AIDS — The AIDS Crisis of the 1980s shaped and molded our community in ways that continue to impact us today. Prejudice and stigma, political awareness and organizing and so much more can be traced to that mysterious, “baffling illness” that took the American community of gay men by storm.

Heaven vs. Hell — If you’re from Charlotte and you’ve ever done any traveling across the nation, you know first-hand how many people still recognize and identify the Queen City: “Angels in America.” In March 1996, conservative pastor Joe Chambers led the call to stop the performance of the landmark play. In the following two years, the debate continues as local elected officials vote to strip funding from arts programs, the LGBT community organizes to respond, anti-gay Mecklenburg County commissioners are voted out of office and harmful decisions are eventually repealed.


Baptist brouhahas — No one can doubt the influence Baptists have had on the formation of the Carolinas’ LGBT community. We’ve fought their anti-LGBT positions and views, actions and reactions. From gay pastors to gay weddings to fights for equality at Baptist schools — our community has both benefitted and been harmed by Carolinas Baptist churches, schools, religious groups and conventions. Yet, all the struggle has only made us stronger. Today, dozens of Baptist churches welcome LGBT members with open arms. Baptist schools, such as Wake Forest University, are fully welcoming of LGBT students and staff. It only gets better from here.

‘Bland’ he wasn’t — North Carolina native Bob Bland deserves kudos. Just two years after Stonewall, Bland moved back to the Tar Heel State from New York and founded the Triangle Gay Alliance in 1971. He and others rented a home that became the state’s de facto “community center,” as the Alliance grew as an early social, activist and support organization for LGBTs across the state.


Chapel Hill — Jesse Helms (see our mini-feature, this page) once said Chapel Hill has a zoo, in need of a wall to keep North Carolinians from being “infected” by the “University of Negroes and Communists.” Any place liberal enough to garner the ire of “Senator No” is surely bound to be a place where LGBT people can feel comfortable. And, yes, Chapel Hill is that kind of place. From the formation of the first LGBT student organization in the state to the first openly gay elected official, the Town of Chapel Hill and its university have led the way on LGBT progress.


The Historian — Nationally recognized and respected LGBT historian John D’Emilio spent many years in North Carolina. A professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, D’Emilio was instrumental in local organizing on the campus and in the surrounding city, helping to start local organizations and maintain student organizations on campus.


Down East — In 1995, Greenville’s LGBT community was as proud as ever. In September of that year, local community members hosted their “Down East Pride,” the first-ever event of its kind in Eastern North Carolina.


‘First’ in the QC — In 1988, LGBT leaders in Charlotte came together to form First Tuesday, one of the first major LGBT political and lobbying organizations in the city. First Tuesday’s legacy would lay the groundwork for the creation of several other LGBT political groups, including Charlotte Pride Alliance for LGBT Equality and the Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee.

King of the anti-gay forest — For more than a decade, North Carolina’s LGBT politicos have fought Gaston County Republican James Forrester. As a member of the state House, Forrester sponsored and successfully pushed through the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Today, Forrester represents Gaston County in the state Senate, where he continues his push to further discriminate against LGBT North Carolinians.


‘Gay? Fine by me’ — The iconic statement, emblazoned on T-shirts being worn by thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, across the nation all started out in little ol’ North Carolina. In response to an anti-LGBT campus climate, Duke University students began their “Gay? Fine by me” T-shirt campaign in 2003.

GLASS shatters through — Greensboro’s Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Support System (GLASS) made waves when it was founded to support the needs of local LGBT youth. Their uphill fight against the IRS — which had refused their non-profit status request in 1997 — was eventually won and the group served its local community for years to come. Today, its legacy lives on in groups like Gay Straight Advocates for Education and the local PFLAG Greensboro.

H — Jesse Helms

Why on earth are you including this monster in your list of important LGBT topics, you ask? Well, unfortunately, Jesse Helms is important. And, he’s especially important to our community.

A social commentator, radio and TV host and U.S. senator, Helms was a leading conservative activist and politician responsible for much of the anti-LGBT legacy our community still fights today. He was, no doubt, “Senator No,” putting a stop to progress using everything from general, outright hate-filled rhetoric to real, lasting anti-gay damage (such as his fight against AIDS treatment, prevention and research funding).

In many ways, Helms was also North Carolina’s “Stonewall.” His battle against our community and its health prompted us to step up and take action. In 1990, activists formed the North Carolina Pride PAC, the predecessor to today’s Equality North Carolina.

Learn more in our 2008 story, “Helms created our ‘Stonewall,’” at goqnotes-launch2.newspackstaging.com/517/.
Matt Comer


“I” is for Irmo — Columbia’s Irmo High School has taken its place in Carolinas LGBT history. More than a decade ago it made news when its principal canceled a performance by the Indigo Girls. In 2008, the fight over gay recognition at the high school was re-ignited when its current principal refused to allow the formation of a gay-straight alliance. The district later voted to allow the groups.


