OPINION: A Telling Protest of Pastors Against Marriage Equality
By Chris Sgro on 07/17/2014 @ 09:00 AM
This op-ed was originally printed in the July 17, 2014, edition of the Raleigh News & Observer.
Any day now the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond appears poised to uphold a lower court ruling that would not only topple Virginia’s marriage ban, but could provide precedent to overturn bans on the freedom to marry in multiple states, including North Carolina.
In protest, representatives from the anti-gay, state chapter of the American Pastors Network rallied in Raleigh this week to decry what they called a “judicial coup d etat” that threatens their “hard-fought, traditional marriage victory,” better known as the broadly worded 2012 constitutional rewrite, Amendment One.
The purported purpose for the sparsely attended event? To demand that Gov. Pat McCrory “not capitulate to judicial heresy” and defend Amendment One should the federal appeals courts once again rule in favor of equality.
It’s worth pointing out though that the press conference – much like the pro-Amendment One effort itself – seemed as much about political pandering and trotting out half truths than speaking to the most pressing concerns of North Carolinians.
Some of the more specious claims proffered by the presser’s participants, included:
“(Marriage equality) is not a trend of the people but a trend of the courts.” - Former candidate for U.S. Senate and Charlotte reverand, Dr. Mark Harris
Actually, it’s both. Not only have there been 24 consecutive victories for the freedom to marry since June 2013, but support for marriage equality throughout the nation and North Carolina has never been higher. For example, at the time of Amendment One’s passage (May 2012), 53% of North Carolinians supported civil unions and marriage. That number had risen to 63% eight months later in February 2013.
“Courts have put themselves above Almighty God.” – Rev. Mark Creech, Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
The judges who have ruled on the cases impacting marriage equality have been at every level - from federal to state courts. They are Republican-appointees, Democrat-appointees, liberal and conservative. Regardless of idealogy or past ruling history, each of these judges has upheld that same-sex marriage should be legal. It is a constitutional, American, common-sense issue.
Many people of faith are also supportive of same-sex marriage. There is no "lock" on what religious North Carolinians believe about same-sex marriage. That is why many faith leaders have joined the United Church of Christ and our friends at Campaign for Southern Equality in a suit to protect their religious right to conduct same-sex marriages.
Marriage inequality will mean fewer “government handouts.” – Rev. Patrick Wooden, Upper Room Church of God in Christ
Amid these tales told by press conference speakers — who juxtaposed their event in between where the governor does his business, and where the legislative leadership is currently doing theirs — a more disturbing, narrative was woven.
Again and again speakers like Rev. Creech maligned North Carolina’s sitting Attorney General for not being passionate enough in his defense of what is quickly becoming a Constitutionally indefensible law; they accused the North Carolina NAACP of having “demagogued the issue” for speaking out against Amendment One side-by-side with faith communities all across the state; and they even called into question the conservatism of Republicans who opposed the broadly-worded marriage ban in the first place.
The message seemed clear: if you support the freedom to marry, you could never do your job as an elected official, you could never faithfully represent your community, and you could certainly never call yourself a Republican. Unfortunately for them, more and more moderate leaders in both parties support marriage equality because it is about freedom.
The speakers appeared a bit lost, though, when posed with the question of the day from reporters: Wouldn’t it be a waste of taxpayer dollars and North Carolina resources to defend Amendment One if the 4th Circuit overrules the law?
As Harris returned to the podium to respond, lawmakers inside the nearby General Assembly building were struggling to agree on how exactly we should pay our existing bills, presumably unaware that they might soon be asked to pay for a Supreme Court lawsuit.
But all was not lost. Rev. Creech seemed to encapsulate what can be considered a historic moment when he turned to his small audience to say, “there is no substitute for marriage.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Equality NC Remembers Windsor
By Jen Jones on 06/26/2014 @ 01:12 PM
Do you remember where you were when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, bringing federal marriage equality to loving couples nationwide?
I'll never forget: one year ago today, I was behind my computer at the Equality NC offices in Raleigh, surrounded by a room full of excited staffers, and with the final ruling, all you could hear were audible gasps, cheers, typing, and calls as we frantically tried to alert folks of the historic result and what it could mean for people like you, your friends, your family.
After all, just yesterday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Utah's ban on the freedom to marry, and, in doing so paved the way for marriage equality across multiple states.
Any day now, our 4th Circuit could do the same, ruling in favor of marriage in Virginia, and setting the stage for the freedom to marry in North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
Do me a favor? Share this blog to five friends right now. (Just like you did with the good news a year ago.)
Other Equality NC staffers share "where they were" on the day DOMA was struck down:
"I had been at work a little while when I heard the announcement on NPR. I immediately called Craig to tell him, and we shared in the excitement of the landmark decision and how it would ultimately impact our own freedom to marry and to jointly adopt our son. It was thrilling to have such a major, positive step forward. It was a moment where I could feel the arc of the moral universe actually bending, bending ...." - Shawn Long, Office Manager, Equality NC
"I was at the ENC office with my colleagues listening to the decision, trying to decipher what it meant for everyone." - Melissa Cartwright, Director of Development, Equality NC
Updates on Marriage
By Jen Jones on 05/23/2014 @ 01:12 PM
As you prepare to head out for some Memorial Day fun (cookouts, anyone?), I wanted to send you a quick pic of Equality NC super volunteer Erin Maruzzella as she dropped off a special "thank you" photo yesterday to our friends at Motorco Music Hall in Durham, NC.
