CommunityPam's House Blend

NC: should I stay or should I go?

It’s a natural question to ask, of course, after being told by your state lawmakers — pissed away $150K paid with our tax dollars — to hold a special legislative session to specifically stroke off their inner bigot. Actually, for most of these pro-amendment politicians, there was nothing “inner” about their full-time, fact-free, disgusting bigotry.

Sure, the first impulse is to say “I’m outta here.” There are good reasons for that – if political institutions are filled with lawmakers who cannot separate church and state that’s a problem. Was there really a need to try to falsely underscore that heterosexual marriage needs some sort of super-double protection during a recession is important, a state is in serious crisis.

Part of the problem is that most of the public doesn’t understand the impact this amendment will have on LGBT North Carolinians. Yes, marriage is already banned under a state DOMA here, but municipalities that established domestic partnership benefits, and private institutions, corporations, and organizations that offer same-sex spousal equivalent benefits — know that all that of this now in jeopardy– those nascent forms of equality can be washed away once bigotry is enshrined in our constitution.

But in terms of staying or leaving for more politically friendly environs, LGBTs in any state with a marriage amendment in place should decide what is best for their family situation. In some cases, there may be people who simply cannot afford to pick up and move. For others they have close family and ties to their community they may not wish to leave.

The fact is that is that you do have to have a pretty thick skin to live out-of-the-closet here, particularly as an activist and one of color – the closet, sadly is still alive and well. We’re at a cultural time in this state that many LGBTs are socially out, and professionally closeted.

It’s less about outlandish day-to-day discrimination than living with the fact that unless you can afford an attorney to file all the paperwork for living wills, medical and legal power of attorney, etc, you are  SOL. Often times, potential allies only have vague notions why an amendment is bad — because the issue doesn’t rise to the level of disrupting to their day-to-day lives.

Personally, I can say good things about life in Durham as an out lesbian.  I lived in NYC from 1976-1989 and chose to moved back here for the pace and quality of life. All I need now is my civil equality (no small matter).

In my mother’s arms outside of Durham’s Lincoln Hospital, a nod to a time where black residents relied on separate facilities for health services.

Growing up in Durham I was, of course, more attuned in that period to racial and class differences, even as a child. It was a city where conflicts were seen in terms of  black and white. No thought back then was given to other minorities, such as the strong growth of the Latino population that was to come. Today, like many other states with changing racial demographics, are grappling with what it means to “brown up.”

But the Triangle area (that includes Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill as its hub) has always chosen to change with the times, in order to stay ahead of the curve when it came realizing that an agriculture and textile base was not going to be economically viable. That’s what resulted in the creation of the Research Triangle Park.

In the 1950s, North Carolina was home to a deteriorating economic base rooted in tobacco, furniture manufacturing, small-scale farming and textiles, and had the second-lowest per capita income in the nation. The state’s economic future was uncertain.

But in 1959, a group of the state’s brightest political, business and academic leaders created a new future for North Carolina. Together, they worked to create a more sustainable economic base that would carry North Carolina into the 21st century. Drawing upon the strengths and synergies between North Carolina’s academic, government and industry base they created RTP as a place to attract and grow research and development (R&D) operations.

The vision was to provide a ready physical infrastructure that would attract research oriented companies. The advantage of locating in RTP would be that companies could employ the highly-educated local work force and be proximate to the research being conducted by the state’s research universities.

Left: With my uncle Aaron Spaulding, at the then-rinky dink Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU), now a still-growing international airport. That original terminal in that photo does exist today, it’s scheduled for “retirement” with expansion soon. And no, you can’t stand out on the tarmac and watch the planes take off anymore. 🙂

Right: Spaulding and Linwood Street intersection located in a residential neighborhood in Central Durham, a stone’s throw from Lincoln Community Health Center. The street is actually named after my family.

