One of the most difficult challenges facing the LGBT community is the disconnect that arises from our inability to pass down our history and honor from those who’ve come before us. Because our history is ignored by society, many of our legendary leaders get lost in the mix. Q-Notes is taking the time this Pride Month to profile LGBT and straight ally North and South Carolinians who have made a difference in our two states and the nation.
From politicians to authors, activists to bloggers and community leaders to philanthropists, the Carolinas have played a greater role in LGBT history, leadership and community than many might realize.
The following list is nowhere near exhaustive; many worthy individuals have been left out due to space constraints. We apologize in advance for the omissions, but rest assured that our thanks and gratitude are extended to all of the visionaries from the Carolinas who have advanced the LGBT movement.
Julia Boseman (Wilmington, NC), politician
Julia Boseman is North Carolina’s first and only openly gay or lesbian member of the North Carolina General Assembly. Sen. Boseman was elected to her second term in office in the 2006 elections and faces re-election this year. Her ability to reach across the dividing lines of both party and sexual orientation gave her the honor of being named one of the most effective freshman legislators ever in the N.C. Senate.
Mandy Carter (Durham, NC), activist
A lifelong activist for the rights and liberties of all people, Mandy Carter is most famous for her work in founding SONG (Southerners on New Ground) in 1993, as well as her work with the (unfortunately unsuccessful) campaign to unseat Sen. Jesse Helms in the early 1990s. SONG’s mission is to help build allies across the South, bridging the gaps between various races, cultures, genders and sexual identities. Carter was a founding member of NC Pride PAC, now known as Equality North Carolina. In recent years she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
John D’Emilio (Greensboro, NC), author, educator, advocate
A professor of history, women’s studies and gender studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, John D’Emilio is an LGBT historian and author who taught previously at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Among his many important works is “Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities” (University of Chicago Press, 1983), an in-depth historical record of the pre-Stonewall LGBT community in America. The book earned D’Emilio the 1984 Stonewall Book Award.
D’Emilio was instrumental in much of the early LGBT organizing in and around Greensboro.
Harriet Hancock (Columbia, SC), attorney, PFLAG Mom
Folks around her parts call Harriet Hancock the “Mother of Pride.” Her work with the S.C. Pride Movement has taken this proud mother of a gay son on a journey for social change lasting more than 20 years. She’s PFLAG South Carolina’s founder and a founding member of SC Pride and Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services. She is also the recipient of the Human Rights Campaign Equality Award and has been recognized by the University of South Carolina Institute of Southern Studies.
Dr. Kimeron N. Hardin (Rutherford, NC), physician, author
Kimeron Hardin was born in Rutherford County and was the child of fundamentalist Christian parents. He came out at the age of 17 in 1977 and later attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he became a campus educator. Later, Hardin taught at other UNC campuses. He has continued to support the LGBT community through his writing, including “The Gay and Lesbian Self-Esteem Book: A Guide to Loving Ourselves” and “Queer Blues: The Lesbian and Gay Guide to Overcoming Depression.”
Kevin Jennings (Winston-Salem, NC), advocate, educator
Kevin Jennings is a native of Winston-Salem and the son of a Baptist minister who grew up to become an educator. He moved to Boston and then later New York City. In the 1990s, Jennings came to prominence for advocating for LGBT students in K-12 schools. He founded the Gay and Lesbian Teachers Network, later the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. GLSEN is the leading national organization working on issues affecting LGBT students in K-12 and sponsors the annual Day of Silence and No Name-Calling Week.
Elke Kennedy (Greenville, SC), mother, advocate
When her son, Sean Kennedy, 21, was killed in an alleged hate crime, Elke Kennedy stood up. Her tireless advocacy and outspokenness on issues of anti-LGBT hate crimes, non-discrimination legislation and other topics has resulted in increased awareness in the South Carolina Upstate. Her organization, Sean’s Last Wish, continues to sponsor numerous campaigns and events. She is the recipient of the Human Rights Campaign Equality Award.
Armistead Maupin (Raleigh, NC), author
Armistead Maupin is a native of Washington, D.C., where he was born in 1944. He grew up in Raleigh and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Prior to his placement with The Associated Press in San Francisco in 1971, Maupin worked as a reporter in Charleston, S.C. In 1974, Maupin came out. Two years later, he began writing his legendary “Tales of the City” series in The San Francisco Chronicle. Maupin has authored nine novels, including the “Tales” series, “Maybe the Moon” and “The Night Listener.”
Jim Neal (Chapel Hill, NC), businessman, politician
During the 2007-08 primary election season heading into this year’s general election, openly gay Chapel Hill businessman Jim Neal made history as the first-ever openly gay man or woman to run for statewide elected office in North Carolina. With tech-savvy and community-minded grassroots activists supporting his campaign, Neal made in-roads with small and rural communities across the state. His charisma and ability to connect with the average man showed that a person is always more than who he or she happens to love. Despite his grassroots popularity, Neal lost his bid to challenge incumbent GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole to state Sen. Kay Hagan.
Mike Nelson (Carrboro, NC), politician
Mike Nelson made headlines when he won the 1995 election for mayor of Carrboro. His victory marked the first time an openly gay man was elected to lead any city or town in North Carolina. He retained that post for five consecutive terms (1996-2006). Prior to his service as mayor, Nelson was a member of Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen. Currently, he serves on the Orange County Board of Commissioners. He has considered a run for the N.C. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird. He was also a founding member of NC Pride PAC.
Pat Patterson (Columbia, SC), activist
A small business owner and community activist, Pat Patterson’s blood runs deep with Palmetto Pride. He’s the son of a former U.S. House member and grandson of a South Carolina governor. He’s also a drag performer, philanthropist and former board member of numerous Palmetto state LGBT organizations. Recently, he was the recipient of the S.C. Gay and Lesbian Business Guild Volunteer of the Year Award.
Jay Quinn (Coastal North Carolina), author
A native of coastal North Carolina, author Jay Quinn is a two-time Lammy finalist and author of “Metes and Bounds,” “The Mentor” and “Back Where He Started.” He is also the editor of the “Rebel Yell” anthology series of stories by Southern gay men.
Jo Wyrick (Greensboro, NC), advocate
Jo Wyrick, a native of Greensboro, is a former executive director of Equality North Carolina and also a former executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. She took the helm at Stonewall as the group’s interim director in March 2006 and became the permanent director in July the same year. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
— Portions of this piece were originally published by Matt Comer at InterstateQ.com.