CHARLOTTE – The LGBT community took notice when news first broke earlier this year that the 2012 Democratic National Convention (DNC) would be held in the Queen City. Community bloggers and citizen journalists across the state, and even this newspaper, editorialized and opined on the event and what it means for this city and this state. The 2012 convention will be for many LGBT Tar Heels an immediate opportunity to speak out and be heard on local and statewide issues of equality that rarely receive national attention.
As the spotlight shines down on Charlotte, the DNC will be forced to compete for attention with an impending ballot referendum putting an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment before voters in May. Those tasked with planning the convention are determined to showcase Charlotte and North Carolina in the best light possible.
The LGBT community has plenty of friends in the mix. In September, three of the state’s most well-known LGBT philanthropists and businessmen were appointed to local host and steering committees.
At the helm is convention CEO Stephen Kerrigan, an openly gay Massachusetts native who worked for 14 years in the U.S. Senate and for Sen. Edward Kennedy. The chief of staff for the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston, he’s also served as director of convention planning for the Democratic National Committee. He’s got the experience to make it all happen and he’s counting on Charlotte to help him out.
“We chose to come to North Carolina because of the people here and the spirit here in this state and in this city,” Kerrigan says. “The people here in North Carolina and in Charlotte are incredibly friendly.”
A successful convention, he says, will take openness and accessibility.
“It does no good to have our 35,000 delegates and guests and members of the media the only ones involved in this effort,” he asserts. “We want to make sure that this is not just about what goes on on the floor of the Time Warner Cable Arena. It’s about the story of this area, this city and the entire region and about showcasing it to the world. We moved to Charlotte 15 months ahead of time to be a part of this community. We look forward to the next year, getting involved and engaged and making sure our new hometown benefits from hosting this convention.”
Telling the story of Charlotte and its citizens, including LGBT community members, will be foremost among convention planners’ agenda items. Kerrigan says he and his team look forward to working with a variety of independent media professionals to get the word out to as many people as possible.
“We want to with citizen journalists and bloggers and others to make sure they help us present the convention in the best light possible so that they are a key part of making this the most open and accessible convention in history,” he says.
The massive changes in modern technology will make such a job easier.
“I attended my first convention in 1992 and I didn’t even have an email address then,” he says. “Now I have a phone in my pocket that can do almost anything. Finding those new pathways to get information out to the people is really important and we look forward to working with our partners to access those and take advantage of those opportunities.”
DNC Open To Funding Fight Against Anti-Gay Amendments
The chair of the Democratic National Committee said Tuesday she would “certainly consider” spending money to combat anti-gay constitutional amendments next year in Minnesota and North Carolina.
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz made the remarks about spending DNC funds to defeat marriage amendments in response to a question from the Washington Blade. She took questions from reporters following an Immigration Equality event she attended in D.C.
The LGBT community has been a key constituency of the Democratic Party and Kerrigan says they will not be forgotten as the convention date draws near.
“One of the big advocacy groups pushing for us to come to Charlotte was the LGBT community,” he says. “They reached out from my first visit here in 2010 and throughout the site selection process really encouraging us to come here. Folks see by having us here and the work we are going to do and the light we’ll shine will shed a really positive light on the City of Charlotte and on North Carolina.”
Come next September, Kerrigan says, Charlotte will host the re-nomination of the most LGBT-friendly president this nation has ever seen.
“He has done more than any other president for the LGBT community, whether it be repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ or declaring the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional and telling the Department of Justice not to defend it anymore,” Kerrigan says.
The James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard hate crimes act was also a momentous success.
“I worked in the Senate for 14 years for Ted Kennedy, one of the biggest advocates for the community, and we weren’t ever able to get the hate crimes bill passed,” Kerrigan recounts. “The president got it done and signed it. He’s the man along with the vice president who we’ll be nominating that week, so we’re hoping the issues will be really front and center.”
The convention, Kerrigan says, will showcase the party’s core values, and that includes equality for LGBT people.
“We don’t just re-nominate a president and vice president,” he says. “We also reaffirm who we are as Democrats and what we believe as a party, and we have always been a party of inclusion. We have always been a party who has stood up for those who need help the most and have always been a voice for the voiceless.”