Originally published: Nov. 12, 10:11 a.m.
Updated: Nov. 14, 2011, 9:24 a.m.
North Carolina NAACP President, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, left, led an afternoon keynote panel discussion moderated by Durham blogger Pam Spaulding and panelists (l-r) Southerners on New Ground’s Caitlyn Breedlove, Pullen Memorial Baptist Pastor Nancy Petty and Equality Champion Award-winner Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman of Hickory’s Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church.
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Over 400 community members from across the state gathered on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro on Nov. 12 for a day-long conference on LGBT education, advocacy and organizing.
Statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina hosted the conference and an evening gala. The event comes as campaigns begin ramping up against an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment that will ban marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships for same sex couples.
The group’s leaders wasted no time addressing the amendment, among one of the most important issues on most attendees minds.
Former Interim Executive Director Alex Miller and newly-hired Executive Director Stuart Campbell opened the conference with their annual State of Equality address. Miller ran down the group’s lobbying efforts on the amendment, which ultimately gained approval on Sept. 13.
“When they picked this fight, they didn’t just pick it with us,” Miller said. “They picked it with a lot of folks.”
Miller told the audience that North Carolinians will vote against the amendment when told of its true harms and intents.
Quoting the late state Sen. James Forrester, who passed on Oct. 31, Miller said Republicans were seeking to make LGBT people “change their lifestyles.”
“That’s what this bill is really about,” Miller said. “It’s about their ideas of what a family is, what a couple is and imposing that on everybody. When the people of North Carolina know that, this will fail.”
Campbell, who was hired in October to replace Miller and longtime Executive Director Ian Palmquist, said the amendment will be Equality North Carolina’s primary focus over the next several months.
“This will be a battle of historic proportions, but I do believe it is winnable,” Campbell said.
Campbell said three factors point toward potential victory, including the amendment’s placement on a May 2012 primary ballot, the amendment’s extreme and broad language and the group’s growing coalition of faith, community of color, progressive and business leaders.
“The language of this amendment is so extreme that even folks like Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, a conservative, Tea Party representative, has said she’ll vote against it,” Campbell said. “Our task — all of us, everyone in this room — will be to educate voters in North Carolina. Regardless of how you feel about marriage equality, this amendment is just bad for this state.”
Campbell added, “The state of equality in North Carolina is precarious, but we’ve defied expectations before. Everyone said we couldn’t pass an anti-bullying bill. We did. Everyone said the amendment would be walked through the legislature but it won by only one vote.”
Miller will co-chair the group’s anti-amendment campaign with Blueprint North Carolina Executive Director Sean Kosofsky, a former director of NARAL Pro-Choice NC. The campaign’s manager, former Human Rights Campaign staffer Jeremy Kennedy, was introduced to Equality North Carolina’s supporters on Saturday.
The campaign will be largely coalition-focused, organizers have said. Groups already committed to supporting the campaign include the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and the state chapter of the NAACP.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, the N.C. NAACP president, led the conference’s keynote panel. He delivered a speech based on an open letter he composed in September opposing the anti-LGBT amendment.
The group’s conference continues throughout Saturday and ends with a keynote panel including North Carolina NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber. An evening gala will take place in downtown Greensboro.
Barber said the constitutional amendment was a “trojan horse trick” by Republican leaders in the General Assembly. The same people pushing the amendment and its restrictions are the same people pushing voter rights restrictions and doing harm to the education system, he said.
“The North Carolina legislature is not the modern day Council of Nicaea — and we should not want it to be,” he told the crowd, which applauded and stood several times throughout his speech. “We should never seek to codify discrimination into the very heart and framework of our Constitution.”
Equality North Carolina’s annual event ended with an evening awards gala. First-term, openly gay state Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) was recognized with the group’s Legislative Leadership Award. Longtime philanthropist and owner of Greensboro’s Replacements, Ltd., Bob Page, was honored with an Equality Champion Award. Four others were also honored with the Champion awards, now named in recognition of Page. They included University of North Carolina School of Law professors Maxine Eichner and Holning Lau, longtime Wilmington, N.C.-Equality North Carolina supporter Bo Dean, Hickory’s Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church Pastor T. Anthony Spearman. This writer was also honored.