American Idol star and Raleigh native Clay Aiken will appear at this year’s HRC Carolinas Gala, held at the city’s new convention center Saturday night, and he will deliver an address on LGBT equality at the event. (N&O):


“There are people who are loud and make noise, and there are people who are deliberate and slow and steady,” Aiken said during an interview this week at a downtown coffee shop. “Right now, at this point in my life, I feel like a slow and steady person.”

Aiken, a Raleigh native and platinum-selling pop singer, made headlines in 2008 when he appeared on the cover of People magazine with the headline, “Yes, I’m gay.”

…Since it was announced that Aiken would speak at the HRC gala, organizers have received e-mail from his fans. Some have said that Aiken’s appearance has caused them to have conversations about sexuality they wouldn’t have had otherwise, said Joni Madison, who is helping to organize the gala.

…”It’s more important to me, as a parent, that my son have all the rights – if he’s gay – than it is for me. I don’t want to do anything today that’s going to inhibit or be a detriment to his rights.”

The visibility of Aiken, who doesn’t consider or present himself as an “activist,” speaks volumes in a state like NC.  We have few statewide rights (we do have hospital visitation parity, and an inclusive anti-bullying bill), but our metro areas are surprisingly fertile and vibrant ground for LGBTs to plant roots and live comfortably out of the closet. And that’s what Clay means by slow and steady – we’re not going to receive our rights on a fast track; we have to effect change by living our lives out when it is safe to do so. I know it’s sometimes hard to explain to those from gay ghettos how things are different here, it’s not entirely oppressive, but it’s not the Castro by a long shot.  

Neighbors and colleagues know and accept their LGBT neighbors because we’re everywhere, but you’ve got a bunch of good old boys in the legislature that are going nowhere fast to give you rights on the books. The change is coming from the many private employers that provide employment benefits and non-discrimination policies. The best way to effect social change is for those who are safe to live life out of the closet. And that’s why I do so — and speak out when I can locally. It’s why we need to be visible and visit with our state legislators so they cannot deny we exist. It’s why more LGBT people in this state need to step beyond their comfort zones and kick the closet door open.

Too many are too comfortable in the safety of private employers’ forward-thinking policies and ignore the many, many fellow LGBTs in this state living in small, bigoted towns who need us to be visible for them. It’s all a microcosm of what happens in deep Blue states that forget the battles and lack of basic civil rights in flyover country.

Since Clay Aiken publicly came out relatively recently, and after he already had a high profile, he is now giving North Carolinians — who saw him as a local boy made good — a chance to see him through a new prism, as a father, an artist and a human being who is also gay.

When you have ignoramuses like Rep. Virginia Foxx demonizing gay people, she demonizes Clay Aiken. She demonizes me. We’re all North Carolina natives with roots here, and we’re all human beings. Living out of the closet means something. That in itself is powerful activism in the South, or anywhere LGBTs are politically behind the 8-ball for now.

Good for Clay, good for civil equality goals in North Carolina.

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SIDE NOTE: I was supposed to be in NYC at a forum on immigration equality, but as you might have noticed, they had a little snowpocalypse and my blogmistress flight of the damned thing kicked in and my plane never left NYC to return to RDU to get me — it was canceled; but at least I found out before going to the airport.

The good news is I have press credentials to cover the HRC dinner and I’ll be able to share some photos and video.

A funny Clay Aiken story – he emailed me a while back, maybe a year ago, saying he was a fan of PHB. We played email tag for a while and never managed to connect to have lunch. One day I’m at work and my cell rings (I almost never answer it at work), I by chance pick it up and it’s Clay Aiken on the phone. I recognized his soft polite Southern twang and he said he was calling to apologize about not connecting. Of course this was amusing since I wasn’t offended — the guy probably travels all over for gigs, so I assume he’s on the road a lot So anyway, hopefully I’ll catch him tomorrow and grab a short interview or finally nail down that lunch date.