she said. “This is why it has never been done before…it is a travesty.”
On Saturday evening close to 200 supporters gathered for the organization’s Legislative Award Gala, where longtime State House ally Rep. Paul Luebke (D-Durham) was recognized for his work on the safe schools bill and other pro-equality legislative initiatives.
Gala attendees also answered EqualityNC supporter and philanthropist Michael Edward’s call to raise funds to meet a $5,000 matching grant from Winston-Salem’s Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. When all pledge cards were counted, the organization’s supporters raised more than $8,100. In less than an hour, and with the foundation’s promised $5,000, the organization netted more than $13,000.