Race, sex and lobbying in a purple state

by on April 21, 2009  •  In Race

From the Durham News, Pam Spaulding recounts lobbying for equality in North Carolina:

I recently attended the Equality NC Day of Action at the state legislature, where average citizens met with lawmakers to discuss pro-equality bills and urge them to oppose a constitutional amendment bill banning same-sex marriage.

The real story, however, is what happened when a group of us — black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians — met with members of the Legislative Black Caucus. It was a shocking experience.

It's hard for some people to acknowledge that LGBT rights issues are social justice issues, but to see this play out in person was disturbing. We stopped in to see Rep. Alma Adams (D-Guilford). She supports the anti-bullying bill and opposes the marriage amendment. However, there was a very strange dynamic going on during the meeting.

We let actual constituents of the lawmaker take the lead. In this meeting, it was a young gay white man from Adams' district. Longtime social justice advocate and fellow Bull City resident Mandy Carter and I, and at least four other black LGBTs were present when the constituent asked if Adams, as chair of the black caucus, would speak with her colleagues who support the marriage amendment.

The answer she gave was pretty astonishing.

1. The amendment "isn't going anywhere," therefore there isn't any point to discuss it with those caucus members. (It is buried in four committees in the House; on the Senate side it was assigned to a committee that hasn't met since 2001);

2. It's not her job to try to educate those black members who support the amendment about why it's an affront to our state constitution;

3. Adams actually said, "your issues are not the black caucus's issues" — social justice for black LGBTs is not a matter of their concern, even as several black LGBTs stood right there before her. We were all stunned into silence. The lawmaker was apparently unaware of the recent letter released by NAACP national board chair Julian Bond and President Ben Jealous that fully supports LGBT rights, including the right to marry.

Ironically, the Legislative Black Caucus's own Web site says: "Justice – Assure equal protection under the law for African-Americans, other racial/ethnic minorities, the mentally ill and the poor."

I guess that means "except if you're black and LGBT."

We also met with a member of the black caucus who supports the marriage amendment, Rep. Earline W. Parmon (D-Guilford; my rep on the caucus, Larry Hall, was unavailable). She is in favor of the Healthy Youth Act and the anti-bullying bill. But on marriage, she parts ways, citing these reasons:

1. It's a "personal issue" for her. (as opposed to representing her voters' interests)

2. "I'm a minister." (church-state separation, anyone?)

3. "I'm not against anyone, one to one."

That last statement suggests she only wants to "protect marriage," but is sympathetic to same-sex couples' legal concerns. Yet the amendment would eliminate any legal recognition. No civil unions, no domestic partnerships, nada:

"Marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."

If either lawmaker stepped into a time machine that took them just a few generations back in time, they couldn't vote, never mind hold office, or even marry a person of the same race, let alone another race — all justified by the Bible.

The day taught me that spending face time with our lawmakers is essential, and for black LGBTs it's critical. We left committed to return because lawmakers need to see us and hear our stories.

You can read my full report, with video and photos, here: http://tinyurl.com/c5ynol


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