Help Equality NC Keep Up the Pace
By Chris Sgro on 03/04/2015 @ 10:00 AM
Can you please chip in to help us financially right now?
You've probably seen or heard us all over the news and on social media.
We've been fighting hard for LGBT protections in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte throughout the year, as well as continuing our ongoing education and advocacy work in every corner of the state.
(Even now, we're headed back to the capital to try to stop anti-LGBT legislation at the General Assembly.)
In 2015, we're calling out extremists at the legislature. Working with legislative champions to make positive changes. Providing state and national exposure to North Carolina's fusion movement and activism. And turning our attention to passing local protections in your communities where being able to live, work, and raise a family free of discrimination is most important, even as we gear up to fight for a statewide LGBT-inclusive employment law this year. One question: Can you please chip in to help us financially right now?
Now we need your help. We need your financial support to keep up this frenetic pace -- plain and simple. Chip in $10 or more now.
This is what we all signed up for. Let us know you're with us. Please, go to our donate page: equalitync.org/action/donate
Your individual investments are our #1 source of funding for the activism you've seen thus far in 2015. And we need your help to keep this work going, and keep our dream of building a state of equality alive and well.
Gay and Transgender Charlotteans Are Under Attack
By Chris Sgro on 02/12/2015 @ 10:00 AM
Anti-LGBT forces in our state are targeting gay and transgender Charlotteans. We need your help right now.
The same extreme group that spearheaded our state's marriage ban, has now set its sights on preventing elected leaders from updating non-discrimination ordinances to protect gay and transgender Charlotteans in public accommodations. To do so, they're spreading misinformation and outright lies about our community.
The Charlotte City Council will vote on these protections on February 23, at 6:30 p.m. and we need our fair-minded supporters at that meeting.
But we can't wait. The other side is calling and emailing Charlotte's leaders right now. We need to make sure fair-minded voices are heard in support of these important protections. For more on these protections, why they're important, and how to talk about them, please click here.
Call or email Charlotte's leaders today:
Mayor Dan Clodfelter
Mayor Pro Tem Michael D. Barnes
Claire Green Fallon
Patsy B. Kinsey
Gregory A. Phipps
John N. Autry
Edmund H. Driggs
And don't forget to join us on February 23, at 6:30 p.m., at the Charlotte City Council meeting (Charlotte Mecklenburg Gov't Center, 600 E. Fourth Street) to show your support for equality for all Charlotteans.
THINGS TO KNOW:
The purpose of these updates is to safeguard the opportunity of all Charlotteans to be free from all forms of arbitrary discrimination, including discrimination based on real or perceived race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, sex, gender identity, gender expression, religion, sexual orientation, disability, marital or family status.
The updated non-discrimination ordinances would protect people from arbitrary discrimination in public accommodations, commercial contracting and passenger vehicles for hire.
It is important to understand that more than 200 cities in states across the United States— like Kansas City, MO, Gainesville, FL and Kalamazoo, MI— have already passed and successfully implemented these ordinances, with no increase in public safety incidents. Charlotte is one of only 3 of the nation’s 20 largest cities that does not have inclusive non-discrimination ordinances protecting LGBT people in public accommodations and fair housing.
Updated non-discrimination ordinances will strengthen the community by fostering an atmosphere of respect and inclusivity. It will send the message that Charlotte is a welcoming place to live, work, and raise a family.
North Carolina’s planned ‘religious freedom’ bills waste time, money on unfairness
By Chris Sgro on 01/23/2015 @ 10:00 AM
On the same day that legislators returned for their 2015 session, there was an ominous announcement.
Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, one of the leading anti-LGBT voices in our legislature, told reporters that on January 28th there would be a legislative briefing on so-called "religious freedom" legislation.
We've seen these "turn away the gays" bills in other states -- but the one suggested in North Carolina could be much worse. This legislation could allow our state officials to decline services to the LGBT community.
That's why we need your help.
Take a moment to check out my op-ed in the News & Observer previewing this legislation, its potential impact, and why we'll be fighting any "license to discriminate" with everything we've got.
As I said in the piece, when public servants can deny any North Carolinians service, that’s not religious freedom, that's discrimination, plain and simple. And we must be ready for whatever comes next week.
Until then, please share this op-ed on Facebook and Twitter and spread the word about what this legislation could mean for our state.
And don't forget to check your email daily for more ways to get involved both inside and outside of the North Carolina General Assembly. We'll be in touch next week.
