Friday was a big day in the Bull City. Durham, NC was the site of a rally and education sessions held around the city about the harms of Amendment One, the ballot initiative that goes to voters on May 8. One of the kickoff sites is North Carolina Central University’s Student Union and Law School, which hosted a forum moderated by student leader of NCCU’s LGBT group COLORS, Brandon Hicks; Carmelo Montalvo of NCCU Student Government Association also represented Central. Duke University was in the house as well, with its president of student government, Pete Schork, its president of the Black Student Alliance, Marcus Benning, and Jacob Tobia of Duke Together Against Constitutional Discrimination.

Jen Jones, communications director for Protect All NC Families, who has been on a 322-mile run to hold town halls and discussions about the amendment was also here in her now very familiar Race to the Ballot bright yellow hoodie, to rally to crowd to tell people in their lives to learn about the harms to children, women and families posed by this amendment to get out to vote on May 8.

This historically black university (HBCU) has passed a resolution against Amendment One, and its panel on the Amendment’s harms was strong, featuring National Black Justice Coalition founder Mandy Carter, pastor and author of Adam’s GiftJimmy Creech, as well as the first openly gay black state representative, Marcus Brandon. Carter began her talk, discussing the parallels between Loving v. Virginia and the fact that discrimination related to marriage is familiar, sad territory.

Jimmy Creech aptly drew the connection between the social conservatism driving the current arguments about birth control that lie behind the same kind of control, fear and hatred toward the LGBT community that is now being directed toward women at this time. Creech: “The amendment is not about marriage, it’s about rejecting the integrity and dignity of same-gender-loving people.” What the bible says about marriage is irrelevant when it comes to the constitution of the state of North Carolina.

What it will say on the ballot on May 8:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

For
Against

Marcus Brandon described how difficult it was to come out — a newspaper planned a story when he announced he was running for office — but he knew that it was essential to do so for the sake of young people of color struggling to come out. Regarding his colleagues in the legislature who “voted him off the island” he said that “You have to meet people where they are.”

He reiterated that for those in the LGBT movement who press for marriage equality or bust that they need to be realistic — it’s not happening in many states, and it won’t happen outside of a SCOTUS decision, so they need to support efforts to beat back restrictive legislation, and help move people through education in the right direction. Brandon stressed that it is important not to be confrontational when discussing issues with anti-gay views, but to make the personal connection through stories about yourself to move people in the right direction. “The human experience is the best experience to educate people.”

Marcus Brandon: “We have to be extraordinary to have extraordinary outcomes on May 8.”

During Q&A, people recounted the kinds of conversations they were having with classmates and the public about the amendment, and LGBT rights. One young woman said that she has felt unprepared to address some of the general ignorance out there — one person said “is this about approving homosexuality?” Well, that pretty much sums up where even some potential allies are when it comes to the amendment. You have to arm yourself with even the most basic information about what the discrimination means for not just gays and lesbians, but for women, domestic violence laws, and unmarried couples, they will see how this is a tragic over-reach based on bigotry and fear.

Marcus Brandon and the panel were told by an audience member that today Dick Cheney lobbied Republican legislators in Maryland to vote for its marriage equality bill, and Marcus Brandon noted that this illustrates the power of personal relationships affecting political decisions regardless of party affiliation — and that 10 Democrats in the NC general assembly voted to put this amendment on the ballot.

Another audience member asked a question that also illustrates a problem in education about the amendment — she described it as a vote on marriage equality. It’s not — it’s about stopping an effort to write into our state constitution to permanently bar gays and lesbians from marrying — or for the state to pass civil unions, and eliminates domestic partnerships and legal relationship recognition that exists at some municipal levels.

It was noted by an audience member that Arizona originally rejected an amendment that was too broad, and would have affected unmarried senior citizens, and it failed. Of course they went back to narrow it to only discriminate as LGBT couples it passed, but that it is possible to beat back this amendment. Mandy Carter noted one harm is that the amendment will take away the city/county domestic partnership recognition that exist right here in Durham.

There was a question about the issue of the “progressive bubbles” where we know the amendment will lose, but the areas of the state that are more conservative. Marcus Brandon stressed that there have been big turnouts for rallies in Asheville, Charlotte and Greensboro that bode well in a primary that will have low turnout. He said “just make sure you bring 5 people to the polls.”

You have to be clear, Mandy Carter said, that you tell people to vote “AGAINST” the amendment, since that’s the language on the ballot, to make sure there is no confusion about the outcome. She also said that this amendment is only one of many serious issues that the Republican lawmakers who slid in during the 2010 elections are driving that do not reflect the political progress NC has already made — women’s rights, immigration rights, etc. — that fair-minded North Carolinians are trying to beat back.

The amendment is designed to deny human rights. That is the insidious aspect of this.” —  Jimmy Creech.

All of Us NC, a multiracial, diverse alliance of North Carolinians working to educate voters about the amendment, stressed how hard it is to “play defense” against a negative amendment — it’s a lot harder to do than fight for, say, marriage equality. But it can be done — this state elected Barack Obama in 2008.  As a diverse community, we can say that we turned away bigotry.”

After the forum I asked organizer Brandon Hicks for his thoughts about the day and the role NCCU played (and we got a little shout out at the end).

The NCCU Law School Teach-In discussed the legal implications of the proposed amendment, which defines marriage between a man and a woman as the “only legal domestic union” recognized by the state. On the panel: Barbera Fedders, of UNC-CH School of Law, Irving Joyner, Angela Gilmore, and Lydia Lavelle of NCCU’s School of Law, and James Coleman of Duke University School of Law.

Jen Jones continued her 322-mile run across the state, hitting mile 150 here and jogging her heart out, adding two miles running though my old neighborhood, Old West Durham, heading south on Ninth Street and down to the Pinhook on Main, raising awareness about the harms of Amendment One, registering even more voters. Durham’s People’s Alliance was out in force, passing out yard signs for people to show their opposition to the ballot initiative.

Photos below the fold.