As you might have guessed, the Spaulding side of my family is steeped in the economic, political and civil rights history of Durham. (1) (2)

So I have strong ties to this part of my state, the place where I was born; I don’t want to cede it to the ignorant who happen to be in state office now, guided by that ignorance, intolerance, and sadly, the influence of professional homophobes who are earning a paycheck to stay obsessed with hate. These people are not ethically compromised, but the level of obsession feels oh-to-familiar. These same people decades earlier, would be the same kind of low-lifes that wanted to preserve Jim Crow. Except in today’s battle to save marriage, we see bigotry across the color lines.

It’s a sad state of affairs that one’s faith can be turned against your neighbors who happen to be LGBT so quickly — and that includes demonizing LGBT people of color. Thank you Marcus Brandon, our only out LGBT in the General Assembly, for being a very visible reminder to the anti-gay, fundamentalist black pastors like Donald “Faggot!” Fozard, who would try to ignore that we exist in order to fuel hate from the pulpit. And those faith leaders who remain silent in the fight for equality to avoid rocking the boat, share equal culpability in creating an atmosphere where being LGBT is a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” matter for the flock. (BTW, I have no doubt that many of  these same churches are in denial and have not grappled with the growing HIV/AIDS holocaust in minority communities either.)

Epic examples of homophobia – like Dominionist and sponsor of the marriage amendment, State Sen. James Forrester – are eventually going to die off. The kind of fear, contempt and ignorance he represents cannot stand if North Carolina state wants to economically thrive.

The creative class that helped build the Triangle, many moving to this state for the tangibles and intangibles — jobs, decent climate, attractive cost of living and access to a wide variety of arts and open cultural expression — has to be appalled at the time, effort and energy spent on restricting the civil rights of any group of taxpayers. I think the shock still hasn’t worn off at the level of vitriol directed publicly toward LGBT North Carolinians from the General Assembly on my dime.

These bigots really do want us to pack up and move out, even willing to let those tax dollars go. Do I want to give them that satisfaction? No. I can take no other message from those votes this week, even with the unemployment situation in crisis.

And this was the kind of thinking that went on in the Deep South during the pushback against Jim Crow. Today we see the legacy of stubborn bigotry down there. Those states that wanted to keep blacks in their place, did so at economic and growth peril. They chose to bend to fear, and in almost every measure, the Deep South has paid the price for not embracing diversity. Clearly that screaming siren of the past fell on deaf ears at the NC General Assembly.

But it’s not a reason to leave NC; the polls don’t favor an amendment our constitution. This was brainchild of frustrated, prejudiced lawmakers frustrated by eight years of inability to pass garbage legislation like this. It’s not just about double downing on making same-sex marriage illegal, it’s worse – it threatens existing various domestic partnerships at the municipal level, and makes it easy to challenge private same-sex spousal equivalent benefits in the very institutions that are the basis for the existence of the forward-thinking partners in the state’s economic engines of the present — and future.

Left: Pastor Billy Ball, a “friend” of the Blend who has sent me damnation Valentines and other deranged emails, made the trip from all the way from Primrose, GA to join us at NC Pride 2009.

I know my state is better than this – we have to accept that we are in this dilemma because of a 1) crappy economy, 2) over-reaching Republicans who have been frustrated in having their bigot bill die over and over when the General Assembly was run by Dems, and 3) an environment where Dem, Moderate and Indy voters have a harder time understanding why they do need to get out the vote. It’s a tall order, but not impossible given the social trends outside of the Gen Assembly.

So should I stay or should I go? Packing up and leaving is not an option for me. It’s too easy to leave when the issue is about awakening potential allies to show up at the polls next May. We need help from LGBTs around the country  on the heavy lifting because the body blow LGBTs received in this state this week. In all honesty, the bizarre and frightening actions are likely to scare some NC LGBTs from coming out, the very thing we need to happen;  it’s essential.

Those of us who are employed with protections (by default, you can be fired for your job because you are LGBT, unless your private employer offers those protections) have a special responsibility to be visible during this run up to the vote next May. It’s the one thing the Forresters, Stams and Bergers of the world are afraid of. They know there is no rational basis for this kind of amendment. So every vote counts. Hell no, I’m not leaving, you bastards.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding