Just finished watching the When We Rise four-episode mini-series. It has been airing on ABC this week, but is also available on Hulu, which is how I saw it. At the end of one of the episodes, Cleve Jones asks what the current generation has gone through and done for gay liberation. That naturally made me think through my own political experiences in this area, which of course is only one facet of my broader activism interests.
In 2008, interning on the Jim Neal campaign for Senate in North Carolina, donating and phone banking against the anti-gay Prop 8 measure in California, and volunteering for the Obama for President campaign were all defining parts of that. Watching President Obama win, but also Prop 8 win was a bittersweet moment. We had protests and rallies across the country under the label “Join the Impact” and I helped organize that in Raleigh. It was the largest LGBTQ rally our state had ever seen to my knowledge. And having both Ted and my mother there for it meant so much.
After we had a President who was more supportive than President Bush -- who had come at us with marriage discrimination amendments across the country -- the time came for legislative advocacy, with volunteering around issues like Don't Ask Don't repeal and the hate crime bills (both of which passed), and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which did not, although President Obama did eventually issue an executive order on the matter for federal workers and contractors).
During that time period I also got married. Ted has been there every step of the way on so many of these efforts. We had to travel over 700 miles to Boston to go somewhere that it was legal. Prop 8 had already robbed us of our plans to get married in California since it passed between our engagement and our wedding date. I heard from friends that we were the reason they stopped opposing same-sex marriage. Around that time I also worked as volunteer coordinator on the campaign that successfully elected Chapel Hill's first openly gay mayor by a narrow 100-vote margin. Every call that was made, door that was knocked, and poll that was tended was worth it. That same year we also passed the first LGBTQ-inclusive bill I know of passing in the NC legislature, before the GOP take-over of 2010, with an anti-bullying bill.
In 2012, we had both the campaign against the marriage discrimination effort called Amendment 1 and the Presidential re-election campaign. I was connected with this amazing group called All of Us NC that was going around the state running trainings on how to fight back against Amendment 1 through personal story-telling with your neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family. As a trainer I also made sure voting rights were regularly a part of those discussions. And I had many people come up to me after the trainings asking why I was making that a part of the discussion saying that it didn't really fit or that it wasn’t our issue. So I really appreciated the slogan in When We Rise of "one struggle, one fight." I did so many rallies, marches, elected official meetings, voter registration drives, and phone banks that year.
We lost the fight to stop Amendment 1, but our work alongside the NAACP and so many other groups made national news. They left that out in When We Rise, but I can't blame them too much. There's too much history to cover in too little time. Vice President Biden got asked and answered that he supported marriage equality in response to the Amendment 1 resistance efforts right here in North Carolina. That moved up President Obama's timeline for making public his support for marriage equality, from later that summer to the very day after Amendment 1 had passed in May of 2012.
Throughout that year I, along with countless others across the state and country, went about introducing resolutions supporting marriage equality at our local Democratic Party precinct meetings to get them passed there, and then at the county, and state level, with the national level being the ultimate prize. I was elected to be a delegate to the 2012 convention in Charlotte and not only had the great honor of voting for President Obama to be our nominee for his 2nd term, but also to vote in favor of adding marriage equality support to the official party platform. That resolution that had started in my neighborhood and so many others had finally passed nationally into the platform of a major party for the first time ever. And President Obama won re-election. The first time a president won while supporting marriage equality. Marriage equality referendums won in other states in 2012 and the first openly LGBTQ US Senator got elected as well which is something I had been hoping for ever since 2008 working on Jim Neal’s Senate campaign. We had real momentum. I paid a tough health price for all those long hours and working while sick, but it was a price worth paying.
Court challenges along with changing attitudes due to activism brought down the Defense of Marriage Act, brought marriage equality to select states that hadn't passed it yet including North Carolina, and eventually brought it nationwide in 2015. Our state legislature continues to take anti-LGBTQ stances that we keep fighting against, and so does the current administration in the White House. But I’m hopeful seeing that some of our voting rights wins that we worked so hard for have made it possible for this state to start changing directions. The Governor's election was so narrow that voter suppression would have certainly made a difference if not for these wins, and now we have some check on the state legislature's power.
I'm hopeful after watching When We Rise and seeing again just how much has come before. I'm hopeful because of what Ted and I have experienced. And I'm hopeful in 2017 because of all the activism ahead including the National LGBTQ Equality March in DC this June modeled on the Women's March and past LGBTQ marches on Washington.