Gang of One — Only one member of Mecklenburg County’s original “Gang of Five” is still around causing trouble these days. Commissioner Bill James has retained his seat on the county board for years on end. And, despite all that time to grow, he remains a thorn in the side of progress. Fortunately for us, he’s about the only outright bigot standing in our way anymore. His “Gang of One” is bound to lose, as our community makes progress in ways never imagined possible in ages past.

Success story — As a child in Lewisville and Winston-Salem, Kevin Jennings bore the torment of his classmates and hardships of growing up gay in the South. Decades later, Jennings founded the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network and now serves as director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.


A “King”-ly legacy — The names of those who have helped to form Charlotte’s LGBT community as we know it today are almost too many to count, but at least one always stands out from the crowd. Don King was involved in the leadership of almost every LGBT organization in the Queen City. His legacy lives on through the Don King Awards, presented by the Charlotte Business Guild each year.


Law and order — In April 1981, one man is killed and three others are injured in a gay bashing on the Little River near Durham. The incident, one of the worst known anti-gay hate crimes in the state’s history, garners media attention as the local law enforcement tracks down those responsible. Two men are arrested and charged with murder. One is later found guilty of second degree murder and the other pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter.


The bigger they are — In 1985, six gay men in Charlotte found Metrolina AIDS Project. Over the next nearly 25 years the group becomes the largest AIDS service organization in the Carolinas as it pioneers LGBT-inclusive HIV/AIDS prevention in and around the Queen City. In 2009, the group closes shop under financial uncertainty, scrutiny and suspicions of mismanagement, although no charges or official accusations have ever been filed.

N — News for us, by us

The Carolinas have had a strong, LGBT media presence for decades. North Carolina’s first gay newspaper, The Free Press, was first published in 1975 in Charlotte. Although it didn’t stay in publication, other LGBT news outlets have sprung up throughout time helping to fill the void of fair, accurate and equitable LGBT news in the mainstream media.

In 1976, students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill started Lambda, the oldest LGBT student publication still in existence today. Other notable LGBT media through the years have included: The Newsletter, Durham; Carolina Lesbian News, Charlotte; Community Connections, Asheville; and Out in Asheville/Stereotypd, Asheville.

Established in 1979, with its first issue published on Oct. 25, The Front Page served North Carolina’s LGBT community for nearly 30 years. Based in Raleigh, TFP was the first LGBT newspaper in Raleigh, the second in the state and the longest-running.

Founder, editor and publisher Jim Baxter nursed the publication to national prominence and local importance throughout the 1980s, doggedly covering local LGBT news, the rise of the AIDS Crisis and other issues.

After 27 years of continuous publication, TFP and qnotes merged in 2006. Today, qnotes — founded as a newsletter in 1983 and a monthly print newspaper in June 1986 — carries on the proud tradition of TFP’s community service as the only remaining Carolinas-wide LGBT news outlet, reporting on the local, regional and national LGBT news that matters to you and impacts your life, your rights and your future.
Matt Comer

O — Out politicians

Openly gay politicians in the Carolinas go back to 1981, when N.C. State University graduate student Bob Hoy ran for Raleigh City Council. Though he garnered a meager three percent of the vote, he served the much more important task of being the first, paving the way for future candidacies of openly gay politicians. That same year, openly gay Lightning Brown and his closeted partner Joe Herzenberg ran for Chapel Hill Town Council. Both men were unsuccessful, but Herzenberg later came out and in 1987 he ran again for the council and became the first openly gay elected official in the Carolinas.

South Carolina’s first openly gay elected official didn’t arrive until more than two decades later, when Nick Shalosky was elected to the Charleston County Constituent School Board in 2008. The 21-year-old college student organized a write-in campaign via Facebook which yielded 22 votes.

In 1993, openly gay Mike Nelson was elected to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and two years later, Nelson became Carrboro’s mayor, an office he held for 10 years. Nelson is currently a member of the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

Last year, Mark Kleinschmidt was elected mayor of Chapel Hill. Though there were some anti-gay attacks in the campaign, Kleinschmidt believes the attacks backfired on his opponent in the liberal college town.

The first openly gay man to run for office in Charlotte was Robert Sheets, who ran in a primary against five other Democrats for Charlotte CIty Council. More recently, Owen Sutkowski ran in the 2009 Democratic primary against Patsy Kinsey for the District 1 council seat.

Other openly gay politicians at the local level include Ran Lambe who ran for the Asheville City Council. Gloria Faley was elected to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education in 1999. Faley is the first open lesbian elected to any office in North Carolina. State Senator Julia Boseman is the first and only openly lesbian or gay elected official in the North Carolina Senate, representing New Hanover County.

At the federal level, openly gay businessman Jim Neal ran in 2008 for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate. Though he lost to establishment-backed Kay Hagan, he received 18 percent of the vote and was endorsed by the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg and several other organizations.
— Tyler DeVere

P — Pride in the Carolinas

The first gay Pride parade of the Carolinas was held in June, 1981. “Our Day Out” took place in Durham, which the city’s Republican mayor, Harry Rodenhizer, Jr. attended. Durham’s Pride event did not take place again until the Triangle Lesbian & Gay Pride was held in 1986.

