Gay millionaire Charles Merrill refuses to pay income taxes until he can marry his partner.
2007 offered some unique instances of political and social history making: Employment discrimination and hate crimes legislation; a gay man targeted by the Internal Revenue Service and another re-enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces; anti-gay politicians caught in compromising activities and “ex-gays” professing their change. Here’s our recap of the year in politics.
IRS targets gay N.C. native
Multi-millionaire Charles Merrill, an openly gay North Carolina native, announced he would not pay taxes like a first-class citizen until he is treated as such under the law. The Internal Revenue Service was none-too-pleased with his choice so they came knocking in early 2007. Merrill and his partner refused to pay up, asserting to Q-Notes that their position is not negotiable.
“I have no intention of paying federal and state income taxes because I cannot … receive the same tax benefits as other married couples,” Merrill said.
As we reported in January, the IRS is withholding 28 percent of Merrill’s income until he files a report. In April, the outspoken atheist received more negative reaction when he was suspended from using the online blogs of the Hendersonville, N.C. Times-News. The newspaper apparently terminated his access to the site because of his username, “Anti-Christ.” The Hendersonville paper never returned calls from Q-Notes requesting clarification.
Jason Knight served openly in the Navy, was re-enlisted and has the possibility of serving a third Iraq deployment, despite the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” gay ban.
In February, the first U.S. servicemember wounded in Iraq made the courageous decision to come out of the closet and speak publicly against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Working with the Human Rights Campaign, Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva became a national spokesperson in the effort to repeal DADT.
On March 21, 2003, Alva was in charge of 11 Marines in a supply unit in Iraq when he stepped on a landmine, losing his right leg. Alva spent months in rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Hospital, where he was visited by President George W. Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service and given the Heroes and Heritage Award before he received a medical discharge from the military.
“When Eric Alva lost his leg in Iraq, it didn’t matter whether he was gay or straight, only that he was a courageous American serving his country,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.
In May, a member of the United States Navy captured national attention when he revealed he was re-enlisted twice for active duty in the Middle East, despite being openly gay and in violation of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The sailor, Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Knight, came out and told his story in an article for Stars & Stripes, a military news magazine.
Knight said he was out during his first deployment and when he earned a “Completion of Service” was placed in Individual Ready Reserves (IRR), allowing him to return to a second tour with the Navy. Throughout his second deployment he also remained out of the closet. When he completed his second tour, he was again placed on IRR. That assignment once again gives him the opportunity to serve his country as an openly gay man.
Although a bill to repeal DADT was introduced in Congress in 2007, it never advanced through the committee process. And in December, a call for repeal by an openly gay, retired general fell on deaf ears at a Republican presidential candidates debate.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California responded, “General, thanks for your service, but I believe in what [former Secretary of State and retired Army Gen.] Colin Powell said when he said that having openly homosexual people serving in the ranks would be bad for unit cohesion. And the reason for that, even though people point to the Israelis and point to the Brits and point to other people as having homosexuals serve, is that most Americans, most kids who leave that breakfast table and go out and serve in the military and make that corporate decision with their family, most of them are conservatives. And they have conservative values, and they have Judeo-Christian values. And to force those people to work in a small, tight unit with somebody who is openly homosexual, who goes against what they believe to be their principles — and it is their principles — is I think a disservice to them. And I agree with Colin Powell that it would be bad for unit cohesion.”
This year was witness to the first pro-LGBT bill to ever pass at least one house of the N.C. Legislature. The School Violence Prevention Act, heavily supported by Equality NC, included enumerated categories protecting children and youth from discrimination and bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and gender-identity and expression.
Conservatives in the N.C. House tried to derail the bill, first attempting to strip out the enumerated categories while the bill was still in committee. During debate on the floor, an amendment to delete the specific protections came to a tie. Luckily, N.C. Speaker of the House Joe Hackney voted in favor of keeping the protections.
The N.C. Senate stripped out the enumerated categories in its version of the bill before approving it. When the legislature reconvenes in 2008, the measure will be heard in a conference to work out differences between the two versions. The chance is good that an inclusive bill will emerge. If the bill is approved again by both houses, it will be sent to the governor’s desk.
In 2007, the N.C. House again defeated the anti-LGBT marriage amendment and passed an LGBT inclusive safe schools bill.
Members of the N.C. House beholden to radical religious forces attempted to use sneaky legislative maneuvers to bring the anti-LGBT marriage amendment to the floor for debate and vote. Speaker Hackney and other members of the Democratic leadership were smart enough to see their ploy and stop the amendment (it was placed in a committee that hasn’t met since).
The saving grace of the state Democratic leadership wasn’t enough, however, to stop one of the largest political rallies the N.C. State Legislative grounds have ever seen. According to police, the anti-gay rally — where participants could be heard screaming “Let us vote!” — drew more than 6,000 people and others claimed it could have been as many as 10,000 to 12,000.
One of the many right-wing rally speakers compared the movement to enshrine discrimination in the state constitution to that of British Parliament member William Wilberforce’s lifelong quest to end slavery in the British Empire.
