Janice Covington (fourth from right) poses for a photo with other North Carolina Democratic Party State Convention delegates.
North Carolina’s strong LGBT community won’t be left out when the Democratic National Convention rolls into Charlotte in September. Community organizations across the state and especially in Charlotte are taking advantage of the spotlight the DNC brings. And, LGBT delegates will be there to help shape the Democratic Party’s platform, nominate President Barack Obama for a chance at a second term and serve as unofficial ambassadors welcoming their fellow delegates to the Great State of North Carolina.
Among the several LGBT delegates chosen to attend the convention was Charlotte’s Janice Covington. She’s the first transgender person ever elected to represent the state’s Democrats at a national convention.
“It feels great,” Covington said about the honor. “I really can’t come up with the words. To me it’s more than amazing.”
Covington first tried running for a delegate position during congressional district conventions. She was passed over then, but ultimately picked at the statewide convention in Raleigh. (Read more of Covington’s thoughts in a special online only interview at the bottom of this story.)
Other delegates from across the state are also excited about their opportunity to attend the DNC. Among them are several young people, openly gay elected officials and others. qnotes had the chance to catch up with a few of them and get their take on their pick as 2012 DNC delegates:
Elena Botella, 20
Representing: Mecklenburg County
Identifies as: Bisexual
I am so proud to be a part of a political party and a community that treats everyone with respect and with dignity. It means so much to me to be able to stand up in support of President Obama, because of the way in which he has stood up for me.
Marcus Brandon, 37
Occupation: State legislator
Representing: Guilford County
Identifies as: Gay
Words cannot express the honor I have as serving as a delegate for the DNC. Watching it on TV since I was a little boy, I cannot believe that I am actually going to be sitting on that floor, nominating our President Barack Obama for a second term. The fact that North Carolina has unprecedented representation from the LGBT community at the convention, coincides with us having a president that has unprecedented support for LGBT issues. It’s no secret our community suffered a loss at the ballot box, but I maintain we were victorious in moving public opinion, particularly among African-Americans. I am proud to stand with my president who has shown excellent leadership on moving this country forward for every single American.
Jake Gellar-Goad, 28
Occupation: Community Organizer
Representing: Orange County
Identifies as: Gay
As someone who does organizing for a living, I’m very excited to be a part of this historic moment and, in whatever small way I can, help represent the LGBT Dems and my little slice of Chapel Hill as vice chair of my precinct at the Democratic National Convention here in North Carolina. I am especially proud that the majority of delegates from my county will represent the LGBT community. I believe having the president and the North Carolina Democratic Party both coming out in support of marriage equality presents a unique opportunity to press all candidates for office on LGBT equality issues. And, given the recent amendment fight, I feel that it is more important than ever that the LGBT community stays civically engaged in whatever ways we can.
Matt Hughes, 21
Occupation: Student; Chair, Orange County Democratic Party
Representing: Orange County
Identifies as: Gay
I am happy to join the North Carolina delegation to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Being a delegate is a competitive and prestigious honor as our peers have selected us with trust and respect to represent them in Charlotte. As a North Carolinian, it brings me great pride to see the Democratic Party represent the interests of all Americans as it commits to marriage equality. The Democratic Party is a big-tent coalition with an inherent commitment to diversity that celebrates every walk of life. In Charlotte, we will celebrate this commitment with one of the most diverse delegations for a host-state in DNC history. As one of the youngest delegates and as a party leader, I know that our politics are changing and this election will be a watershed moment for all of us. In 2012, we have a lot of progress to guard, such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the president’s own commitment to marriage equality. Ultimately, the 2012 convention is one-step further toward our continuing goal as Democrats, a more just and fair America — the kind of America we all deserve.
Mark Kleinschmidt, 42
Representing: State At-Large
Identifies as: Gay
I am honored to have been elected a delegate to represent North Carolina in Charlotte this year. A long-time political activist, it has always been a childhood dream to participate in this important part of our democratic process. Additionally I am proud of our president’s commitment to progressive values and LGBT rights. In addition to the president’s efforts to pass the DREAM Act and take on difficult immigration issues, this year is a milestone year for LGBT rights. Barack Obama is the first president to openly endorse marriage equality, and has been instrumental in advocating for policy reforms like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I am grateful and looking forward to supporting the president in the upcoming convention.
Covington: Dems are fully supportive
Transgender delegate Janice Covington is encouraged by her election to represent the North Carolina Democratic Party at their national convention in Charlotte. Getting there was never a guarantee.
“I had to have 50 percent plus one vote to be a delegate,” she said. “All the votes started coming in and down toward the end I was thinking I wouldn’t get this.”
But, Covington relates, she was shocked when those tallying the votes announced that she had received enough to announce her win.
Covington said the state party’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is unquestionable. “I think they are fully committed — these people really supported me,” she said. “You should have been there to see it.”
Sam Spencer, president of the North Carolina Young Democrats and a member of the state party’s delegate selection committee, said it was important that the party take a visible stand for diversity.
“For many of us it’s really important that our North Carolina delegation reflects the diverse coalition that elected the president and will reelect him in Charlotte,” said Spencer, who is also serving as a delegate to the national convention. “It has always been important to me that we have an inclusive Democratic Party. After the vote eon Amendment One, we’ve redoubled our efforts and are very committed to reaching that goal.”
Covington, long active in a variety of local causes and Democratic Party circles, said her role as a 2012 convention delegate will place her in the position to speak to elected officials and other movers and shakers.
She’s working toward a specific endgame. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, she said, must be passed.
“I’ve dreamed over the past 20 years of being able to speak to Congress on Capitol Hill and to be able to stand there and speak not only for transgender people but also gay and lesbian people who can’t work because they don’t have the same opportunities because of discrimination,” she said.
I would like to add that I feel that in the wake of Amendment One my election as a delegate shows the world that the label North Carolina received as a backward state is wrong. I love North Carolina and will not stand for my state to be used as an example for the return of bigotry. I want all of my brothers and sisters of the LGBT community to understand that I was elected by our heterosexual community and I believe without a doubt, it sends a clear message that Amendment One was misunderstood by many of the voters who voted yes on May 8th. I also witnessed at the Democratic State Convention the Democratic Party adopting a resolution to appeal Amendment One. This was done with a unanimous vote from the floor.
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