This year’s Amendment One battle spurred a landmark movement of coalition-building for equality in the state of North Carolina. Six women will be presented with the Bob Page Equality Champion Award at this year’s Equality Gala in Greensboro on Saturday, November 17.
In many ways, receiving “the phone call” about this wonderful honor from the beyond-energetic Director of Development at Equality NC, Kay Flaminio, was not only surprising (so many people put blood, sweat, tears and $ into the battle, so why do I deserve the nod?), but it was a reminder of the deep, dark funk I was in for months after the hate amendment was voted into our state Constitution. It not only banned same-sex couples from marrying, it prevented any legal recognition of our relationships. I just wanted to put the memory of all that work away.
It passed with 61% of the vote. But there is more good news than bad — it passed with the smallest percentage of voters approving bigotry in one of these ballot initiatives (that never should have been there in the first place) in the country, following the growing and irreversible trend toward equality. For NC, it was simply not time yet. As I said then:
[M]ore on the other side felt motivated to show up and cast a ballot and too many people decided not to bother. And unfortunately, they chose to determine the civil rights of a minority in the name of “protecting” marriage — something that wasn’t in any jeopardy to begin with.
I can feel good about the city in which I live, Durham, where the amendment was shot down 70%-30%.
As someone who lives here and has to live in the aftermath of this loss, there aren’t enough words to express how grateful I am to so many people some who put their lives on hold, spent time learning about and writing about NC than you ever thought you would; people of all ages, faiths (or none at all), and political persuasions calling, and building coalitions offline and online to make it clear that what happens in NC is important to the equality movement at large.
…As I’ve told my marriage equality advocate friends many times, for those of us in states where we do not even have employment protections — you can be fired for being LGBT here, no questions asked — we won’t see same-sex marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court makes it happen.
The coalition-building here has afforded North Carolinians for the first time to discuss the rights of LGBT neighbors and friends. It has shown the country that yes, the South has politically active voters of strong faith that are against discrimination for all of the right reasons — it’s not a matter of religion at all, but about the separation of church and state and protecting and extending the rights of minorities, not restricting them.
People always hail victories and shower accolades upon folks when you win, not when you come up short, so it’s good to see my five colleagues receive a nod for making North Carolina a better place to be LGBT. And along the way in this Amendment One battle — both offline and in digital space — all of the work was a sight to behold, watching the activism that took place to fight bigotry.
For my part, all of the offline work and writing to educate voters (and people around the country) about what was going on here leading up to the May vote was both exhausting and exhilarating. In thinking back about that whirlwind period of activism, it was gratifying to bring readers stories and interviews about people deeply involved with the fight, including:
* Bob Page of Replacements, Ltd — the award’s namesake — the chief executive officer and president of Greensboro-based Replacements Ltd who put serious skin in the game because he believes in the future and promise here for his business and his family.
* Philanthropist Todd Stiefel and his wife Diana, straight allies, whose Freethought Foundation‘s underscored why these ballot initiatives are not about religious freedom. “Framing a vote in favor of Amendment One as a vote for religious freedom is intellectually dishonest, plain and simple. The amendment provides no freedoms; it only takes them away.”
* The Durham-based Letters to the Editor brigade against Amendment One. The major papers have never seen such diligence as they saw from the hard work of Steve Bocckino, who organized regular folks – some who never sent a letter to the editor before — to send spirited, reasoned missives explaining the flaws and moral bankruptcy of Amendment One. The 41 letter-writers focued on the Durham Herald-Sun, the Raleigh News and Observer, the Durham News, and the Independent Weekly, but their work also made it to Asheville, Yahoo and Talking Points Memo.
* Fellow Champion honoree Sherre Toler, who made news as director of elections for Harnett County. She left her job than be a party to facilitating the Amendment One ballot initiative. “If a law violates one’s own principles of religion, spirituality or morals, each individual must examine his/her conscience and decide whether or not they can implement the law as written. If they can, they must do so. If they cannot, they must resign as I did.”