What It's Costing States to Fight Marriage Equality
By Jen Jones on 01/13/2015 @ 10:00 AM
The Progressive Pulse's Sharon McCloskey shares the hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars paid -- and millions still pending -- for states to defend unconstitutional bans on the freedom to marry.
As same-sex marriage bans continue to fall in the courts, states on the losing side of the battle are finding themselves on the hook for attorneys’ fees incurred by proponents of marriage equality, to the tune of more than $800,000 thus far, according to Zoe Tillman in this National Law Journal post.
And requests for millions more are still pending in cases making their way through the appellate courts, Tillman notes.
Learn more at here.
Honoring World AIDS Day
By Jen Jones on 12/01/2014 @ 10:00 AM
Today is December 1, 2014 -- World AIDS Day -- a global recognition for the continuous fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. On this day each year, we offer our support to those who are living with HIV and honor those who are no longer with us.
First started in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first health day to be recognized globally. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2013, there are approximately 35 million people around the world with HIV, half of whom are women and 10% are children under the age of 15. It is estimated that more than one million people in the U.S. are living with HIV. In 2012, 1.9 million people lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses, bringing the total to more than 35 million lives lost.
Education, preventative practices and health screenings are critical when it comes to stopping the spread of the disease – almost 1 in 6 unaware they are infected. Through education and outreach efforts and scientific advances that number, along with the number of transmittal cases, are dwindling.
Nevertheless, 36,500 people live with HIV/AIDS in North Carolina.
Today, we honor those who we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS and continue our fight for accessible and inclusive care by partnering with our friends at the North Carolina AIDS Action Network to make sure our state leaders understand the impact of HIV/AIDS on constituents across the state.
We Remember: Transgender Day of Remembrance
By Jen Jones on 11/19/2014 @ 10:00 AM
On November 20, the state will come together to remember transgender individuals lost to violence in 2014.
Join Equality NC and our partners as we participate in the 2014 Transgender Day of Remembrance, Thursday, November 20.
This year, Equality NC is partnering with many amazing groups, including the Transgender Initiative of the LGBT Center of Raleigh and LGBTQ Center of Durham, Human Rights Campaign of North Carolina, Time Out Youth, ENC Foothills and others, to sponsor events that commemorate TDoR, memorialize those we've lost, and recommit to our collective pledge to never stop fighting for transgender equality in North Carolina and beyond.
North Carolina's Transgender Day of Remembrance is a statewide effort, also including events hosted by our affiliate ENC Foothills in Hickory, by our friends at Time Out Youth in Charlotte, and an annual event in Greensboro.
WHAT: TDoR Candlelight Vigil
WHERE: CCB Plaza (115 Market St., Durham, NC 27701)
WHEN: Events begin at 6 p.m.
WHAT: TDoR Candlelight Vigil
WHERE: Belk Centrum Theatre (625 7th Avenue NE, Hickory, NC 28601)
WHEN: Events begin at 6:30 p.m.
TRIAD VIGIL (Greensboro)
WHAT: TDoR Candlelight Vigil
WHERE: 1821 Lendew St., Greensboro, NC 27408
WHEN: Events begin at 7 p.m.
WHAT: TDoR Candlelight Vigil
WHERE: Time Out Youth (2320 N Davidson St Unit A, Charlotte, North Carolina 28205)
WHEN: Events begin at 7 p.m.
No matter who you are or where you live, please honor our Transgender Day of Remembrance, on November 20, by attending an event near you (#TDoR).
Pittenger: OK to fire gays
By Jen Jones on 09/18/2014 @ 11:00 AM
An editorial from yesterday's Charlotte Observer reminded me of some pretty hateful statements from N.C. Congressman Robert Pittenger (as well as some harsh realities for our gay and transgender workers):
Is it OK for a company to fire someone solely because he is gay? U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte thinks so. It’s one of “the freedoms we enjoy” as Americans, he says. Private employers should have the freedom to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation, Pittenger says, and government shouldn’t take that ability away.
Read more of The Charlotte Observer editorial here.
Not only does Pittenger think everyone should be able to fire gay people for being gay, comparing it at a recent town hall to the ability to smoke at the workplace, but the former businessman believes we're already protected from being fired.
Newsflash, Congressman: North Carolinians who are gay and transgender can be fired simply for being gay or transgender. They join LGBT Americans in 29 states without workplace protections.
It's time to take action. Donate $29 dollars today to Equality NC for every state that still needs protections from "bad apple bosses" like Rep. Robert Pittenger.
