Lack of transparency casts doubt on LGBT Democrats’ ability to lead

Editor's Note

A year-and-a-half ago, LGBT Democrats in North Carolina banded together to form an official state caucus organization. The group’s founding was hailed as a step forward for LGBT North Carolinians at a time when the state found itself in the midst of an anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment campaign.

In its bylaws, the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina outlines several goals, including “encouraging LGBT persons to participate fully as Democrats at all levels of policymaking and public service.” Yet, the group finds itself today embroiled in a controversy that may very well undercut the organization’s otherwise worthy mission.

Allegations have surfaced that the group’s vice president, Concetta Caliendo, attempted to exclude a transgender woman, Charlotte’s Janice Covington, from membership in a separate Democratic women’s caucus. (See our story at goqnotes.com/23693/.)

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These allegations are serious and deserve public debate. They cut straight into the group’s mission of inclusion and raise important questions about the broader inclusion of transgender people within the LGBT movement. Questions regarding the potential exclusion of transgender members of our community by fellow community leaders like Caliendo deserve quick, honest and straight-forward answers.

Caliendo and LGBT Democrats President Ryan Butler instead chose to ignore all requests for comment, waiting nearly two weeks before issuing written statements. Starting on June 18, this newspaper attempted several times to reach out to Caliendo by both telephone and email. We first reached out to Butler on June 19, again by email and phone. All of our requests were ignored. Emails to other LGBT caucus leaders were also ignored.

Caliendo eventually did issue a statement, 11 days after this newspaper initially reached out to her. The emailed statement, which was also posted to the qnotes website, refuted Covington’s version of the alleged incident.

Then on July 1, just a mere six hours before this print edition was scheduled to go to press, the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina finally released an official statement.

Both statements were clear: The LGBT Democrats and Caliendo support full equality. But, neither statements directly answered a bevy of questions qnotes had posed in the midst of Caliendo’s and the group’s several-days-long silence. Most of those questions remain unanswered as of press time.

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Among those questions: Why did Caliendo, Butler and other caucus officials either wait so long to respond or opt not to respond at all? Did they believe the issue of inclusion unimportant? Does Caliendo believe that a transgender woman or man should be able to join women’s and men’s organizations? Does Caliendo personally believe that a transgender person’s gender marker should prevent them from joining an organization or cast doubt on how that person identifies? Does Caliendo understand the barriers transgender people face when it comes to gender confirmation and does she understand the complexities of gender identity?

These questions and many more need answers. Caliendo, Butler and other caucus leaders must speak on these issues if they seriously seek to represent LGBT people and LGBT Democrats in this state. Refusal to address these questions and issues in an open and honest way is a failure of leadership and a failure to remain true to the organization’s mission and goals.

As this newspaper has often stated, transparency and accountability are not optional for community organizations or leaders. Governing a non-profit and leading a community, especially if one is engaged in a political cause, can often be difficult, but transparency is among the most simple of actions any group can take. Transparency is easy and its reward is trust and strength. Unwisely, the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina chose to take a far more difficult path. : :

QPoll: Be Heard

qnotes wants to know what you think! Have your say by voting in our QPoll below.

Was it appropriate for LGBT Democratic Party leaders to ignore questions about potential anti-transgender bias and exclusion?

  • No, they should be held accountable and answerable to the people they seek to represent. (77%, 24 Votes)
  • Yes, they are under no obligation to anyone but themselves. (23%, 7 Votes)

Total Voters: 31

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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.

3 Replies to “Lack of transparency casts doubt on LGBT Democrats’ ability to lead”

  1. Janice Covington July 5, 2013 at 10:07 am

    I would like to make a clarification and comment to this story. As you can read in my original statements, I never gave out the identity of the person who spoke to me until I was interviewed by Q-notes and only did this after prodding by Matt, I even asked him not to print her name because the fact that she identified to me she was a lesbian was not an issue with me, but he said it was bigger than me and it was an LGBT issue, It was about transgender acceptance in the LGBT community.