I called on so many of my friends in the virtual world to not only spread the word, but to raise funds for the effort to beat back discrimination: Joe Sudbay, Scott Wooledge of Daily Kos, and the tireless Adam Bink of the Courage Campaign were the little engines that could in our week-long online moneybomb that was picked up by many blogs in support of the cause — thank you Americablog, Towleroad, Daily Kos, Joe My God, Good As You, Back 2 Stonewall, The Bilerico Project, The New Civil Rights Movement, Truth Wins Out, David Mixner, and Michael-In-Norfolk and others who helped out. Without this digital army, the profile of the work going on here would not have been so high — it reached so many and showed that when it comes to equality — no state should be left behind.
It goes without saying that it was so exciting to cover the work of one person at Equality NC during this journey– Jen Jones, communications director for Protect All NC Families – who literally ran across the state (in her bright yellow hoodie) to educate voters about the harms of Amendment One in the epic Race to the Ballot. In town halls in large cities and small havens, she and her team brought people together from all perspectives to discuss equality issues, many for the first time in public venues. This is how change will occur long-term in this state – people gabbing face to face with out LGBT North Carolinians, dispelling fears. That connection this effort made is priceless — TV ads may hit more people, but personal conversations were opening minds in a profound way. If there had been more time to cover more ground…
And I’ll never forget my encounter with anti-LGBT black pastor on the National Organization for Marriage leash, Patrick Wooden, when he came to a Durham forum on Amendment One. He was the “man of God” who proclaimed that I needed to find Jesus – and a man to breed with to “rock my world” to Peter LaBarbera. It was on the Blend that I first reported Wooden, who believes gay men molest gerbils, baseball bats, and cell phones, admitted that he didn’t think it was right for someone to be fired simply because of their sexual orientation.
The other unforgettable encounter was when I spoke about Amendment One to a local political action committee about A1′s harms and met a Durham rep for Obama for America, who was, um, reluctant to touch the issue with a 10-foot-pole, even after the President had issued a statement opposing the amendment.
But the moment of the campaign that was breathtaking to report was the coalition-building of faith leaders in the state, kicked off in earnest by the NC NAACP’s Rev. Dr. William Barber’s Open Letter to North Carolinians, read during the last Equality NC conference. Hundreds of faith leaders publicly spoke out against the amendment in the wake of this missive. (From left: Rev. Barber; yours truly; Caitlin Breedlove, a leader of Southerners On a New Ground (S.O.N.G.); Rev. Nancy Petty of Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church; Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church in Hickory and Chair of the NAACP’s Religious Affairs Committee.) From his letter:
When we look at the history of our U.S. and N.C. Constitutions, there has never been an amendment to narrow their protections, but always to expand their protections to all persons, and to remedy past injustices.
The real insult to the Civil Rights Movement is that same regressive ultra conservative tea party type folks suing to overturn the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which many historians consider the most important achievement of the Civil Rights Movement, re-segregate and rob our public schools of valuable resources, block workers’ rights to organize, force us all to get photo ID’s to exercise our right to vote, cut back on the time to vote, and repeal the Racial Justice law, now somehow think the sons and daughters of the Civil Rights Movement can’t see through their Trojan Horse trick.
I’m sure that my fellow honorees have many tales to tell as well; as you read their profiles you’ll see why I have faith that this state is in good hands. These women made a difference coming from different perspectives in their activism. I am proud to share the stage with these equality champions next month! Thank you, Equality NC Foundation.
Reverend Jasmine Beach-Ferrara
Bob Page Equality Champion for the Western Region
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara grew up in Chapel Hill in the 80′s and 90′s and as a gay kid, it was hard to imagine a future in which she’d live in North Carolina as an out adult, doing LGBT rights work. She told us, “That I have the opportunity to do so today reflects the hard work that people have been doing in our state for a long time, and I’m deeply grateful for this. I remember what it was like during high school, as I started to understand that I was gay. There were times when it was hard and, on those days, small things like reading an article about Sharon Thompson, Mandy Carter, or Mike Nelson would make a difference, giving me hope that someday I’d have the courage to come out. In this way, I came to understand the impact that one person can have by being out and speaking simple truths.”