After all, the Durham hotspot was nice enough to join many of you in opening your hearts (and grills) to host CookOUTs for Marriage Equality all across North Carolina and the South the same week as oral arguments opened in Bostic v. Schaefer, the case that could help topple our state's ban on the freedom to marry.
When Erin dropped off the photo -- a small token of appreciation for Motorco's great CookOUT -- the folks there told her that they want us all to come back to Durham and celebrate if Bostic goes our way -- setting the stage to help overturn the marriage ban in Virginia, and creating precedent to also do so in three other 4th Circuit states, including North Carolina.
After all, between Erin's CookOUT at Motorco on May 8th, and today, four states have found in favor of the freedom to marry. Marriage is coming. It's time to #Countdown2Bostic.
OPINION: Military Voices in a Marriage Spring
By Chris Sgro on 04/13/2014 @ 01:12 PM
This op-ed was originally printed in the April 13,, 2014, edition of The Fayetteville Observer.
In a stark reversal from just two years ago, when Amendment One re-wrote North Carolina's constitution to ban the freedom to marry for tens of thousands of same-sex couples, this May, North Carolina marches ever closer to a vastly different result. Our Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is preparing to take up, and perhaps follow, the unanimous national trend toward marriage equality.
A federal ruling in coming months toppling Amendment One could represent the equivalent of historical whiplash for a state now considered by many as home to "the last loss" in a protracted nationwide debate over the freedom to marry - what some are calling a "Marriage Spring." A rising tide of lower-court cases has turned into federal appeals, which will inevitably head to the U.S. Supreme Court on questions of state laws that discriminate against gay people.
With it comes a chance to begin healing the hurt endured by so many of North Carolina's gay and lesbian families who were so recently stung by Amendment One and its formal declaration of our state of inequality.
Having spent time on nearly every military installation in the state, from Fort Bragg to Camp Lejeune to Cherry Point, I know few families feel this hurt - and within it, the harsh contrast of state and federal laws - more acutely than same-sex military couples. Since the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was relegated to the dustbin of history, followed by the Supreme Court decision to overturn part of the Defense of Marriage Act, military couples have seen an opening of the floodgates of full federal equality, only to have those same gates abruptly shut when seeking full and equal access to state services and protections outside of quickly shifting military grounds.
After all, it was only a year ago that a Fort Bragg spouses club denied membership to Ashley Broadway, the wife of Army Lt. Col. Heather Mack. And it was only after Broadway won Fort Bragg's Military Spouse of the Year award that the club reversed course, granting her full membership rather than a prior offering as "special guest," and spurred a national debate, new directives from the Marines in support of same-sex spouses, and another layer of legal questions prompting the Supreme Court to act in favor of families like Broadway and Mack's a few months later.
The six-week saga of whether Ashley Broadway constituted a military spouse or a marginalized "special guest" happened around the same time Mack was giving birth to the couple's second child, a baby girl, who herself has come to represent another victim of North Carolina's anti-gay laws. While the military has since become strongly affirming of relationship recognition, today Ashley Broadway still remains a legal stranger to the couple's two children when off post, leaving her son and daughter vulnerable when their biological parent, Mack, so often heads off to areas of war and conflict.
But the realities of legal estrangement in same-sex families aren't isolated to the children of gay couples.
It's been more than a year since Tracy Dice Johnson of Hoke County lost her spouse, National Guard Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson, to a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. But she has yet to receive survivor benefits because of where she lives - North Carolina.
Even though the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex couples to get previously denied federal benefits, it left state marriage laws like Amendment One intact, and with it, left Tracy Johnson, who also served in Iraq for 15 months, waiting for veteran's death benefits that military spouses routinely receive when they lose a loved one to combat.
North Carolina military spouses like Johnson and Broadway have waited long enough.
This week, Equality N.C. will be raising these same brave voices in an amicus brief to the Fourth Circuit even as we're lifting their stories within the state's public consciousness throughout our Marriage Spring. It's a season of swift change I'm convinced will mark the beginning of the end for marriage inequality in the home to the third largest military population in the country.
No matter what side of this debate you're on, many believe that to deny a class of people the freedom to marry is to deem them less worthy. Which raises the question: Who then is more worthy of the freedom to marry than those who fight for the freedom of all?
Chris Sgro is executive director of Equality NC, North Carolina’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians.
By Jen Jones on 04/07/2014 @ 01:12 PM
Back in late March, Sarah Kim Wilde wrote to tell us that her son Noah had chosen Equality NC for his Mitzvah project. What followed was a true gift from an amazing young man.
