From battling the religious right to battling each other, 2009 was a year full of high profile LGBT news. In the Carolinas LGBT political and social issues appeared on the mainstream media’s radar with surprising frequency. Below are our staff’s picks on the top stories of the year. Be sure to check out our Year in Politics recap: “Banner year for LGBT progress.”
Not long after the turn of the New Year, news surfaced of financial and organizational challenges at Charlotte’s largest AIDS service organization. At the time, officials with Metrolina AIDS Project (MAP) announced the organization would close, re-organize and re-open as an entirely new group.
Q-Notes’ Feb. 7 headline, “End of an era,” perhaps announced MAP’s end prematurely — after the initial controversy was covered by The Charlotte Observer and Q-Notes, MAP officials changed their game plan. Instead of closing and starting anew, the group would hash out its problems with assistance from a new executive director and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration.
The new plan just wasn’t meant to be. In the fall, it all seemed to fall apart. The organization’s executive director, Dr. Jose Diaz, was asked to resign. At the same time, the organization announced it had made the decision to close.
The board said the decision came “after it could not find a viable way to continue operating the agency in light of the current economic environment and other internal challenges.” Further questions from Q-Notes sent to the board through chair Shawn McMaster have never been answered.
The decision to close the nearly 25-year-old organization leaves a void in Charlotte-area HIV and AIDS services and resources. Mecklenburg County health department officials and officers, with other HIV/AIDS services organizations, are working to take over MAP’s case load. Yet to be seen, and hopefully answered or understood in 2010, is the full impact of MAP’s closure and its leadership’s poor decisions.
Charlotte at a Crossroads
In February, years of community-level work culminated in Foundation for The Carolinas’ and other organizations’ Crossroads Charlotte, a local initiative meant to bridge the gaps between Charlotte’s growing communities of ethnic, religious, racial and sexual diversity. The project’s film, “Crossroads Charlotte: The Movie,” strove to use visual stories as a way to tackle issues of importance. Charlotte’s LGBT community wasn’t left out. Film caster Mitzi Corrigan and teenager Stephen Friedrich played a mother and gay son, respectively. Their storyline within the film helped to open discussions of racial and sexual minority inclusion.
In a March 7 QLiving feature, Corrigan told Q-Notes her character, Julie, is representative of many people who aren’t always aware how racism and stereotypes cloud their judgments.
“I don’t think she’s aware,” Corrigan said. “A lot of people are prejudiced in that way. They try to justify their reasons to be and for clumping people into categories and stereotypes.”
Friedrich, now a student at Winston-Salem’s University of North Carolina School of the Arts, said it was important for him to portray his gay teen character, Sam, as a normal kid.
“Something that rubs me the wrong way is when straight people play gay characters and they push it over the top,” he said. “I don’t know and I’ve never met a gay person who is like ‘Oh my gawd’ all the time.”
Friedrich’s role in the film was a positive sign of Charlotte’s progressive movement forward, Corrigan said.
‘A queer February’
“A full-fledged queer extravaganza.” That’s how Q-Notes described February 2009 in a March 7 news article. The shortest month of the year saw a plethora of LGBT-related community events, religious conferences, fundraisers and protests. Activists, community leaders, philanthropists and event organizers were kept busy as the Human Rights Campaign presented their glitzy, glamorous awards gala and the anti-gay Focus on the Family held its Love Won Out conference for “ex-gay” Christians — all on the same day. Community members gathered to protest the conference and held a series of events to draw awareness to anti-LGBT religion-based prejudice. Author and activist Wayne Besen, of Truth Wins Out, visited Charlotte and held a presentation on Focus on the Family’s dangerous “reparative therapies.” During the gala dinner that night, transgender community members and their allies protested the Human Rights Campaign for their stances on an inclusive, federal employment non-discrimination bill. Only a few days prior, Uptown played host to a joint leadership conference of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and two primarily African-American LGBT Christian denominations. North Carolina churches like Charlotte’s Unity Fellowship Church and Winston-Salem’s Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship participated.
HRC, RJR rebuked
In March, the Human Rights Campaign came under fire for its perfect 100 score of Winston-Salem’s Reynolds American, Inc., parent company of cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Joseph Lee, a social research specialist in the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Department of Family Medicine’s Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program said Reynolds American didn’t deserve the perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2009 Corporate Equality Index.
“Being from Madison County, I am not denying the long heritage of tobacco in North Carolina,” Lee told Q-Notes for our March 21 cover story, “Stamp of approval.” “But, today, we cannot deny the huge amounts of harm tobacco use causes in North Carolina and to the LGBT community.”
Daryl Herrschaft, director of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation Workplace Project, said the organization’s Corporate Equality scores were not meant to reflect anything other than a company’s treatment of LGBT employees. He said the national organization was cognizant of the health-related ramifications of tobacco use.
“HRC does not accept sponsorship dollars from tobacco companies because we recognize the harmful effects that tobacco has done, and in some ways its disproportionate effect on our community … We don’t want to play a role in advocating smoking to our membership and to people who come to our events.”
Lee accused R.J. Reynolds Tobacco of directly targeting LGBT consumers in a marketing plan called “Project SCUM (Sub-Culture Urban Market).”
Reynolds communications director Seth Moskowitz told Q-Notes the marketing proposal was never put into action. “This thoughtless document did not, and does not, represent R.J. Reynolds’ view of, and respect for, its customers and employees,” he said.”
Hate crimes abound
As advocates fought to push federal hate crimes legislation, North Carolinians watched as 2009 became a sad year full of hate crimes. In April, drag performer Jimmy Ali McCollough (Imaje Devera) was found dead near Fayetteville’s Club Emages, a gay club popular with drag performers and enthusiasts. After McCollough’s death, sister Kathy McCollough alleged police weren’t doing enough to catch her brother’s killer. Despite an arrest in May, law enforcement officers have continued to keep a tight lid on details in the case. Ideas on how or why McCollough, 34, was killed remain speculative. Zachary Lee Oaks, 22, was arrested and charged with first degree murder. He faces court appearances on the murder charge and others in January.
