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Guest column by Dr. Tim Tyson: beware of the gay boogieman game going on in North Carolina

The Blend welcomes the wisdom of Dr. Timothy Tyson to our pages. He is a senior research scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and the visiting professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture. Tim is the author of “Blood Done Sign My Name,” a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and winner of the Southern Book Award for nonfiction. We both serve on the board of the Institute of Southern Studies.

As NC natives, it’s safe to say that we’re both appalled to see what Tim describes as the “transparent dishonesty” of the anti-gay players in this marriage amendment battle. Even more onerous is the naked appeal to the socially conservative elements of the black church by these professional bigots, who probably would have had no problem defending Jim Crow back in the day in the name of ‘”protecting families.” The real issues of concern to North Carolinians (and should be for legislators) are poverty, joblessness and the ability to look toward the state’s future, not the embarrassing, ill-informed attempt to live in the past by dividing people and restricting  civil rights. –P.

Beware of the gay boogieman game going on in North Carolina

When I hear the clamor for a constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage, I sorely miss Sen. Sam Ervin Jr., whose homespun wisdom reassured America during the Watergate crisis. Ervin served in our General Assembly in the 1920s. After sitting through months of braying over the “Monkey Bill” to ban the teaching of evolution, the young lawyer rose and sounded a signal note for sanity. “The monkeys in the jungle will be pleased,” said Ervin, “that the North Carolina state legislature has absolved them from any responsibility for humanity.”

Like “Monkey Bill” advocates of old, sponsors of the current anti-gay amendment are stomping the hot button to kick-start their own political prospects. Big, right-wing money pumps promise that the amendment will boost conservative turnout in 2012 and distract us while they pick our pockets and pillage our public schools. In this context, same-sex marriage, already banned by state and federal law, is a smokescreen for partisan politics and unaccountable wealth.

Tami Fitzgerald, drum major for the gay boogieman game in North Carolina, embodies its transparent dishonesty. For example, she claims that unless we pass this anti-gay amendment, “it will be impossible for a pastor to preach against homosexuality” without going to jail. Fitzgerald also poses as a “nonpartisan, grassroots” activist, but served until recently as finance director of the N.C. Republican Party.

Raising $500,000 to shove the amendment onto the 2012 ballot seemed no obstacle to Fitzgeralda registered lobbyist for the Coalition of North Carolina Employers. “We’re not worried where the money is going to come from,” she says. Now that much I believe.

Fitzgerald is also staff attorney for the N.C. affiliate of the Colorado-based Family Research Council, a fountain of far-right money that floods other states with anti-gay legislation. FRC claims George W. Bushowes his re-election to its anti-gay amendment, which drew “almost one million more voters in Ohio in ’04 than had voted in 2000.” Designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate-group,” FRC instructs its agents that anti-gay politics is “the way that conservatives can win in minority communities.”

Amendment sponsors appear to believe that black North Carolinians will drop all other concerns and vote Republican if they just wave the gay boogieman and make scary noises. Fitzgerald and House Majority Leader “Skip” Stam obligingly chant that same-sex marriage will lead straight to acceptance of incest, pedophilia and Mormon harems.

North Carolina has seen politics and prejudice override common sense occasionally, but we care about our children and their schools. We have higher unemployment than all but seven other states. In a third of our counties, more than 30 percent of children live in poverty. The enterprises that employed most Tarheels a generation ago have all but collapsed; our new hopes — things like pharmaceuticalsinformation technologyand health care — require a highly educated workforce.

And yet the same legislators who now peddle anti-gay politics just lowered our state to 49th in education spending. Thousands of tots will start school already behind because we turn them away from pre-kindergarten programs due to budget cuts. Joblessness, illiteracy and poverty — fueling depressionalcoholism, violence and divorce — are the real threats to our families.

FRC compares its anti-homosexual crusade to African-Americans’ struggles to end slavery, but Fitzgeraldspits at any suggestion that gay rights and civil rights have common ground. “It’s not about civil rights,” she insists, “and it’s an insult to the civil rights movement to say that it is.”

Civil-rights veterans in North Carolina resent that a corporate lobbyist from Oklahoma who has never supported their cause now presumes to speak for them. “The real insult to the civil rights movement,” says the Rev. William Barberpresident of the N.C. NAACP, “is that folks trying to overturn the Voting Rights Act, re-segregate and rob our schools, and even block workers’ rights to organize somehow think the sons and daughters of the Civil Rights Movement can’t see through this Trojan Horse.” Barber notes that its sponsors are “pushing this anti-gay amendment with one hand and voting restrictions with the other. No matter our color or faith traditions, those who stand for love and justice are not about to fall for this amendment mess.”

“At a time when legislators should be chopping away at unemployment” and trying “to befriend the poor and marginalized,” says the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman of the Clinton Tabernacle A.M.E. Zion Church in Hickory, “legislators are choosing to advance this divisive social agenda that wreaks havoc in the entire community.”

When I despair about the current legislature, I cheer myself up by thinking about what a certain young legislator from the class of 1925 might have said about this pernicious amendment that “ain’t worth hell room in August,” as Ervin was fond of saying. After the fur flies and the dust settles, the gay boogieman amendment will save only one marriage: the one between the war on President Obama and the war on suffering families. “Senator Sam” would not have sat quietly and let its sponsors make monkeys of the rest of us.


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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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