Noah's father and mother divorced when he was six, and since then Sarah has been raising Noah and his brother Eli alone. Sarah's sister Beth moved to North Carolina from Boston with her wife Nancy when the boys were small, and theirs has been the marriage that the boys look to as a healthy relationship (they're going on 20 years now). As a result, Sarah says Noah was "beyond disgusted and disbelieving" when he found out that their New York and Massachusetts marriages were not valid in North Carolina.
As his mom Sarah Kim put it, "It's wonderful that the next generation really can't grasp why some people would prevent anyone from loving and marrying the person they choose. Then he got hooked on the Macklemore song, "Same Love" while he was just beginning to study his Torah portion last year, and slowly, the connections began to click for him as to what he wanted to say, and where he wanted to put his support for a Mitzvah project. He discussed with the Rabbi which organization to choose, and she recommended that he keep things close to home- act locally and the whole world will heal, right? She gave him a bumper sticker of yours that she'd had in her office, and he stuck it right onto the front of his study binder, and that was that. He's a strong kid...and I'm really enjoying watching him grow."
Strong is right. Noah went on to not only raise a sizeable donation to Equality NC at his bar mitzvah, but also penned a powerful sermon that truly captures the spirit of Equality:
My Torah portion is Tazria from Leviticus. It is about two ways that people back then could be considered ritually impure. The first way was if a person’s skin or clothes had an unnatural discoloration or rash. It would be examined by the priests, and if they determined that it was tzara’at, or leprosy, they would send the person away for seven days and then re-examine him. This would continue until the person got better. If tzara’at was on clothing, they were required to burn it.
The second way to be considered “impure” was through childbirth. If a woman bore a male child, she was impure for 33 days, and if she bore a female child, she was impure for 66 days. During the time of her impurity, she was not to touch or come in contact with any holy place or object. At the end of the period of impurity, the woman had to make an offering of a lamb in its first year, and a turtledove. If she was poor, she only had to offer two turtledoves in the Tabernacle, after which the priest would declare her ritually pure again.
Let’s begin with leprosy and discolorations. The rabbis believed that when someone got leprosy it was because they engaged in lashon ha-ra or “evil tongue.” Back then there was no treatment for leprosy, and because it was contagious the infected people had to leave the camp until it went away. Gossip and evil speech are contagious, too. One person says something and other people around them begin to think it’s OK to repeat it.
For example, when people say, “that’s gay,” they are using it in an ugly and demeaning way. That’s hurtful to people because it is reinforcing a negative social stereotype that has no basis in truth (unless it’s being used to describe a beautifully decorated home).
Still, the rabbis went so far as to say that we aren’t even supposed to listen to someone gossiping, because listening is participating and that we should even refrain from saying nice things about people behind their backs. They wanted us to be very, very careful about what we say.
And… they also knew that everyone breaks this rule. I sometimes have a hard time with the fact that so many of the rules in Judaism set such a high standard, so high that it often seems to go against human nature.
I mean, isn’t it a biological thing to be judgmental and exclusionary? Of course it is. In addition to what parents teach their kids at home, we’re always choosing and selecting, and we like things that are familiar to us. Unfamiliar things and people can feel intimidating.
However, being driven solely by our biological instincts is not where Judaism wants us to be. It’s as if our tradition is trying to teach us to have a voice inside that calls us out when we’re gossiping or being prejudiced, saying, “Woah, that’s my amygdala, my reptile brain talking, but I want to function from my pre-frontal cortex and be a little more enlightened.” That’s why I come to hear the wisdom of my religious tradition, because it has something to say about that. Learning about doing the right thing is one thing that makes me feel proud to be part of this Jewish community and a big reason I wanted to have a bar mitzvah.
Going back to the first part of this Torah portion, we learned women were considered unclean or lesser because of the natural process of childbirth, which was not widely understood at the time. Ushering in new life was a powerful experience, and seemed magical before they understood it--first there was one person and then there were two, and because that was a scary thing to some people, they made a lot of rules around it, like how women can’t touch holy objects after childbirth for 33 or 66 days.
Rules like this create difficulty between men and women because they highlight the differences between them and then give one gender different rights than what is given to the other.
But different doesn’t always mean, “I’m better, you’re worse”, or “You’re better, I’m worse.” That’s one of those human lessons that we still struggle with today but that we’re getting better at understanding. Today, I feel we are finding the path to honoring the ways that all of us are equal and the ways that we are different as well, without creating unfair rules. For example, the states that have chosen to allow gay marriage are accepting that gay people are people. No one should be punished by the law for sharing their love and commitment with the person of their choosing.
My mitzvah project is themed around equality, which is about making room for everyone to be treated the same in spite of their differences. Sixty-five years ago, people were just understanding that black people were people and women were equal to men. All these years later, black people and women still aren’t treated equally in all aspects of American life. And now we are starting to get that it’s also gays and lesbians that we don’t treat equally, and people who have physical challenges, or are mentally ill or are immigrants. The list goes on and on… little people, old people, fat people, in a hospital nurses aren’t equal to doctors, and we tend to judge anything that’s not what we perceive in our culture as pretty.
