Equality North Carolina has undergone immense changes over the past year and a half. When I accepted the role of executive director in April of 2019, it was with an intentional desire to shape the future of this organization and enable LGBTQ folks from all walks of life to truly see themselves in the future of the movement for equal rights and protections. LGBTQ North Carolinians are members of every community in this state, whether they are people of color, immigrants, women, working-class or people of faith, and all LGBTQ folks deserve to have their voices heard and their communities cared for. This intersectional approach to our work as we head into the 2020 election cycle is at the heart of my vision for our organization.
Through this new partnership with qnotes, it is my desire to better connect with the members of our communities living in all corners of North Carolina. In this monthly column, we’ll provide updates on the work of not only our organization but the big-picture issues facing LGBTQ North Carolinians on the local, state and national levels. It may sound cliché, but we are approaching the most monumentally significant election of our lifetimes next year, and everyone has a role to play in helping shape America into a country that truly cares about — and takes care of — its most marginalized populations.
This year, Equality North Carolina celebrated its 40th anniversary, making us the oldest statewide organization in the country dedicated to LGBTQ rights. I am so unbelievably proud of that fact. Forty years ago when we were founded, the world looked remarkably different for LGBTQ people. Our community was on the brink of the AIDS crisis — an epidemic that would wipe out a generation of leaders, creators, thinkers and innovators, many of them in the prime of their lives. Rights and protections for LGBTQ folks were nonexistent. People of color had barely achieved equal legal recognition under the eyes of the law.
In 1979, seven individuals with varying backgrounds came together to form the North Carolina Human Rights Fund, which would later become the Equality North Carolina Foundation, with the goal of creating a more just and equitable world for folks facing threats to life and safety from their government and communities. The organization’s primary focus was to offer legal services to LGBTQ folks being prosecuted under the Crimes Against Nature Law. It was a remarkably bold and brave move and today’s world looks radically different for many members of the LGBTQ community, at least in part due to the work of these seven founders.
Separately, in 1990 a group of folks founded the NC Pride PAC in the wake of LGBTQ mobilization surrounding the 1990 Jesse Helms-Harvey Gantt race for U.S. Senate. This Political Action Committee sought to use that energy to affect change at the state level. Since then, the group has been active in state legislative races and other races of statewide importance.
In 2002, the Board agreed that it was time to form a parent organization to link the PAC and the Foundation and to manage the group’s growing lobbying and advocacy work. This organization is Equality North Carolina as you know it today, and we couldn’t be prouder of the work of countless activists, organizers and community leaders over the years who brought this incarnation of ENC into fruition.
Today, the work of Equality North Carolina spans several different areas. One of our biggest initiatives continues to be endorsing and supporting political candidates who are committed to serving the most vulnerable communities of North Carolina. In the November Municipal Elections, at least 21 of our endorsed candidates won their races across our state and, in doing so, cemented powerful voices of equality within the halls of public office.
We also support elected officials through our Out Electeds and Electeds for Equality programs, two groups made up of LGBTQ elected officials and those who identify as allies in the fight for equal rights and protections. These groups serve as coalition-building mechanisms for individuals committed to achieving full equality through their work for marginalized folks across our state.
Through our Rural Youth Empowerment Fellowship, we make the effort to meet the unique needs of LGBTQ youth living in rural areas and provide emerging, young leaders with the tools and mentorship to grow and develop. Over the course of a year, a cohort of RYE Fellows attend day-long leadership institutes in three different locations throughout the state, attend major Equality North Carolina community events, participate in monthly video conferences and work one-on-one with community mentors. They also complete a year-long project culminating in resources of rural LGBTQ youth. These materials can be found on our website.
Of course, we engage in so many other areas of activism and public service, from lobbying to working with our business communities to coaching the media on how to cover our communities with compassion and care — and you’ll get to hear all about it through this new partnership with qnotes.
I hope this reintroduction into the work of Equality North Carolina has been helpful, and that you’ll join us for these monthly conversations in the future as we map out the big-picture issues for LGBTQ North Carolinians. The dire importance of this political moment cannot be understated. It’s on all of us to find a way to contribute to this movement and understand our role in the fight for liberty and justice for all those marginalized by power and privilege. Thank you for being on this journey with us.