Understanding the context: Reaction to Forrester’s death not ‘politics,’ it’s personal

Editor's Note

Tar Heels across the state reacted in myriad ways to state Sen. James Forrester’s death in October (See story at goqnotes.com/13109/). For LGBT families and their children, news of Forrester’s passing came as a relief. Many said as much, as did I. “Good riddance, bigot,” I noted on Twitter, and for good reason.

Yet, such plain, legitimate emotion can rub people the wrong way.

“Saddened to see some nasty Twitter reactions to Forrester’s death,” tweeted WRAL capital reporter Laura Leslie. “Some things are bigger than politics, folks. Like respect.”

Respect? Really? After nearly two decades of continued abuse from this man, LGBT North Carolinians should take time to pause in reverence? Despite my usual tendencies to stick with good southern traditions of courtesy and civility, on this social more I must take a definite pass.

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In the hours and days immediately following Forrester’s death, I couldn’t help but notice all of the unearned respect being thrown toward this man’s hate-filled legacy. My mind raced in bewilderment.

Gov. Bev Perdue ordered that all state flags at all state facilities be lowered to half-mast the day of Forrester’s interment. Honor the bigot, forget the people he harmed.

Openly gay Gaston County Democratic Party Chairman Robert Kellogg said he was “thankful” for Forrester’s service on behalf of the state and Gaston County. That is, unless you’re gay. No service for you; only discrimination.

Democratic Sens. Martin Nesbitt and Bill Purcell said Forrester “brought a necessary level of expertise to Senate deliberations on health care matters.” Oh, yes, let’s forget that time, not too soon before his demise, that Forrester insisted on standing by his medically inaccurate claim that gays and lesbians had shorter life spans than heterosexuals.

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Charlotte’s daily newspaper even jumped on the memorial train, providing space for readers and the public to offer written condolences. Too bad for the people who felt the brunt of Forrester’s bigoted wrath; you’re equally valid comments and remembrances weren’t welcome.

“But, Matt,” you plead, “don’t you have any respect for Forrester’s family? What about condolences for their loss?”

A valid point, I’ll concede. It’s always a sad and emotional moment when a loved one passes. No one, not even me, wishes to diminish the pain of death and sense of loss that comes with it.

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But, when that loved one is also a longtime public servant who has time and time again used his power and privilege to cause harm and damage to other people, someone must take on the responsibility of reminding others of the true legacy of that person. Someone must stand up against the tide of the memorializing media and public gloss-over and speak truth.

It is important for people to understand the context of these negative — or, depending on perspective, positive — reactions to Forrester’s death. It’s easy to claim such emotional statements are made out of political gain. To the contrary, reaction to Forrester’s death isn’t about politics. It’s never been about politics for all of the LGBT Tar Heels forced to defend themselves against Forrester’s agenda. For us, it is personal. A dead Forrester means one less voice of hatred occupying a seat in the North Carolina General Assembly — one less person with the power to strip us of our dignity and citizenship.

James Forrester was a man dedicated — to death — to one singular cause. Year after year, he stopped at nothing to strip LGBT North Carolinians of their rights as full and equal citizens of this great state. Harsh as it might sound, that is the honest truth laid bare.

In times of death and grief, it’s human nature to pause and reflect upon the positive contributions of a person’s life. But we cannot, simply for the sake of propriety, forget the other side of Forrester — that hate-filled, bigoted side that painted LGBT people as sick, sex-crazed monsters from which North Carolina’s people and children needed protection. No amount of praise or condolence-writing can erase the harmful misdeeds of a man hell-bent on stomping gay people back into that dank, dark closet from which he prayed we had never left.

“Perhaps he was a good man in his time but that time has long gone,” said one commenter on WRAL’s website.

That’s about all the condolence I think I can give. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

4 Replies to “Understanding the context: Reaction to Forrester’s death not ‘politics,’ it’s personal”

  1. Christopher Callihan November 12, 2011 at 12:48 am

    “The evil that men do lives after them.” No matter how kind and generous he was, he was still the fomenter of ignorance, intolerance and hate. I’m sorry he died too soon to see that North Carolinians have outgrown his brand of politics.

  2. “I didn’t attend the funeral but I sent a very nice note stating my approval”.

  3. Matt: I appreciate your views and can understand them. I wish you had called on me to clarify my comment or at least ask why I had called on people to be thankful for his service.

    There is not a single person in Gaston County who has fought harder to expose the bigoted words and actions of Senator Forrester. I continually stood up when others were seated and spoke out when there was silence.

    I realize it is easy to question why an openly gay man who happens to be the Chairman of the Gaston County Democratic party would ask others to be thankful of the deceased Senator’s service, but had anyone asked I could have explained.

    I am still open to explaining why I said what I said and why I still feel that it is to our detriment as a community to bash the deceased Senator’s name.

    If we want to turn him into a martyr and hasten the passing of this amendment than by all means continue to be grateful for his passing and step on the dead man’s grave. If we also want to give the opposition a side show and reason to point at us and show how unforgiving and callous we are than continue to berate the man.

    I tend to think that we as a community will score more points, win over more hearts and minds and win more votes in favor of our equality when we rise above the unchristian finger pointing and name calling that we are so eager to clamor about when it is pointed toward us.

    With that said we do not need to sugar coat his legacy, time will tell it like it is. However we do owe his family a little bit of time before we rake him over the coals.

    Yes, he was bigoted, yes he spread misinformation and yes he was gunning to rid North Carolina of the LGBT community; but this is our chance to show that we as human beings, we as a community, we as people and citizens of this State are compassionate and understanding…..even when it is not shown to us.

    I would also appreciate it if my words would not be misquoted. The Gaston Gazette quote, without paraphrasing is the following, ““It is no secret that his politics and my politics did not always agree,” said Kellogg. “But I did respect the man for his service to our state and I think all Gaston residents should be thankful for his service to this state. I wish condolences to his family and to his wife.”

    If we as a community, if I as an activist have to forfeit our/my humanity and Christian love for one another in order to win equality than we have gained nothing in the end and are no better than those we seek to expose on the opposing side for their Christian hypocrisy and bigoted views.

    I do not take back my initial statement and stand by my belief that we get back what we put out and we reap what we sew.

    This is not about scoring a political point, making a statement or striking while the iron is hot. This is about human behavior and common decency. Just because the Senator refused to see me as an equal or acknowledge my right to be the man I was created to be, it does not mean I have to return the bitterness by dancing on his grave.

    I refuse to perpetuate the cycle and ask all in the LGBT community to join me in fighting bigotry without stooping to the level of those we are trying to enlighten.

    If anyone in the LGBT community would like to discuss the issues at hand or ask a question of me please contact me. I will be more than willing to listen without judging and to work together to bring about tolerance and equality. Thank you.

  4. Hi –

    While I can apprecite Mr Kellogg’s comments, I can’t help but wonder: as a transsexual lesbian, what Mr Forrester would have said at my passing. Just as all politics is local, so is it public and if Mr Forrester was proud of his record, so be it. I just happen to disagree with it and am pleased his voice no longer speaks for me. Yes, may he rest in peace. Now maybe the transsexual community of this state will get a fair shake and find the peace we seek.

    – Sharon Harmon
    Cramerton, NC

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