For my Mitzvah Project, I chose to raise money to support an organization called EqualityNC.org which supports equal rights for everyone in North Carolina. They have done many great things so far and I want to make a donation to help them in their future projects and work. I chose this organization because I feel that it is not fair to criticize, stereotype, or to give lesser rights and freedoms to people just because of their preference of gender or how they were born. Please join me in contributing by making a donation in the big blue box in the foyer to help encourage this organization to keep on helping all of these people.
Thank you, Noah.
TAKE ACTION: Married 364 Days a Year
By Jen Jones on 04/01/2014 @ 01:12 PM
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC has written an op-ed in today's News & Observer that sheds light on the discriminatory nature of North Carolina's new tax policy. But he needs people to share their personal stories about how the policy has affected themselves and their loved ones. That's where you come in.
From 3 - 5 p.m., on Tuesday, April 1, Equality NC invites everyone to participate in a discussion in the comments section of the newspaper article to ask questions about the tax policy and provide personal narratives that will enlighten the conversation.
STEP 1: Go here: http://bit.ly/1mve0f8
STEP 2: Scroll to the bottom of the page.
STEP 3: Make a comment.
As always, we appreciate your participation and thank you for fighting for Equality.
In October 2013, when the N.C. Department of Revenue released a tax directive for the state’s legally-married, same-sex couples, barring them from filing a state personal income tax return under the status “married filing jointly” or “married filing separately,” it sent a strong message: On the day you file your state tax return, your marriage does not count.
In doing so, this new tax policy turned its back on simple, fair and transparent federal laws that allow married, same-sex couples to file jointly – with all of the requisite veracity of a “married” status – regardless of where they live.
The failure to issue uniform guidance for all legally married couples in North Carolina has resulted in months of unnecessary confusion and complication. And while preparing and paying for our taxes is a burden shared by all, because of North Carolina’s policy, some but not all legally married couples living within our borders face what can only be described as an undue burden: unfairly penalized this tax season, they cost themselves, and potentially the state itself, more economic harm than good.
But you don’t have to take these married couples’ word for it. Certified public accountants and other tax professionals have borne witness to these harms, in this and other states such as Virginia and South Carolina, which have followed North Carolina’s inequitable lead. They’ve shared that these policies force married, same-sex couples to file six forms for every two from other married couples, with filing costs amounting to as much as four times the amount of traditional fees.
If paying, for example, $400 to file your taxes this year versus $100 last isn’t argument enough of an undue burden, CPAs themselves, many of whom are small business owners, are also reporting a significant burden to bear. If they have not already lost business – facing frustrated couples who would rather go it on their own than eat the extra costs of filing with a professional – they deal with many of the same questions and confusion directed at the N.C. Dept. of Revenue moving forward. Will you require married certificate documentation for some couples and not others? Will you force CPAs to constantly keep track of marriage laws in other states? Will you provide continual guidance to tax professionals as marriage laws change?
And what of other infringements? We’ve heard from many faith leaders and faithful North Carolinians who are giving voice to a rising tide of religious objections to policies that force them to subvert their married status, lie on their state taxes and in doing so bear false witness in contravention to their strongly held beliefs.
But it didn’t have to be this way. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order directing the Missouri Department of Revenue to accept the jointly-filed state tax returns of all legally married couples, including same-sex couples legally married in other states.
That limited recognition means even though Missouri doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry (in fact it has a constitutional marriage equality ban almost mirroring the scope of ours in North Carolina), the state was able to provide an uncomplicated tax solution for legally married couples: no new taxes.
By doing so, Nixon kept Missouri’s tax policy clear and uniform for all legally married couples in his state and avoided the confusing and costly result that unfairly targets legally-married, same-sex couples that we’re seeing in ours.
It was Gov.Pat McCrory’s failure to follow suit which prompted hundreds of North Carolinians to sign petitions demanding changes to North Carolina’s tax policy and why Equality NC will launch #Married364, a 15-day campaign designed to ask the important question: shouldn’t marriage count every day of the year? In partnership with bordering state equality groups South Carolina Equality and Equality Virginia, the online effort will feature same- and opposite gender couples, as well as LGBT and allied individuals, who stand in solidarity against laws, directives and policies that would subvert their marriage status.
The campaign will culminate in coordinated, multi-state events on tax day, April 15, including one in Raleigh, designed to raise the voices of those who oppose these types of inequitable tax policy.
Because like taxes, the fight for equality includes everyone.
Chris Sgro is executive director of Equality NC.
TAKE ACTION: Emory University Study on Transgender Health
By Jen Jones on 03/17/2014 @ 01:12 PM
Equality NC is North Carolina's leading advocate for the state's transgender community and we're excited to share a new study by Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health focused on better understanding how health issues impact transgender communities nationwide. Learn more about this exciting new study below and how you can participate today.
We are writing to you invite you to join a new study being conducted by Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health. The goal of this study is to understand the main health issues that affect the transgender community.
