Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover), North Carolina’s only openly gay or lesbian state legislator, voted against a resolution honoring the life of the late Jesse Helms on Wednesday, June 10. She was the only legislator to register a vote against the honorary resolution. Twenty-six other legislators, meanwhile, sat out of the vote.
The resolution, which passed the Senate 41-1 and the House 98-0, states, “The General Assembly of North Carolina expresses its appreciation for the life and public service of Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr., and honors his memory.”
Helms was a conservative radio and TV commentator before serving on the Raleigh City Council and later serving as a U.S. senator.
Mark Binker of the Greensboro News and Record reported that House members of the legislative black caucus seemed to walk out “en mass” when the resolution came to the floor. Most declined to speak about their absence in chambers.
“This is just the best place for me to be right now,” Rep. Alma Adams (D-Guilford), chairman of the caucus, told the News and Record’s Binker.
Rep. Earl Jones, another Guilford Democrat, told Binker, “I’m just taking a break.”
Only two legislators had registered excused absences for the day.
In her own words…
Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham), a member of the black legislative caucus, was one of the more than two dozen legislators absent for the resolution’s vote.
“I could have never voted in favor of a resolution honoring Sen. Helms because of his divisive history and his anti-civil-rights principles,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham), according to an Associated Press report.
The legislature routinely hears and passes honorary resolutions for state leaders and community members. It is rare for legislators to vote against them or to boycott them altogether.
One of the last lines of the Helms resolution reads, “North Carolinians mourn the death of this dedicated public servant who was known and respected for his love of his home State and his nation.”
Helms has been criticized, past and present, for his conservative racist and homophobic views and legacy. He was a chief opponent of HIV/AIDS funding during the 1980s AIDS crisis. He said gay men were “weak, morally sick wretches” who contracted the disease through their own “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct.”
In 1988, Helms said, “There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy.”
Q-Notes called Boseman and left a message for her late Wednesday afternoon. Stay tuned to Q-Notes for more updates.
— Read the full text of the Jesse Helms resolution here.