The work Jasmine is doing with the Campaign for Southern Equality and the WE DO Campaign is based on simple truths: that LGBT people are fully equal, that discriminatory laws which deny this must change, and that the urgency of our situation calls for us to act now. She and her dedicated colleagues think that LGBT people and allies in the South have a powerful—and unique—role to play in achieving equality under federal law. She notes, “I feel very blessed to do this work. These days that means traveling the South as we prepare for the next stage of the WE DO Campaign, which will take place in January 2013 with actions in up to eight Southern states. Hearing people’s stories and watching the strength and grace with which they navigate the realities of being a LGBT person in the South is what makes me so hopeful about what we can do together. We are proud to be a partner with Equality North Carolina, which does such vital work in our state, and look forward to that collaboration continuing to grow.”
Jasmine lives in Asheville with her wife Meghann Burke.
Chris McLeod & Krista Tillman
Bob Page Equality Champions for the Charlotte Region
An attorney with twenty years of fundraising experience, Chris McLeod is the president of GIVING MATTERS, INC., a consulting firm that specializes in providing planned giving counsel to nonprofits, churches, and educational institutions.
Chris grew up in Durham in the 60’s and 70’s, and lived in Washington, DC, and Chapel Hill for several years, so she never gave much thought to the notion of gay rights since she had always lived in gay friendly communities. In her early 30’s, she began to hear heartbreaking stories from her gay friends about their estrangement from their families and their inability to share their true selves at school and at work, and she became increasingly aware of the depth and breadth of pain they suffered and the impact of the hostile culture on their lives.
However, it wasn’t until she moved to Charlotte in 2004 that Chris began to think of herself as an activist and advocate for gay rights. After complaining to several friends and colleagues about the conservative climate in Charlotte, Chris was invited to join the board of The Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund to contribute her fundraising expertise. In a matter of a few years, Chris began to be recognized as a point person for other straight allies who wanted to make a difference in the climate of Charlotte.
Krista Tillman and her family moved to Charlotte in 2000 to serve as the president of North Carolina operations for BellSouth. Community work has been a large part of her life since moving to Charlotte, especially focused on using the energy and resources of the business community to tackle some of the state’s most critical social issues such as K-12 education and economic development. During the Charlotte Chamber’s intercity visit to Seattle in June 2011, many of the business community attendees discussed the need to be more open and inviting to the creative class and the LGBT community, similar to the atmosphere in Seattle where the LGBT community is openly embraced.
In the summer of 2011, Chris was asked by the president of the local community foundation to help Krista Tillman get connected in the LGBT community and build a vision for a more welcoming and affirming community for LGBT members and their families. Krista and Chris began referring to their effort as “Straight Allies Charlotte,” believing they needed to educate and enroll straight people in Charlotte to effect the necessary cultural change in the Charlotte community.
While the effort began before Amendment One was placed on the ballot, Chris and Krista organized an effort to raise over $30,000 from a broadly representative group of individuals to fight Amendment One, distributed over 2,500 Straight Allies yard signs, and used their network to encourage many prominent community leaders to speak out and agree to be videotaped about their opposition to Amendment One. By having an organization focused on straight supporters, Straight Allies Charlotte has compelled hundred’s of “straights” to ask to be part of the movement, to speak out against prejudice, and to continue dialogue and work for equal rights for all.
Reverend Julie Peeples
Bob Page Equality Champion for the Triad Region
Reverend Julie Peeples has been the pastor of Congregational United Church of Christ since 1991. Beginning in the late 90′s, her church moved beyond “don’t ask, don’t tell” and gradually built a strong consensus that clarified who they are and their understanding of the gospel: that God loves all equally and unconditionally, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that all are welcome here.