Transgender health issues, and in particular effects of gender reassignment treatment, are very poorly understood. For example, it is expected (but has not been clearly shown) that gender reassignment treatment may help alleviate stress and anxiety, and may improve quality of life among transgender persons. On the other hand, there is concern that gender reassignment therapy may increase the risk of hormone-related conditions such as osteoporosis and diabetes, and perhaps certain cancers. But these concerns have not been studied properly.
Before the study begins, it is critical that we ask for feedback on our research tools. For this reason we plan to conduct a series of online group discussions with persons who consider themselves transgender, and are willing to share their thoughts. These focus groups are about an hour long and will take place in a chat room setting. You can participate from the comfort of your own home or anywhere you have internet access and a computer!
We would like to invite you to consider participating in these group discussions. Your decision to be in this study is completely up to you. The group discussions are completely anonymous; your participation and opinions expressed during discussions will be kept strictly confidential.
After you have signed up and indicated your availability, we will contact you by email to confirm your scheduled time and ask you to review the survey for the project before the discussion. You will receive $10 for reviewing the survey, and $25 for participating in the discussion. If you have any questions about the study, or would like to speak to a study staff member, you can contact the project coordinator, Craig Sineath at 404-712-9211.
Vin Tangpricha, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine
Program Director, Endocrinology Fellowship
Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Lipids
Emory University School of Medicine
Michael Goodman, M.D., M.P.H
Associate Professor of Epidemiology,
Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University
Affiliate Investigator, Kaiser Permanente Georgia
SAVE THE DATE: 2014 Lobby Day of Action
By Jen Jones on 03/06/2014 @ 06:05 AM
This year we wanted to give you three month's notice. It's that important.
If you don't mind, please clear your calendar now for June 3. This year's Lobby Day of Action in Raleigh will cap Equality NC's unprecedented "Spring into Action" series, as we come together as a pro-equality, North Carolina family during multiple events to get engaged directly with the important work happening during the short session at the North Carolina General Assembly.
And on June 3, in particular, we need you to stand with us at the legislature as we fight for LGBT equality in our most crucial year of engagement yet.
Whatever your motivation -- it's time to save the date, get engaged, and take action!
Meet Ian O'Keefe: #GetEngagedNC Trainer
By Ian O'Keefe on 02/20/2014 @ 12:12 PM
Three years ago I was a college freshman in my first semester at Appalachian State University.
Today, I'm writing as someone who has since founded an organization to oppose North Carolina's constitutional ban on marriage equality, registered and organized record numbers of college students to vote, and become a leading advocate for civic engagement in Watauga County and all across my state.
And this Saturday, I'll be leading Equality NC Foundation's #GetEngagedNC Western Regional Institute in Boone.
Can I count on you to join me on Saturday *or* at one of the #GetEngagedNC Regional events coming up soon near you? Register now to be a part of building a movement for Equality in NC.
Whether you're a college student who wants to make a difference or a seasoned activist ready to mobilize in this important election year, I think we can agree, it's time to get engaged in North Carolina. And these Equality NC Foundation events are your first, best step on the road to building our pro-equality movement in 2014.
So, don't wait. Register for a #GetEngagedNC event near you right now:
If I can do it, you can do it. And together we can build a state of equality.
Ian O'Keefe ASU,
Class of '15
P.S. Don't forget to find out who else is "getting engaged" at our official event Facebook pages:
It's Not Too Late to Get Engaged Out West!
By Jen Jones on 02/18/2014 @ 06:12 AM
Friend of Equality --
It's not too late to get engaged this Saturday for our #GetEngagedNC Western Regional event in Boone!
Our past Greensboro conferences were a great organizing tool, but this year we're proud to host regional events like this one with the goal of coming to you for our collective community work in 2014.
Register NOW and join Equality NC Foundation in Boone, on Feb. 22, as we work together to build a movement for equality in North Carolina.
This is your best chance to get involved in important election-year work during our day-long training designed to provide everything you need to know to be an accomplished pro-equality activist in 2014!
Don't miss your chance to #GetEngagedNC in your region. LEARN MORE & REGISTER NOW:
See you out West,
P.S. Don't forget to find out who else is coming at the regional institute Facebook pages:
Meet Michelle Mathis: #GetEngagedNC Trainer
By Michelle Mathis on 02/06/2014 @ 12:12 PM
Last year, I attended Equality NC Foundation’s annual conference where I was inspired by hundreds of LGBT activists and allies willing to work together to move our state forward.
In the year since, I’ve founded a community organization devoted to equality issues in my hometown of Hickory, built on the many successes of my harm reduction ministry, and continued the important work of bringing North Carolina's communities of faith to the pro-equality table.
In 2014, I’ll be helping to lead Equality NC’s new #GetEngagedNC Regional Institutes.
Join me. Click here to start getting engaged at the #GetEngagedNC Regional Institutes and register now for one of three great days of equality action at an event near you:
Can't wait to see you there.
Community Alliance for Equality (C.A.F.E.)