In July, two back-to-back assaults left a man in Greensboro with minor injuries and two recent University of North Carolina-Wilmington alums severely injured.
In Greensboro, police arrested Tyren Hassan McNeil and charged him with felony aggravated assault. In Wilmington, three men were arrested and charged. Victims Chaz Housand and Chet Saunders were found unconscious on Front St. Housand suffered from broken facial bones and internal injuries have affected Saunders motor skills. Three men have been arrested and charged with felony assault.
In the wake of the Wilmington crimes, community members have banded together to raise awareness on hate crimes legislation. Activists with NoH8NC.com have tracked the legal cases of the three assailants and are working to support state-level legislation on hate crimes and sentencing.
Ted Haggard speaks
In April, disgraced, anti-gay pastor Ted Haggard and his wife Gayle appeared on stage at Charlotte’s Elevation Church. Pastor Steven Furtick said Haggard’s appearance would be a chance for “the story of the deception of sin and the forgiveness of God [to] speak for itself” and to “serve as a salient reminder of the devastating results of disobedience, and hopefully, the beginning of a personal healing process for many hurting people.”
Prior to Haggard’s appearance at the new age church, some had perceived the Elevation faith community as accepting of LGBT people. Gay member Chad Ellis told Q-Notes he was deeply hurt by Furtick’s statements on homosexuality, offended by Haggard’s presence and disappointed the church decided to bring in such a controversial figure to begin its conversation on homosexuality. Started in 2006 with the help of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Elevation Church now claims up to 5,000 or more members and has been named the second-fasting growing church in the nation.
Stephen Andrew Moller, found guilty of the May 15, 2007, killing of openly gay Sean Kennedy, was released from prison on July 1, a week earlier than when his 5-year suspended sentence was scheduled to end.
Moller had been denied parole on Feb. 11. In prison, he reduced his sentence by two months after earning a good behavior credit for receiving his GED.
Kennedy’s mother, Elke Kennedy, said Moller’s early release was a failure of justice. “He should have served every single day of the already short sentence,” she said.
Community members in Eastern North Carolina took to the streets and local media to raise awareness on LGBT issues this year. In July, nine community members protested the Pitt County Board of Commissioners in Greenville for their consideration of a resolution supporting a ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Protest organizer Randy Toler, a junior at East Carolina University, said he hoped the community would continue to rally together. Kevin Boyette, a recent East Carolina grad, spoke to the campus newspaper about the need for a center for LGBT youth, while another community member, James Smith, spoke out on the need for a more vocal, local community. One community meeting was scheduled in August, although turn out was low. Smith will try again in 2010.
God has a better way?
Charlotte’s anti-LGBT religious community showed out in force for this year’s Pride Charlotte festival at Gateway Village on July 25. As many as 500 protesters in red shirts reading, “God Has a Better Way,” stood across the street from the event and held a prayer and worship rally led by militant evangelical Lou Engle. As many as 12,000 to 15,000 people attended the Pride Charlotte festival, making the event the largest and most successful yet.
Local leaders take stance on D.C. march
In the fall, tempers across the nation flared as activists and community leaders debated the merits of a national march on Washington, D.C., planned by veteran activist and political organizer Cleve Jones. In the Carolinas, most LGBT leaders said they wanted a more local- and state-level focus on activism and advocacy. With Jones pushing for a federally-focused strategy, Equality North Carolina’s Ian Palmquist, longtime activist Mandy Carter and SC Pride’s Ryan Wilson all said they disagreed. “Most of our movement’s resources have always gone to the federal level and that’s still the case. Yet, all of our significant victories have come from the work of state groups, usually on shoe-string budgets,” Palmquist said in a Sept. 5 cover story on the local and national disagreements.
Allegations concerning financial mismanagement, missing print editions and unfulfilled advertising contracts with Carolinas businesses and non-profits were the unfortunate result of a failed merger this year between the now-defunct OnQ Carolina Edition nightlife magazine and the Asheville-based Stereotypd formerly known as Out in Asheville.
Jamie Seabolt, founder and editor of OnQ, and Stereotypd staff each pointed the finger of blame at the other.
“You really have been fed a lot of false claims by Porscha [Yount] that they can not (sic) supported (sic) with documents,” Seabolt wrote in a statement to Q-Notes.
Yount, Stereotypd business director, and editor Lin Orndorf said the deal with Seabolt moved too quickly and that they later became uncomfortable with Seabolt’s business practices and tactics.
Seabolt’s troubles in the Carolinas followed a string of troubling allegations and past scrutiny involving his prior businesses in Charleston, W.Va., and Pittsburgh.
Clymore takes new position
After a two-decade-long service to Raleigh’s non-profit HIV/AIDS service organization, Jacquelyn Clymore, former Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina executive director, became the new “state AIDS director” in November. Her move to the North Carolina Department of Health’s HIV/STD Prevention and Care Branch is a chance for her leadership to benefit HIV/AIDS care in new and different ways.
“They’ve gained a new brand and style of leadership, equal to any in the past and surpassing anything in the future,” said longtime friend and fellow advocate John Paul Womble. “In an economic downturn, when dollars are very tight, I can think of no one better. She’s coming from the non-profit world and she’s used to working with limited resources. Who better to sit in a chair on a statewide level and help the state learn how to manage resources like a non-profit?”
Clymore replaced longtime director Evelyn Foust, a strident advocate who helped the state lead on prevention and treatment across the Southeast.