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Hundreds gather for statewide conference
N.C. House member honored for his work on bullying bill

by Matt Comer . Q-Notes staff

GLAAD Executive Director Neil Giuliano gives the closing keynote at the Equality NC Conference.
DURHAM — Over 200 LGBT and straight ally North Carolinians gathered Nov. 3 for a day of networking and education on the campus of Duke University, followed by an evening gala where State Rep. Rick Glazier was honored.

At the first-ever statewide conference and gala hosted by Equality North Carolina (ENC), participants heard addresses from LGBT leaders and elected officials and attended breakout sessions focused on various aspects of activism and advocacy.

Visiting Alabama Rep. Patricia Todd, the first openly gay person to sit in that state’s legislature, gave the opening keynote address and spoke of her experience on the campaign trail, the ups-and-downs, joys and rewards.

“I had spent a long time sitting outside in the audience,” she said of the time before her official service to Alabama. “I’ve spent a lot of hours on a bus and marched in Washington for many, many issues.”

Todd said she ran for office because the LGBT community “needed a seat at the table” if change was ever going to occur. Progress in the South is clearly happening, she said, evidenced by her election.

ENC Executive Director Ian Palmquist echoed her positive, forward-thinking views. “As a national movement, we cannot succeed if we write off the South. We have to create change across the entire country.” He added, “North Carolina is our best opportunity for progress in the South.”

Among the breakout sessions participants could chose from were: creating community and workplace change; legal and political education and advocacy; breaking down ethnic and racial barriers in the LGBT community; and health issues.

A breakout session on faith issues featured a panel of Rev. Jimmy Creech of Faith in America, Rev. Joe Hoffman of Asheville’s First Congregational United Church of Christ, Rev. Reggie Longcrier of Hickory’s Exodus Outreach Missionary Outreach Church and Rev. Nancy Petty of Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.

Longcrier is popularly known as the pastor who challenged Sen. John Edwards on his marriage equality views during the CNN-YouTube Democratic candidates forum this summer.

Summarizing his remarks during the session, blogger Pam Spaulding wrote, “Rev. Longcrier had an upbringing where he never received a message of intolerance against gays and lesbians. When he worked a prison ministry, this was never an issue. He noted that in the civil rights movement, those marching and facing racism at least had their families and churches for support against oppression — out LGBTs, in so many circumstances, have no one.”

Students and faculty from colleges scattered across the state — from Appalachian State University in Boone to the University of North Carolina-Wilmington — had their own breakout session led by this reporter and student activists Shawn O’Neil, Angel Collie and Maddy Goss.
Participants discussed the availability of resources for LGBT and straight ally student groups at various colleges. They also talked about the need for individual groups to collaborate more effectively.

In the afternoon, conference attendees directed questions to a panel of state legislators including N.C. Sen. Janet Cowell and N.C. Reps. Tricia Cotham, Rick Glazier, Pricey Harrison and Deborah Ross. The session was moderated by radio station WUNC Capitol Bureau reporter Laura Leslie.

Many of the concerns addressed the anti-bullying bill with enumerated protections for LGBT students that passed the N.C. House in May. A stripped-down version of the same bill managed to pass the N.C. Senate on the last day of the legislative session.

The legislators said they planned to address the stripped-down version when the new session starts in the spring, before sending any bill to the governor.

U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal speaks to activist Mandy Carter (right) at the Equality NC Gala.
Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gave the closing keynote address on the merits of positive LGBT representation in the media. He detailed how far the community has come in general media acceptance over the last few decades.

“We should make absolutely no mistake, even as we identify challenges and how far we have to go … a transformation is taking place,” he said. “That transformation is happening across this country and it is happening here in North Carolina because of folks like yourselves who are making a real big difference day-to-day. Your visibility, your involvement, the advocacy that you undertake is paving the road for full equality here in North Carolina.”

In a sit-down interview with Q-Notes before his address, Giuliano outlined how GLAAD is now approaching their advocacy across the country. The organization — the third largest LGBT group in the nation — has instituted three new media programs.

Recently working with the Lutheran General Assembly when dozens of LGBT pastors came out en masse, the first program deals with religion, faith and values.

The second program works specifically with young adults through new media and digital media. One of the program’s first advocacy victories came from working with MySpace.com after it was discovered that “ex-gay” ministries had bought ads targeting LGBT youth. GLAAD was able to convince the number-one social networking website to remove the ads.

As profiled in the last issue of Q-Notes, GLAAD has also opened a national sports desk. This program will address issues of homophobia in sports and reach out to create safe spaces and an inclusive sports atmosphere for LGBT student athletes and others.

After a long day of learning and networking, participants gathered in the evening at the Nasher Museum of Art for a gala complete with complimentary wine and champagne, hors d’oeuvres and a jazz band.

Openly gay U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal spoke briefly before the official program to ask for the community’s support in his bid to oust GOP incumbent Elizabeth Dole.

Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Hackney addressed the crowd before presenting ENC’s Legislative Leadership Award to Rep. Rick Glazier. “I’m honored,” Hackney said, “because you’ve given me the opportunity to recognize tonight one of the most hardworking members of our legislature.”

Glazier was the primary sponsor of the N.C. House anti-bullying bill.

“I’m pleased to be here to support him, to back him up and praise him for what he did on that bill,” Hackney told Q-Notes. “I hope we can finish it off in the next session.”

During the House’s debate, it was Glazier who forcefully defended the bill and stood against attempts to strip it of specific protections for LGBT students. “We don’t have the option or the choice to discount those any more,” he told his colleagues. “Every child in every school is precious and we cannot abdicate our responsibility because we are afraid of a word or phrase.”

Glazier also related his experience with an intern from North Carolina State University. The student, who was working for another representative at the time, was disheartened about the difficulties of establishing an LGBT student center on his campus. Glazier told House members, “I can’t walk a mile in their shoes, but I can make that mile a bit easier.”

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