P.S. Don't forget to find out who else is coming at the regional institute Facebook pages:
#MoralMarch: We Need You This Saturday.
By Jen Jones on 02/04/2014 @ 12:12 PM
This Saturday, we need you with us.
Two years ago, tens of thousands of you joined with Equality NC to fight back against the devastating effects of Amendment One. Last year, even more of you stood side-by-side with us in our efforts to secure workplace protections for LGBT North Carolinians in communities far and wide.
And in 2014, in our third year as a proud Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) partner, we expect tens of thousands of pro-equality advocates just like you to march with us for the first-ever "Moral March on Raleigh," this year's HKonJ People's Assembly, on Saturday, February 8, in downtown Raleigh, as we launch a new era of Equality activism....forward together in North Carolina!
People are coming from 32 states to stand with us on Saturday, February 8.
But we can't build this army for Equality without YOU.
RSVP today to join the LGBT and allied community at Moral March by emailing email@example.com. In return, we’ll tell you about opportunities to join Equality on the march.
You and I both know, we've got work to do in 2014 - and Moral March will be the unofficial kick-off to our unprecedented efforts alongside our electeds, business, and faith communities, in both urban and rural hubs, as we fight to pass statewide LGBT non-discrimination policies, protect our youngest generations from bullying and harassment, build pro-equality support at the polls, and, once and for all, wipe away the scourge of Amendment One.
So, what are you waiting for? RSVP with us today for Moral March -- and follow #MoralMarch on your favorite social sites for the latest on this amazing day in February.
OPINION: Betting on the Business of Equality in NC
By Chris Sgro on 02/03/2014 @ 12:12 PM
This op-ed was originally printed in the February 2, 2014, edition of The Raleigh News & Observer.
When Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina recently revealed it would reverse course and immediately begin offering family coverage to the state’s same-sex married couples, it also effectively communicated an important, message that many companies all over North Carolina have realized:
Equality is good for business.
In a statement announcing the change, Blue Cross CEO Brad Wilson was not only quick to apologize for his company’s failure to thoughtfully consider its prior position of denying and, in some cases, canceling coverage to same-sex couples and domestic partners, but also hinted at the policy’s detrimental impact of forcing married, gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina to once again accept a dual reality: equality at the federal level, but inequality at the state level.
A large majority of Fortune 500 Companies have already realized that equality is easy and efficient and that discrimination is hard and complicated and comes at a cost.
Why else would every single company on Fortune magazine’s list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” protect gay employees from discrimination, with more than half of these companies also covering transgender workers?
Why would 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies do the same? That includes the five largest North Carolina-based public companies: Bank of America, Lowe’s, Duke Energy, BB&T and Reynolds American.
Why would the vast majority of the state’s small-business owners and entrepreneurs (64 percent) oppose discrimination against LGBT workers?
Businesses that have chosen to publicly support equality, as Blue Cross did, not only show an increased commitment to their current employees and subscribers, but they are also better able to appeal to a whole new pool of talented job seekers and customers – who are, more and more, making decisions based on conscience.
But Blue Cross’ public display isn’t just a sign of the times. It’s a mantle as old as North Carolina’s business acumen itself.
After all, when Charlotte-based Nations Bank merged with Bank of America in 1998, one of the pivotal questions in corporate headquarters was whether the new financial entity would continue to offer same-sex domestic partner benefits established by the original Bank of America.
In a bold move, before the merger was even official, North Carolina business legend and then CEO Hugh C. McColl stepped up and formally announced that the North Carolina-based Bank of America would begin to offer such benefits as a means to protect employees and satisfy shareholders.
It is clear that the Bank of America management believed that it was important to have such protections in place for the benefit of the growing corporation. They surely knew it would attract the talented and diverse work force necessary to compete in a global market.
Now, almost two decades later, over 50 major private companies in North Carolina offer same-sex domestic partner benefits, including Bank of America, now the fifth-largest Fortune 500 Corporation in America.
Basic fairness can mean big business. Corporations, small businesses and entrepreneurs are leading where our state legislature is not.
That’s precisely why Equality NC, as North Carolina’s leader in LGBT legislative and grassroots advocacy, will now be partnering with business leaders to launch the Equality NC Business Equality Council. Launching this year, our organization will begin the important work of convening visible North Carolina business leaders who support LGBT equality and champion issues ranging from employment protections to equal access to health care – all as part of an unprecedented business coalition in the Tar Heel State.
In the process, we’ll be putting our money where our mouth is, openly supporting the business entities that support us and betting on a coalition that adds business support to already-thriving, pro-equality grassroots networks throughout the state.
And so in 2014 and beyond the business community will partner with community leaders and advocates to send a message even if the legislature will not: North Carolina is open for business.
Chris Sgro is executive director of Equality NC, North Carolina’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians.
BREAKING: A HUGE Victory for Our Families!
By Chris Sgro on 01/29/2014 @ 12:12 PM
We did it!
Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has reversed course and will now offer family coverage to same-sex couples under the Affordable Care Act.