In 1989, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) mother Harriet Hancock helped in organizing a gay march in Columbia. South Carolina’s first-ever Gay and Lesbian Pride March occurred the next year. Hancock was recognized by the South Carolina Progressive Network in 2003 for her advocacy.

Though Pride events have been met with anti-gay rhetoric and demonstrations from such groups as Operation Save America, the festivals have not been stopped. Today, Pride events take place throughout the Carolinas, including Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, Asheville, Columbia, Charleston and others. Even in these Southern states, Pride festivals have spread and grown throughout the Carolinas. Tens of thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their straight allies attend Pride events every year to show the world they’re not ashamed, nor should they be.
Tyler DeVere


Making it all work — Established in 1981 by activists Don King and Billie Stickell, Charlotte’s Queen City Quordinators took up a daunting task: Bring the community together by organizing events, media, political action and more. The group’s leaders sought to bring a strong sense of community among Charlotte’s LGBT people and started the forebears to many present-day organizations today, including qnotes. In 1987, King, then the editor of qnotes, makes one of the first public calls for a community center in Charlotte. His call went unanswered until the establishment of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of Charlotte in 2000.


Faith can move mountains — Bishop Tonyia Rawls has made her mark on Charlotte, the Carolinas and the nation. She’s helped to spearhead a local LGBT-inclusive faith movement, founding Unity Fellowship Church of Charlotte in 2001. In 2003, she was named one of Charlotte’s 50 Most Interesting People by Charlotte magazine.


Palmetto Pride — The South Carolina Pride Movement has, for 20 years, celebrated, promoted, educated and advocated for the Palmetto State’s LGBT community. Folks like Bruce Converse, Harriett Hancock, Ed Madden, Ryan Wilson and so many others have made their mark with SC Pride. More than an annual festival, SC Pride works with LGBT groups across the state, including Columbia’s LGBT community center, named after Hancock.

Students taking action — In 1976, students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill held the first-ever Southeastern Gay Conference, hosted by the campus Carolina Gay Association. Thirty years later, a similar conference — the Southeastern Regional Unity Conference — is presented annually by Chapel Hill’s current LGBT student group, the GLBTSA. Across the Carolinas, LGBT students have been speaking out and standing up for decades: organizing Pride events on campus, challenging anti-LGBT campus policies, advocating for inclusive policy changes, electing out and vocal LGBT students to campus government positions and more.


All for the youth — In 1993, Tonda Taylor starts Time Out Youth, an organization intended to serve LGBT young people aged 13-23. Taylor serves as the group’s executive director until October 2004. The group remains among some of the largest LGBT youth service organizations in the South.


‘Unnatural affection’ -— Despite 2003’s landmark Supreme Court decision knocking down anti-gay sodomy laws, so-called “Crimes Against Nature” statutes remain on the books in both North Carolina and South Carolina. The statutes claim same-sex love is “unnatural.” Often, police and prosecutors still use the laws to penalize otherwise law-abiding LGBT people. Repealing the statutes remains a work in progress.

‘Union in Wait’ — The years-long drama resulting from a simple request to use Wake Forest University’s campus chapel for a same-sex holy union drew statewide and national attention in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The debate, centering around two Wake Forest Baptist Church members, nearly tore the campus apart. A documentary, “Union in Wait,” told the story of Susan Parker and Wendy Scott, and debuted in 2001. Wake Forest Baptist Church, fully welcoming of LGBT worshipers, still meets on the campus of the university — which has since made its own journey toward LGBT inclusion.


‘Keep Singing’ — Eloise Vaughn and Patsy Clarke mourned the deaths of their sons, victims of the AIDS Crisis, and found no help or solace in their senator, Jesse Helms. Their book, “Keep Singing: Two Mothers, Two Sons, and their Fight Against Jesse Helms,” was published in 2001, and continues to inspire.


A place to call our own — Since 1982, White Rabbit Books has served the LGBT communities of Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte. Today, the store has locations in Raleigh and Charlotte. The reins of the operation were handed over to qnotes publisher Jim Yarbrough in 2007, after years of dedicated care by former owner John Neal.


So, we really can’t find anything for these last, three beloved letters of the alphabet. We tried. Really hard. Seriously. This is where you come in: What did we leave out? What topics, people, places in the LGBT Carolinas are important to you? Tell in the comment threads below!

Correction: The version of this article appearing in the June 26-July 9 print edition incorrectly listed attorney Sharon Thompson, a former North Carolina House member, the former and current openly gay and lesbian elected officials. Thompson, who is lesbian, was not out during her time in office. We regret the error.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

One reply on “Gay through Z”

  1. Thanks for the mention of those events 40 years ago. I now live in Arizona and am the Chair of the Cochise County and Treasurer of the LGBT Caucus of the Arizona Democratic Party. Still not bland. Still working for LGBT rights, as are most of the veterans of those early years of gay liberation.
    Bob Bland

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