    When I was approached by Miss Caliendo she did not come out and say Janice I am an out Lesbian initially, I had not a clue, I have never met her. She said she was asked to speak to me and identified herself as the Vice Chair of the North Carolina Women’s Association and only after her comment that I would be more suited with the men’s organization of the Democratic Women’s, I showed extreme displeasure by stating that is not an option, along with being unacceptable and I ripped my name tag off, did she say she was an out lesbian and also vice chair of the LGBT caucus. To me it didn’t make a difference, it was not about her being a lesbian, it was about that fact that this person was telling me things that did not sit well with me. I did not care what she identified as and all I knew was my rights was being violated.

    If I wanted to blast the fact that Miss Caliendo was a lesbian, I would have blasted it all over the WSOC and Fox news TV interviews. The fact that she was a lesbian did not play into the situation; the only story was that the Democratic Women’s Association was denying my rights as a transgender woman to be a member.

    Let me make this clear it was not about Lesbians verses Transgender, it was solely about my rights as a transgender woman. These HATE comments in the comment section by self-identified lesbians calling me a man because of my Gender Identity, Gender marker and I look like a man has played on my feelings as an activist. The fact that I am 66 years old and have been out for 45 years has no bearing on who I am and can control, I am me. Unlike gay men and lesbian women who can blend into society and hide the fact that they are gay, I as a transgender can’t. Gay men can dress like any other man not wearing their sexual preferences on their sleeves and the same with many lesbians. I can only say, I as a transgender woman have been under doctors care here is Charlotte, receiving HRT [hormonal replacement therapy] for many years. Also with the Veterans Administration as a disabled veteran, I am being treated as a transgender woman and just two weeks ago VA had me have a Mammogram. So you see I am who I am.

    All my life I stood up for the weak, even in Junior High school when the bully’s would pic on the weaker kids who were obviously different, I would say no and not allow it . They would have to fight me instead of beating on another kid because they were different. I was a strong kid because when I was eleven years old, I was taken to the doctor where the doctor said I was not developing as a boy. This was in 1957, I was pumped full of testosterone for an entire two years and beat with a black rubber hose by my father for being transgender. So you see I grew up hard, this is what makes me stand up and venture into places where others haven’t, like the Democratic Women’s Association and putting myself out there to be a the first Delegate in history to the DNC from North Carolina. If you think, I didn’t her the ridicule, comments and see the stares from the heterosexual community because of this think again. If you don’t believe me I can have my brother issue a statement verifying what I say that happened to me when I was young and innocent.

    For the last few days I have been sitting around doubting my purpose as an activist. I have always championed the cause of the entire LGBT and now I am saying to myself, what for? is it worth it. I would have never expected the hate and meanness from my own community; like I said this was not about Miss Caliendo being a lesbian. It was about the rights of all transgender women and men.
    If you want to spue more hate then have at it.

  2. So basically you’re just personally offended that they didn’t respond to you quickly enough? And many of the questions you’ve listed above do appear to be answered in the statements you refer to. Maybe you should read them again. It’s shameful to see you attack such a good organization with so little reguard to facts and a basic sense of fair play.

    I’m surprised you got a response at all. Why would ANYONE respond to a reporter that is so obviously bias and one-sided in his reporting. Just the nature of your questions would be accusatory and offensive to any LGBT rights supporter. It’s clear that you’re upset that no one called you back quickly enough but thats no excuse to throw your ethics out the window and go after a group with the slanted story you’re reporting and this unfair editorial! You clearly blew right past the part where Caliendo denied this even happened.

    If you want to talk about being accountable — why are you writing a proported “news” article and then this editorial -which you also wrote- that makes your bias due to your personal anger for not being called back quickly enough so evident. Shouldn’t you leave it to someone else without that bias to report the “news.” No one would ever really be concerned about “transparency” over a small group taking a few days to respond to something.

    Check your own ethics and accountability before questioning others. If you think your calls not being returned quickly enough cast doubt on the LGBT Democrats ability to lead then I think your lack of fairness casts doubt on your ability to call yourself an “editor.”

  3. Dragonfly a true Demacratic Lesbian July 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Matt you present it as it is. The past and present noinclusiveness of the LGBT Demacrates is very real.This is a exclusive club that does not include transgenders. Good job of bringing out the RATS.

Comments are closed.