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/.)
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.
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. : :