When you do, you'll be investing in an organization that's been working tirelessly for decades to protect gay and transgender North Carolinians in the workplace...and the only organization focused on passing these protections statewide at the North Carolina legislature in 2015.
With your support today, we'll be better able to do our job of bringing those workplace protections home as soon as possible. Because we know not everyone discriminates against LGBT people in the workplace -- but we need your help right now to stop the bad apple bosses who do. Donate now:
Charlotte Observer: LGBT Workplace Protections "Not a Partisan Issue"
By Jen Jones on 09/16/2014 @ 11:00 AM
On Tuesday, September 16, 2014, The Charlotte Observer editorial board took on recent comments by U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte who compared firing gays to the ability to smoke in the workplace, by calling on the state legislature to update current policies to protect gay and transgender workers.
In its "Our View" section, the editorial board of North Carolina's most circulated newspaper told its readers on Tuesday, "Most of North Carolina’s companies get it; discriminating based on sexual orientation threatens a business’ ability to attract and retain the best talent. Yet North Carolina is one of 29 states that allow gay workers to be fired for that reason alone."
It added, "The legislature, backed by business and a majority of the public, should change that next session. Equal opportunity, after all, is really not a partisan issue."
Read more of The Charlotte Observer editorial here.
For almost a decade Equality NC has led the charge to update current non-discrimination policies to include protections for gay and transgender employees. The organization will take up the effort again during the 2015 legislative session.
By Jen Jones on 08/28/2014 @ 11:00 AM
Yesterday we delivered over 10,000 petitions demanding North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory stop defending our state's marriage ban -- more signatures than any petition drive of its kind before it, in any other state.
You answered the call. You took action. You signed on for Equality in record numbers.
The media smelled a story. And throughout the day, they demanded to know where Gov. McCrory stood on allowing the freedom to marry in North Carolina.
By the end of the day, he conceded, "We're going to let the process work. During that process we ought to have a stay to allow the current law to remain in place, but this is going to the Supreme Court for all the states."
We're still looking for clarity from our governor. In the meantime, we won't sit idly by and wait. And we hope you won't either.
There's plenty of work to do to prepare North Carolina for marriage and beyond, including getting all of us engaged in protecting our workers, our livelihoods, our students, our children, our families, our health, and our safety.
And we're readying to deliver this too. But we need your help to keep the momentum going.
I promise - we won't stop fighting for Equality until the message is finally received.
Thanks for standing with us yesterday, today, and always,
Everyone Deserves the Freedom to Marry
By Rep. Grier Martin on 08/26/2014 @ 11:00 AM
Rep. Grier Martin is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a member of the N.C. General Assembly representing the state's 34th House District. He and his wife Louise live in Raleigh. They believe every North Carolinian deserves the freedom to marry. Here's why.
Experience is the preeminent teacher in life. When you decide to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, a simulator can only tell you so much about the experience, it is the first jump that truly teaches you what to expect. The same is true when you take the jump and have your first child. Your parents and books can provide advice, but it sleepless nights and countless visits to the pediatrician with umpteen questions that help you understand what it is to truly be a parent.
The recent 4th Circuit Court decision in Bostic v. Schaefer stated, “The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual’s life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance.”
My decision to marry was one of the most personal, and important, decision of my life up to that point, as it was the same for my wife. All other decisions that we have made since — whether joining the military, running for elective office, joining the board of community organizations — were driven by our shared desire to serve and build a more equitable North Carolina that works for all of our citizens.
My decision to marry was based on love.
After my wife, Louise, and I were married, experience taught us much about what makes a committed, faithful union, as well as what that union meant for both of our lives. With that knowledge and understanding, we both understand more deeply than ever that our friends who were gay had unions that were as meaningful and committed as ours. It begged the question — when their love was equal to ours, why were they being denied the same legal rights that we had only because we happened to be born straight?
After 9/11, I volunteered for active duty with the Army and served as a paratrooper out of a sense of duty to our country and our freedom. While in the service I met men and women who were willing to die to protect our freedoms — including the freedom to marry — who were unable to have the full range of freedoms that others held dear. This struck my wife and I as deeply unfair. Rarely has this been more evident than in the case of Tracy Dice Johnson, who lost her partner, Donna, to a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, and then was denied death benefits because she lived in North Carolina. While the case was ultimately decided in favor of Tracy, imagine the trauma of having to add concern over benefits on top of an unimaginable loss.
