NAACP National President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous was in Durham, NC on Saturday, after a trip to Baltimore last week to address the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change, the 24th National Conference on LGBT Equality. One of the statements he made during his speech resonated with me:

“Unfortunately, the national media tends to exaggerate divisions between civil rights and LGBT institutions,” Jealous said to conference attendees during his keynote address at the Hilton Baltimore. “But more damaging than the media’s failure to recognize our common struggles is our own failure to come together on issues of common interest.”

Jealous is a personal strong supporter of LGBT equality — including marriage equality — and he has been outspoken about it, but a good portion of his constituency in the NAACP greater community has yet to join him in embracing that injustice against one group represents injustice against all. He is showing leadership by example – and pointing out the commonalities that the media chooses to ignore instead of focusing on the tension between elements of the socially conservative religious black community and LGBTs. In fact, most blacks in NC would vote against the amendment – 66 percent of African-Americans polled by Elon are opposed to the amendment, and 69% percent favor some sort of legal recognition of same-sex couples’ relationships.

In his visit in Durham, Jealous spoke at a news conference organized by the NAACP at the historic N.C. Mutual Life Building.* Jealous  was there to lend his support for the upcoming Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) agenda and civil rights march that will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 11. This year, LGBT groups will march alongside Jealous and Reverend Dr. William Barber II, President of the NC NAACP. (Durham Herald-Sun):

Barber railed against the state Legislature’s majority, which he accused of “trying to shrink democracy, rather than expand it,” in reference to redistricting that concentrates black voters.

With more than 1.5 million North Carolinians living in poverty – more than 500,000 of them children, he said, “this is not the time for the General Assembly to cut hundreds of millions from Medicaid, mental health and critical services for poor communities. But that is exactly what [legislators] have done.”

Barber also sought to rally support against a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Voters will decide that measure’s fate at the May 8 primary. He asked that NAACP supporters put their personal feelings about same-sex marriage aside and view the issue as one of basic civil rights.

They’re trying to give people, based on their sexuality, a kind of second- or third-class citizenship,” he said. “We know what that looks like in the NAACP, and we’re calling it what it is.”

Barber, who wrote a powerful open letter to North Carolinians in opposition to the marriage discrimination amendment, also delivered it during an electrifying speech at last year’s Equality NC Foundation Conference, where I had the pleasure of introducing him (video here).

A pertinent snippet:

No matter our color. No matter our faith tradition. Those who stand for love and justice are not about to fall for their trick. No matter how you feel personally about same-sex marriage, no one, especially those of us whose forebearers were denied constitutional protections and counted as 3/5ths of a vote for their slave-masters and mere chattel property for other purposes in the old Constitutions-none of us should ever want to deny any other person constitutional protections.

– Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, president of the North Carolina NAACP

In light of the Herald-Sun’s article on the NAACP, HKonJ and the marriage discrimination amendment, I sent in a letter to the editor today:

To the editor of the Durham Herald-Sun:

There are two upcoming opportunities to let the world know that North Carolina is looking forward — and sees itself as a diverse, welcoming and economically successful environment.

On Feb. 11, HKonJ represents a call for legislative accountability for social justice and equal opportunity in our democracy.

As National NAACP President Ben Jealous said in his recent stop here in support of HKonJ, we have seen politician attack “the notion of equal opportunity for all,” and “the notion of democracy for all.”

The upcoming primary on May 8 will confirm whether this state deserves to be seen as a beacon of opportunity in the South. Voters will go to the polls to decide whether to make a group of taxpaying North Carolinians second-class citizens by permanently shutting the door to the civil institution of marriage to lesbian and gay couples.

The idea that in 2012 we will be voting on the civil rights of any group at the ballot box is astonishing because of its blindness to our state’s history of discrimination — and the fight to beat it back.

I am a native North Carolinian and Bull City resident who is also black and a lesbian. The civil rights struggles for equality for workers, racial minorities, women, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities have more in common than most care to realize. This is not the time to turn a blind eye to the challenges and opportunities to define our state’s vision for the future – each voice and vote will count.

Pam Spaulding
Durham


* Fun fact: I have a family connection to N.C. Mutual; it is the oldest and largest African American life insurance company in the United States:

Since its beginning in 1898, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company has grown to become one of the nation’s most widely-known and successful business institutions. It is the only insurance company domiciled in North Carolina with a charter dated before 1900. North Carolina Mutual is the oldest and largest African American life insurance company in the United States.

The Company’s seven organizers were men who were active in business, educational, medical and civic life of the Durham community. An early financial crisis tested their resolve and the company was reorganized in 1900 with only John Merrick and Dr. Aaron M. Moore remaining. Charles C. Spaulding was named General Manager, under whose direction the company grew and achieved national prominence.

The Company has had nine presidents in its history: John Merrick, Dr. Aaron M. Moore, Charles C. Spaulding, William J. Kennedy Jr., Asa T. Spaulding [my grandfather], J.W. Goodloe, William J. Kennedy III, Bert Collins and James H. Speed Jr., who assumed office January 1, 2004.

During its existence, North Carolina Mutual has been a catalyst for minority, social and economic development. Racial self-help and uplift are traditions of the Company dating back to its founding.