For Julie, working against the amendment was a natural extension of that journey. She notes, “The amendment was a violation of the rights of others, a violation of what I believe in, and a violation against real human beings that I care deeply about, whom God loves. The effort to defeat it brought together such an amazing cross section of wonderful people: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, black, white, Hispanic, gay, straight, old, young, musicians, artists, teachers, students, and more. One of the good things to arise out of the pain is the richness of these collaborations and friendships, which will continue to have a positive impact on this community. Many of these folks are staying involved in the work for full equality.”
In the months since the amendment vote, Julie has worked with a number of youth and adults who are struggling to leave behind toxic faith communities in their process of coming out. She believes the Christian church has much to repent for in its treatment of LGBT individuals. Along with two other Greensboro ministers, she is developing a workshop for clergy and church leaders, to prepare them to help their congregations become more open and welcoming. They will begin offering these workshops this winter.
Julie and her husband Paul live in Greensboro and have two daughters, Meghan and Hannah.
Bob Page Equality Champion for the Triangle Region
Pam Spaulding is the editor and publisher of Pam’s House Blend at pamshouseblend.firedoglake.com
Pam has guest posted/contributed to Americablog, Glenn Greenwald’s column on Salon, Pandagon, The Bilerico Project, and The Independent Weekly. She also wrote a monthly column for the Raleigh News & Observer’s The Durham News, the first out lesbian columnist for this major newspaper.
Pam was featured as one of the OUT 100 in 2009 and named one of Huffington Post’s Ultimate Game Changers in Politics, and landed on Politics Daily’s Top 25 Progressive Twitterers list. She received the Women’s Media Center Award for Online Journalism and she is nominated for its Social Media Award this year.
With roots in North Carolina and New York City, Pam considers herself to have “dual citizenship” status as a Southerner and a Yankee—and brings this perspective and voice to her blog, which focuses on current political events, LGBT and women’s rights, the influence of the far Right, and race relations.
We love Pam for many reasons, not the least for her eloquent and sustained support of our work. During the Amendment One campaign, she kept the spotlight on the shenanigans of the other side, and also worked in concert with other noted LGBT bloggers across the country to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through a “moneybomb” for our side. In so doing, she not only elevated the conversation, but also helped build our supporter base, not to mention a new and more sophisticated LGBT rights movement in North Carolina.
Pam lives in Durham with her wife Kate—they legally married in Vancouver in 2004—and their two dogs.
Bob Page Equality Champion for the Eastern Region
Sherre Toler has long been an advocate for civil rights. In the early ‘80’s she had the opportunity to work in the Arkansas Governor’s Office working for then Governor Bill Clinton. Her firsthand observation of the Clintons’ tireless dedication to human rights inspired her to finish college, graduate from Vermont Law School, and devote her career to public service.
As a staff attorney for a domestic violence shelter and rape crisis center, and later as an assistant public defender, Sherre always championed the cause of justice for her clients. She went on to become a domestic relations hearing officer processing all family law cases including custody, divorce, child support, and protection from abuse cases in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, where she ensured that every party coming before her received a fair and impartial hearing.
Upon moving to North Carolina, Sherre served as director of elections in Harnett County for 11½ years. During that time, she proudly operated her office in a fair, efficient, and nonpartisan manner. However, when the North Carolina General Assembly voted to put a referendum on the ballot stating that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state, Ms. Toler could no longer remain nonpartisan. She resigned her position in January of 2012 believing that civil rights should never be put to a popular vote and she refused to be a party to that action.
Sherre lives with Joe, her partner of eleven years, and her son Trey, age 21, lives and works in Pennsylvania. She owns her own business, Lighthouse Strategies and Consulting, in Wilmington where she continues to work for social justice and equality.
A note from Kay about the Gala:
Planning to attend this year’s Equality Conference & Gala? Remember, early bird rates will end on October 26, so be sure to register before then to save some bucks! And be sure to tell all your friends!