CHARLOTTE – A crazy month full of LGBT activity in the Queen City has come and gone. For LGBT activists and community members, February was nothing short of a full-fledged queer extravaganza, including a glitzy, glamorous awards gala, LGBT activism awareness events and challenges to local and national anti-gay organizations.
National organizations gay and anti-gay descended on Charlotte in mid-February for a series of events culminating in a weekend of frenzied activity. Community members heavily involved in several organizations found themselves dashing about town attending to several events, many of them overlapping.
The Charlotte Rainbow Action Network for Equality (CRANE), a newly-established LGBT grassroots activism group, kicked things off with a Valentine s Day Uptown awareness event. [Ed. Note This writer is an organizer with CRANE.]
About two dozen community members, mostly youth and students, gathered at Trade and Tryon Sts. to pass out literature on LGBT equality and speak to passers-by.
“We re here tonight to raise awareness about relationship equality and our equal rights,” said Lacey Williams, a CRANE organizer who also works for the Charlotte Coalition for Social Justice.
Only a few days later, a joint leadership conference with the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and two primarily African-American LGBT Christian denominations set up shop in Uptown s Omni Hotel. Their conference brought together LGBT and gay-friendly religious leaders from across the nation. North Carolina congregations like Charlotte s Unity Fellowship Church and the Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship in Winston-Salem participated.
At the same time as the LGBT-friendly relgious conference, the anti-gay national group Focus on the Family brought their ex-gay conference, Love Won Out, to Charlotte. On Saturday, Feb. 21 the same day as the Human Rights Campaign Carolinas Gala the anti-gay group drew out close to 1,000 people to Central Church of God for a full day of teaching on so-called religious conversion and reparative therapies and ministries for people they say suffer from same-sex attractions.
Through several events organized by CRANE and other local and national organizations including HRC, EqualityNC and others, community members spent the days prior to the conference debunking the lies and myths of ex-gay therapy.
On Thursday, Feb. 19, CRANE hosted author and syndicated columnist Wayne Besen at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte. Besen, executive director of the national group Truth Wins Out, spoke on the dangers of the ministries supported by Focus on the Family.
On the day of the conference, CRANE organized more than 50 community members who gathered outside Central Church of God to protest the conference and raise public awareness on the harms of religion-based bigotry and prejudice.
Love Won Out, featuring ex-gay speakers like Joe Dallas and Focus on the Family officer Melissa Fryrear, supports the notion that LGBT people can change from gay to straight. Critics, like Besen, charge that the group relies on false and debunked science, promotes ill-fated conversion programs and can lead to increased anxiety, depression and suicide.
Inside the church, speakers like Dallas discussed theories that claimed to explore the various causes of LGBT sexual orientations and gender identities. In a morning presentation, Dallas cited 19th century psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, the former president of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).
In recent years, NARTH has come under fire for racist and other seemingly prejudiced positions and statements made by their staff and other leaders affiliated with the group.
Besen said that he witnessed more youth present at the Charlotte Love Won Out conference than he had at any other he d attended.
“It was heartbreaking to see more young people than I ever had before at this traveling ex-gay road show,” he writes in his latest syndicated column. “There was a cardboard sign that read Youth Track [inside the conference] and several teenagers some that appeared not much older than 13 were being taken inside by their desperate and confused parents.”
That evening, 900 LGBT community members from across the Carolinas gathered at the Charlotte Convention Center for the 14th Annual Human Rights Campaign Carolinas Gala.
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) was the keynote speaker for the event. HRC President Joe Solmonese also spoke. EqualityNC and Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte Board Chair Denise Palm-Beck were honored with the 2009 Equality Awards. Volunteer LaWana Slack-Mayfield received the group s 2009 Volunteer of the Year Award.
HRC Gala co-chair Michael Holmes said they had not yet finalized the numbers for the amount raised at the benefit dinner, but said the group was “on track” with all the other dinners in the nation, given the state of the economy.
“We just slightly exceeded what we made last year on sponsorships,” he said. “Overall, we are all very pleased with where we have ended up.”
Outside the Gala, members of the transgender community protested HRC alongside anti-gay group Operation Save America. Janice Covington, chair of TransCarolina, said her members wanted HRC to know about their displeasure with the group’s decision to exclude them from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the fall of 2007.
Covington said she and another transgender activist were able to meet with HRC President Joe Solmonese the day before the Gala.
The flurry of activity in February and the combination of several high profile events sparked intense community discussion and heavy media coverage. Through mid-February, every TV news station and The Charlotte Observer covered the LGBT and anti-gay events at least once.