During last week's Equality NC Twitter Town Hall, many organizations, agencies and individuals shared personal stories, helpful resources, and important action steps that shed light on the denials and cancellations of family policies for married, same-sex couples all across the state, and led directly to key national exposure and the state-level changes we're seeing today.
We are thrilled that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has taken this important step to protect all North Carolina families, including vulnerable same-sex couples seeking equal access to health care in the new marketplace.
This victory is the direct result not only of the work of so many organizations like Equality NC who seek to provide basic protections for LGBT North Carolinians, but also LGBT victims of discriminatory policies like our friends Thomas and Chad, who were willing and able to come forward and fight for basic protections in the state they call home.
We owe this win to them, and pledge today to redouble our efforts to fight for much-needed LGBT workplace protections in communities all across the state so that their visibility and voices can lead to even more victories here at home.
Did you hear what Phil Berger, Jr. said?
By Chris Sgro on 01/28/2014 @ 12:12 PM
I don't know if you've heard, but North Carolina's true values of fairness and equality are under attack.
WE are under attack.
Rockingham County District Attorney and 6th District Congressional candidate Phil Berger Jr. has chosen to lash out at the loving, gay and lesbian couples who married at Sunday night's Grammy Awards with a host of despicable tweets and images singing the praises of marriage inequality.
His discriminatory words do not reflect North Carolina values.
Let's show Phil Berger, Jr. the real value of being a pro-equality North Carolinian. Give $10, $25, $50, or more today and help us raise $5,000 in his honor by Friday, January 31, at midnight.
Your investment this week will not only support our efforts to get the entire state "engaged" in our work to support both legal and living equality for all North Carolinians, but send a strong message to purveyors of these types of messages -- wherever they live -- that the North Carolina we know and love is not a state of hate.
Snowed in? No problem: invest securely online RIGHT NOW and help us reach our $5,000 goal:
It's not just about health care: How it feels to have your insurance canceled for being gay
By Chris Sgro on 01/20/2014 @ 03:05 PM
I wanted to make sure you saw this letter (below) from Thomas Hafke and Chad Higby. They're a married, same-sex couple from Moore County, NC, who made headlines last week when Thomas's insurance provider canceled their joint health care coverage upon learning his spouse was of the same gender.
I hope you will take the time to read it. It's powerful.
Their story speaks not only to the discrimination that same-sex couples face in states like North Carolina that currently ban the freedom to marry, but also to the need for more education and awareness about health care options for LGBT North Carolinians in the current marketplace.
Equality NC is listening: this week we'll provide an array of information about health care for our LGBT community, including the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), how discriminatory laws impact your coverage, and how we can work together to change things for the better. Find it: on the web, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
Speaking of Twitter, Equality NC will join with state and national partners to host a LGBT Health Care Twitter Town Hall, Wednesday, January 22, from 7-8 PM, focused on providing information and answering questions about ACA coverage for LGBT North Carolinians. Just follow the hashtag, #NCLGBThealth. We'll share the results of this conversation the following day.
Together we can make a difference,
_______________Begin Forwarded Message_______________
From: Thomas Hafke
Date: 6:04 PM, Thur, Jan 16, 2014
Subject: How it feels to have your insurance canceled for having a gay marriage
Friend of Equality --
Being that neither my husband or I qualify for insurance through work, we were both looking forward to getting health care that we could afford. We signed up through the federal exchange with no major issues. Answered all the questions...name, address, marital status, etc...; pretty straight-forward process. After comparing all the plans, we chose one that would work best for us and our budget. January 1st we receive our policy information and it does actually feel nice to know that we are now covered should something bad ever happen to either of us.
Fast forward 13 days and that feeling of comfort and preparedness comes crashing to an end after one phone call. While driving down the road I return a call I received from some customer service rep from [our insurance provider]; you know just thinking that they need to tie up some loose ends or check that I got all my policy information.
The conversation starts off pretty casual, "Hi my name is Kim with [your insurance provider]." She then asks the first, and only, question: "Do you have a partner listed on your policy?" Of course, I say "Yes, I do." Immediately after that she says, "I'm sorry but we are going to have to cancel your insurance because our current company policy doesn't allow us to recognize same sex spouses." My mind is racing trying to comprehend what just happened. I'm waiting for a "just kidding" or anything that could undue the helplessness I'm feeling. Then the hard part came...I had to tell Chad.
Of course he sees my face and wants to know what's going on...I tell him bluntly (as I'm still on the phone with them.) "They are canceling our policy because they don't recognize same sex couples." Instantly tears come to his eyes and I can see the anger and frustration building on his face. We were driving down the road, now nowhere near where we were going to for dinner; neither one of us could think of anything other than: What just happened...and what do we do?
It's hard to put into words exactly how it feels when faced with such outright discrimination. Just hope that it never happens to you or anyone you care about. I don't think "Kim, with [our insurance provider]" will ever realize how her actions made my husband and I feel that day. That feeling still hasn't left us. We feel the hate behind their company policy, and the hate behind Amendment One on which they choose to base it on.