The birth of our daughter, Sara, was ultimately the pivotal moment in how we considered service to our community and the impact that we are trying to have on the future of our state. As do all parents, we began to ask ourselves what kind of world would we leave for Sara and her friends. We hope to see schools that provide more opportunity for each student, universities that are accessible to students from every walk of life, and drinking water free of hazardous chemicals. But my wife and I also believe that it is important that we foster a society that respects the love and commitment of all couples. After all, our children will be looking back at the decisions that we make with the same skeptical eye that we once cast on our own parents and the decisions that they made during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
On behalf of my family, friends, and my fellow veterans, and for my daughter and her friends, I applaud the Bostic v. Schaefer decision and Attorney General Cooper’s decision to no longer defend the ruling--and urge the Legislature and Governor to follow the lead of the Attorney General in acknowledging that no reasonable legal defense of the misguided “Amendment One” remains following the ruling.
After all, everyone deserves the right to make the personal decision to love — and have the same freedoms and protections as their neighbors, friends, and family.
--Rep. Grier Martin, Raleigh, N.C.
What Will Make You Act Now?
By Jen Jones on 08/13/2014 @ 07:00 AM
TAKE ACTION: Tell Gov. McCrory - All Families Deserve Respect. Stop Defending Marriage Discrimination. Stop Defending Amendment One.
Sometimes it's hard to know what will inspire people to take action.
But North Carolina's Senator Norm Sanderson made one thing clear: we need to act right now.
Last Friday, Sanderson told a North Carolina crowd that plans are in place to impeach Attorney General Roy Cooper because he opposes marriage inequality. You read that right: supporting equality for all North Carolinians is now considered an impeachable offense. Enough is enough.
Head to our website, sign the petition, and join thousands of North Carolinians who are asking Gov. McCrory to return our state to the right side of history by dropping any defense of our state's marriage equality ban. It takes 30 seconds. And it's that easy.
No matter where you live in North Carolina, we'll hand deliver your message to the Governor.
One click over + your signature will send a strong message to our state leaders that not one of our taxpayer dollars should go toward discriminating against North Carolinians, including those who support, and would benefit from, marriage equality.
Sometimes it's really that easy to take action. So what are you waiting for? Head over to our website, sign the petition, and show your support for equality in North Carolina. Really, we can't tell you how much we'll appreciate it -- alongside tens of thousands of grateful North Carolina couples who are waiting for their chance at equality.
Our goal is to deliver 10,000 signatures in two weeks. So, once you've signed, please forward to 10 friends and encourage them to join North Carolina's movement for marriage.
INVEST NOW: Get Your State of Equality Tank
By Jen Jones on 08/07/2014 @ 09:00 AM
You can't fight for equality without a tank...top. Once you've invested in equality, you'll bring us [that] much closer to our goal of raising $10,000 during our 4th Circuit #MarriageMoneybomb *and* turning our recent marriage momentum into a lasting movement for equality in North Carolina.
Become a $10 or more Equality NC monthly sustainer right now and we'll send you our limited edition "State of Equality" tank top.
All you have to do is click here, enter your name, contact information, and payment information, and click "once a month" on a $10 (or more) sustaining donation to get the tank of the summer (only available *this summer).
Don't forget to tell us your favorite size (either S, M, L, XL, 2XL) and color (cranberry, evergreen, indigo, coffee, gray) by checking the "in honor of" box and entering that very important information in the "name" box.
Once you've invested in equality, you'll bring us [that] much closer to our goal of raising $10,000 during our 4th Circuit #MarriageMoneybomb *and* turning our recent marriage momentum into a lasting movement for equality in North Carolina.
CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS: 2014 Charlotte PRIDE
By Ben Church on 08/06/2014 @ 09:00 AM
Charlotte PRIDE is THE BIGGEST PRIDE in the Carolinas. With an expected attendance of over 100,000 participants, we know you don’t want to miss this fun-filled event.
And what better way to enjoy PRIDE, than to volunteer with Equality NC, YOUR Statewide LGBT advocacy organization in the center of the action at the Equality NC PRIDE Pavillion.
We know your time is valuable. And we promise, volunteering with Equality NC is a win-win experience:
You'll have the best time making new friends, looking great in your FREE "State of Equality" t-shirt, all while giving your time to the only organization dedicated to fighting for rights and justice for all LGBT North Carolinians.
TO VOLUNTEER, CONTACT: Email Ben at Ben@equalitync.org
WHAT: Charlotte PRIDE 2014
WHEN: Saturday August 16, and/or Sunday, August 17
WHERE: In Uptown | S Tryon St. Between 3rd & Stonewall | Charlotte, NC
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