Cross-posted on Pam's House Blend.
We still have quite a way to go on the LGBT rights front here in NC, which is not exactly a hotbed of homophobia; in many ways the heart of the state has a live and let live attitude on social issues. That doesn't mean however, that our state government is where it needs to be in terms of respecting its tax-paying citizens.
I'm not just talking about life and death issues, such as violence against people because of sexual orientation or gender identity or being fired from your job. This post is about institutionalized, legal discrimination that is often overlooked, because it isn't a fire raging or putting one's life in jeopardy -- but what lies behind it are the same root causes.
This week I was faced with an amazing professional opportunity related to the sphere of my day job (I'm in academic publishing) that I could not consider for two reasons - both painful, with one completely out of my control.
* Bad timing: it's a presidential election year and my blogging "career" as it were, has my calendar filling up with conferences and engagements. Participating in those sorts of events requires the use of my paid time off at my "real job" (read: the one that pays the bills) and the ability to strike a balance between blogworld and the realities of a more-than-full-time job. Changing employers for a new and challenging position means 1) fully engaging in the normal learning curve everyone deals with when you shift professional gears; and 2) losing all your earned paid time off from your prior employer, something that would make going to 2008 blog-related events impossible.
Of course I could just decide to shut the blog down and make that personal/professional shift, but I made the commitment to myself that I would try to sustain my health and well-being doing effectively two jobs -- my current position and the blog -- at least through the 2008 elections. Pam's House Blend, which started out as my personal outlet for rants about the political state of the nation has evolved into something more than I could have ever imagined. After all, I'm not a professional activist, politician or member of the MSM. I'm just an average citizen out here tapping away at the keyboard who somehow connected with an audience in blogtopia.
I know, after hearing from so many of you over the years, that there is a role for the Blend that is valued as an outlet, pressure-valve, and a national forum for discussing difficult issues in a mostly sane environment. I couldn't let that fritter away now. So this opportunity placed me in a position of considering the horrible choice of abandoning the blog. I couldn't do it.
* My state considers me a second-class citizen. This factor is completely out of my control, and ultimately the deal killer. The position is a state job related to a dynamic electronic publishing project on the civil rights movement (race, gender, LGBT). I am fortunate that my current employer is private, and has same-sex spousal equivalent benefits that I have taken advantage of. I can take Family and Medical Leave and not lose my job because my employer has chosen to value its LGBT employees. The State of North Carolina has no anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT employees, let alone partner benefits. That anyone's professional choices are hampered by a baseline of discrimination in the state you pay taxes in is unsettling to say the least, but it is the reality.
Mind you, this isn't the fault of any single unit of the state with the open positions; in this case it is a generous and progressive environment with wonderful people who want find the right person, regardless of orientation. The fact is that hands are tied -- North Carolina's government is lagging behind the private companies driving the economic engine of our state when it comes to recognizing, respecting, recruiting and retaining LGBT employees.
You'd be surprised at how many fair-minded people/allies I've spoken to about this particular situation who just didn't know the state doesn't offer same-sex spousal equivalent benefits or job protection for LGBT employees. Because so many private employers here do, it's not on their radar as a problem, but it needs to be. The little engine that could, Equality NC, has been hard at work to build public and legislative support for statewide non-discrimination protections, and it's going to require many hands, hearts and minds to make it happen. Right now ENC is trying to ensure that a most basic protection is passed - House Bill 1366, the School Violence Prevention Act, an anti-bullying bill that would protect LGBT students. The state Senate stripped out language specific to LGBT youth in the last session. That tells you where our state government is on such matters. Every step forward is progress, but the steps are small and one at at time.
The fact that there are progressive North Carolinians unaware of the lack of basic fairness in their state government is distressing, but not surprising.
And NC is a state without a marriage amendment, btw. One has died in committee year after year; if it managed to finally get to a floor vote, it would surely pass and end up on the ballot -- and the voters would likely pass it. In fact, one of the sponsors of the bill, Fred Smith, is running for governor.
Senator Jim Forrester and I have introduced Senate Bill 13, which gives North Carolina voters the right to put marriage in a place where even an extremist judiciary can't touch it - the North Carolina Constitution. The passage of a Marriage Protection Amendment would place traditional marriage in the strongest possible position. Voters who believe marriage is too important to become a political football tossed about by future legislatures deserve the opportunity to vote for a Constitutional Amendment that puts marriage in a "lockbox," protected from activist judges and the General Assembly by a vote of the people.
Unfortunately the Senate's Democratic leadership will not allow an up or down vote on the measure. They have sent our amendment to die in committee. That's not how democracy should work. I understand that there is a debate within society about this issue, but there should be no debate about giving North Carolina voters the right to consider this issue. Every other southern state has had the chance to vote on a Marriage Protection Amendment. Why should the people of North Carolina be denied this opportunity?
Yes, Smith wants to be my governor, and he wants my civil rights determined at the ballot box. He's currently polling in second place in the GOP field. Thankfully he is polling behind either Dem in the race so far, but this is still horrid.
Florida is sitting on the front lines of an amendment battle this year, in a presidential election year, no less. The MSM may not be paying attention to this now, but it is a battleground state that will hinge on turnout and motivation of voters to go to the polls. Fairness for All Families has to overcome the misinformation and fear peddled by professional "Christians" out to "protect" marriage. I think Fairness for All Families can do it. However, if it passes, it will leave North Carolina as the only state in the Southeast without a discrimination amendment to its constitution.
If an amendment were to ever pass in NC, Kate and I would have to make another choice - whether to stay and fight, or to leave the place we love to be citizens with full rights elsewhere.
No one should have to make that choice -- and many are not in the position to do so. That's why we all have to keep up the fight in our own ways -- and we need to make sure our allies are aware of their importance in this battle.