In 2007, two well-known LGBT professionals from two gay-themed magazines claimed to become “ex-gays.” The first was Charlene Cothran, publisher and editor of Venus magazine that once served the LGBT African-American community.
As written by Rev. Irene Monroe in Q-Notes’ March 10 issue, “Venus magazine was the first and only queer magazine owned and operated by a black lesbian that spoke to and about the unique intersections of being black and LGBT in both the African-American and white queer communities.”
Cothran overhauled her magazine, turning it into a conservative Christian publication advocating “ex-gay” therapy and conversion. Monroe — and those who helped Cothran start Venus — claimed Cothran made her “switch” for financial reasons to keep the magazine alive.
In the summer, another gay figure made famous by his magazine announced he was “ex-gay.” Mike Glatze was one of a few young gay men who founded the steamy XY magazine marketed to other young gay men. In an article on WorldNetDaily.com, a conservative Christian website, Glatze revealed that he had given up his “upset stomach inducing behaviors,” including late-night parties, drugs and sexual promiscuity.
Cabarrus County Commissioner and right-wing Christian activist Coy Privette was arrested for aiding and abetting prostitution in July. He remains on the Board of Commissioners.
Anti-gay Cabarrus County Commissioner Coy Privette, a former Republican state legislator known for his right-wing Christian activism, was arrested July 19 and charged with aiding and abetting prostitution. Reportedly, the anti-gay politician had rented rooms at hotels in Salisbury, N.C., and paid Tiffany Summers, 32, for sex six times in May and June.
In 2003, when two gay men were baptized together at McGill Baptist Church in Concord, N.C., Privette jumped on the bandwagon to have the church kicked out of the Cabarrus Baptist Association.
Said the Rev. Randy Wadford, the association’s missions director, during the controversy: “The homosexual lifestyle is contrary to God’s will and plan for mankind. To allow individuals into the membership of a local church without evidence or testimony of true repentance is to condone the old lifestyle.”
Privette echoed his sentiments in a Charlotte Observer interview. “[Becoming] a new creature in Jesus Christ” means old things pass away. “Everybody is welcome,” he said, “but you’ve got requirements for membership in churches.”
Privette resigned as president of the Christian Action League and from his positions with the Baptist State Convention. However, he maintains his seat on the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners over the objections of voters, the press and the state GOP.
Privette’s transgression occurred among a string of national sex scandals involving religious right leaders. The most high-profile fall from grace being Sen. Larry Craig’s bathroom sex sting arrest in Minneapolis. Four men have since come forward claiming to had prior sexual encounters with the embattled official.
Craig maintains, “I am not gay.”
On Aug. 9, HRC and LOGO Television produced the first-ever political forum for presidential candidates to specifically address LGBT issues. The event featured six candidates: Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama and Bill Richardson. Most candidates fared well, although Richardson stumbled and called homosexuality “a choice” before correcting himself. Clinton and Obama were the audience’s clear favorites.
The forum was hosted by Time and CNN journalist Margaret Carlson. Panelists were HRC President Joe Solmonese, Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart and singer Melissa Etheridge.
On Aug. 24, N.C. Gov. Mike Easley appointed openly gay judge John Arrowood to fill a mid-term vacancy on the N.C. Court of Appeals. The first openly gay person to ever sit in a statewide elected office, Arrowood was lauded by Equality NC and booed by the religious right.
“Gov. Easley’s appointment of John Arrowood to the North Carolina Court of Appeals is another step forward for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in our state,” said Ian Palmquist, Equality NC’s executive director, in a press release. “Openly LGBT appointed officials are serving at all levels of government, and Equality NC congratulates John on this enormous achievement. We also thank the Governor for appointing a qualified man, who just happens to be gay, to this very important position.”
Arrowood must be elected to retain his position in 2008.
Members and allies of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition protested outside the National HRC Dinner in Washington, D.C. in October.
Photo Credit: isisimagery.com
At the end of September, U.S. House leaders including openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would no longer contain protections for transgender Americans.
Their announcement provoked a firestorm of controversy, infighting and division among the LGBT community. At the same time, however, the response to the announcement provided a chance for hundreds of national and state LGBT organizations to unite for a transgender-inclusive ENDA.
In the aftermath of the announcement, the community learned HRC was backing the transgender-exclusive version of ENDA. Since that time, senior transgender members of HRC boards and commissions have resigned their positions and trans activists across the country — and in the Carolinas — have planned protests and “educational initiatives” at HRC dinners and events.
In February, members of the transgender activist group It’s Time-North Carolina will stage an educational initiative at the Charlotte Convention Center and Westin Hotel, the location of the HRC Carolinas Gala and its host hotel.
On Dec. 6, a House-Senate conference committee reviewing differing versions of hate crimes legislation opted to strip the Matthew Shepard Act out of the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act.
The Matthew Shepard Act would have given local law enforcement agencies greater leeway to investigate and prosecute hate crimes that target individuals based on disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender-identity. Existing hate crimes laws cover victims who are targeted for their race, color, national origin or religion.
The hate crimes bill died from concerns that it would sink the defense bill.