What they don't know is that we are used to being the underdog. We are used to fighting for our beliefs and our rights. We live in a state that makes us face discrimination on a daily basis; surrounded by the people who voted discrimination in place. So, using this experience we will stand up, brush our shoulders off and take action.
Thomas Hafke (and Chad Higby)
Aberdeen, North Carolina
You Did It!
By Chris Sgro on 01/08/2014 @ 12:12 PM
You did it.
This holiday season, you raised over $25,000 for Equality NC Foundation's crucial work to help build a state of Equality here at home.
Your generosity in 2013 provided much-needed momentum for our collective work in the New Year, including:
- Shaping a movement for marriage in North Carolina with our all-new #GetEngagedNC campaign, meant to spur pro-equality volunteerism, advocacy, and storytelling, while lending much-needed visibility to LGBT families, individuals and youth in our cultural fight for the freedom to marry in 2014 and beyond.
- Launching our brand-new Equality NC Affiliates program all across North Carolina to provide essential training, resources and support to fast-growing Equality networks as part of local, community-led chapters focused on strategic goals, including LGBT issue education and regional activism.
- Pushing for the passage of additional workplace protection policies on the state and local level, including cities and counties in every corner of the Tar Heel State.
- Recruiting, engaging, and mobilizing our all-important peer network of pro-equality public servants as part of Equality NC's ongoing N.C. Electeds for Equality project.
- Bringing our fight for Equality back to the state legislature with all-new, in-person and virtual lobby days designed to amplify our voices at the North Carolina General Assembly.
And later this month we'll announce dates and locations for our inaugural Equality NC Foundation Regional Institutes, your first and best chance to prepare for a New Year of pro-equality advocacy and electoral engagement.
All of this in just the first month of 2014! We'll be in touch next week to get you up to speed on all the new and exciting ways to get involved.
Until then, thank you so much for being part of the Equality family in 2014 and beyond!
We Love Our Son.
By Mike & Martha Sgro on 12/19/2013 @ 04:05 PM
We're Equality NC Foundation supporters and parents from Philadelphia and we love our son.
Even though we have three children who are adults now – only two of them can get married. Chris and his long-time partner, Ryan, live in North Carolina and are subject to discriminatory laws that don't recognize their loving relationship in the state they call home.
But we have hope that this will change – with your help. We’ve personally watched as the team at Equality NC Foundation leads the fight for marriage equality, workplace protections, and protecting LGBT youth in the South.
As parents of a gay son still fighting for equality, the most important gift we can give this year is the gift in Equality. That's why we’re giving to Equality NC Foundation this holiday season. Today we're asking that you join us.
Invest in Equality NC Foundation today – and we'll join with other proud parents to match your gift up to $5,000.
That means your tax-deductible, year-end gift can make even more of a difference, more fully funding Equality NC Foundation's 2014 efforts to build a movement for marriage that engages all ages, races, backgrounds, political affiliations, and religious designations, in areas urban and rural, from the majestic mountains to the beautiful coast.
Most importantly to us as parents, your year-end gift goes directly to helping so many North Carolina children and families become full and equal citizens under the law *and* in the eyes of fellow citizens in all parts of the Tar Heel State.
So, today we challenge all parents and families (as well as their children) to fight for Equality. Please join us in standing up for our kid -- and so many others. Give the gift of Equality this holiday season:
Martha and Mike Sgro
Equality NC Foundation Supporters
Don't Donate to Equality. Invest in Equality.
By Jen Jones on 12/17/2013 @ 04:05 PM
This time of year, we know you’re going to get a lot of “asks” coming your way. And while other organizations may be worthy of a donation, today we’re writing for something different: an actual INVESTMENT in our shared future.
So please, DON’T DONATE. Instead, INVEST in Equality.
INVEST NOW in Equality NC Foundation as your 2013 end-of-year, tax-deductible gift and play a bigger part in building a state of Equality for ALL North Carolinians in a New Year.
Because when you invest in Equality NC Foundation, your impact is immediate:
- An investment of $150 = hope for a rural Western North Carolina community in need of vital voter education to grow its pro-equality activism in 2014.
- An investment of $300 = support for a small Eastern North Carolina town seeking to pass much-needed employment protection policies for its gay and transgender workers next year.
- An investment of $600 = mobilization of faith networks in all corners of the state dedicated to leading local efforts to gain support for marriage equality.
- An investment of $1200 = vital collection and dissemination of stories from North Carolina’s plentiful military and veteran families who are leading the charge on all fronts of LGBT advocacy and activism.
- An investment of $1500 = transforming a small grassroots group into a strategic, community-led Equality NC affiliate, focused on shared goals, including civic engagement, LGBT issue education, and targeted actions.
Friend, we know you’ve always been a friend of Equality.
Now we’re asking you to play an even bigger role in our fast-growing Equality NC Foundation family – supporting the next phase of our all-important work in 2014, by making a long-term, tax-deductible investment in Equality NC Foundation today.
We’ve always counted on you. Now it’s time to count on us.