Originally published: June 28, 2013, 11:05 a.m.
Updated: July 5, 2013, 8:49 a.m.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A local transgender, Democratic Party activist is alleging that a fellow LGBT leader in the party told her she should join a men’s auxiliary group instead of receiving full membership in a local party women’s caucus. The leader with the statewide LGBT party caucus is refuting the charges while the group itself refused to comment for nearly two weeks, finally releasing a statement on Monday.
Janice Covington, of Charlotte, said she joined the Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County in April. On June 12, Covington attended her first meeting where she alleges that Concetta Caliendo, who serves as vice president of the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina, questioned her membership in the organization.
“She said, ‘Some of us have a problem with your membership in the Democratic Women,'” Covington told qnotes. “She said, ‘We don’t have any transgender people and we don’t have any guidelines for transgender people but in reality you would be better suited to be in the auxiliary.'”
The group’s associate membership is for men. Covington, who is transgender and identifies as a woman, was the first openly transgender delegate from North Carolina to a Democratic National Convention when it was hosted in the Queen City last year. She has also been a delegate at county and district conventions.
News of the membership controversy was initially reported earlier in June by local media outlets. At the time, Covington did not disclose Caliendo’s identity. She later did so in an interview with qnotes. A second source close to the Democratic Women confirmed Covington’s allegations.
The Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County issued a statement on June 17 clarifying the situation and reaffirming Covington’s full membership. The group didn’t mention Caliendo but in a separate Facebook post again reaffirmed Covington had full membership and apologized that she was “led to believe otherwise by someone who is not a current board member.” The group has also said Covington was the first transgender woman to apply for membership and that they and the statewide Democratic Women of North Carolina will be reviewing their membership policies.
Caliendo is a longtime lesbian activist and Democratic Party supporter. In addition to her role at the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina, Caliendo is also first vice president and president-elect of Democratic Women of North Carolina. She also served on Charlotte’s Democratic National Convention Host Committee last year.
Covington said she was surprised a fellow LGBT community member would voice reservations about her membership. Still, she hopes the experience leads to greater understanding.
“It will open the door not just for transgender people but for all of the LGBT community,” Covington said about the controversy.
Caliendo, other officials largely silent
qnotes attempted reaching out to Caliendo and LGBT Democrats of North Carolina President Ryan Butler several times via email and phone for over a week. Neither returned the newspaper’s multiple queries before a version of this story was published on Friday, June 28. A June 27 email sent to other LGBT Democrats board members was also unreturned.
In a June 29 emailed statement entitled “The Truth,” also posted to the newspaper’s website, Caliendo refuted Covington’s version of her conversation.
“I am deeply saddened by the sullying of my name and questioning my representation of Equal Rights for All People,” Caliendo wrote. “When I spoke to Janice Covington, I never said you are not a member. I never said join the Men’s Auxiliary. There is no Men’s Auxiliary. I never said some members had a problem with her membership.”
Caliendo also said there were concerns from the membership chair of the local county caucus concerning Covington’s voter registration.
“The [Democratic Women of Mecklenburg County] checks the voter registration status of all new members to insure they are Democrats,” Caliendo wrote. “Upon doing so, DWMC discovered that Janice was registered as a male.”
The bylaws of the group say membership is open to “women who are registered Democrats.” According to the regulations, men can join as associate members.
LGBT Democrats of North Carolina released an official statement on Monday, July 1, six hours before qnotes was scheduled to send its July 5 print edition to press. In the statement, sent by caucus president Ryan Butler, the group claimed the newspaper’s reporting had contained “several inaccuracies,” though he declined to elaborate on them. The statement also said the paper’s reports included “allegations against Concetta Caliendo, which she has strongly denied.”
The group said it advocates for the full inclusion of the LGBT community.
“Our all volunteer organization consists of many LGBT activists who have spent countless hours advocating on behalf of the rights of transgendered persons,” the statement read. “Any assertion that the LGBT Democrats are less than 100% behind our transgendered brothers and sisters in our fight for equality is absolutely absurd.”
LGBT Democrats of North Carolina said they support a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act and will be proposing amendments to the state party’s governing documents to add gender-identity to its non-discrimination policy.
The caucus said they are a new organization and are still growing. As of yet, they have no openly transgender officers in their organization.
“We are a new and small organization. We have no staff, little money and limited resources,” the group said. “While we do not ask our officers to disclose their gender identity, we do not currently have any officers who have self identified as transgendered. To our knowledge we have not had any persons who identified as transgendered attend any of our initial meetings.”
The group, which is an official caucus of the state Democratic Party, says in its bylaws that it will take efforts “to balance the committee with respect to age, gender, gender identity, race, and ethnicity.”
The group added, “The current officers are the initial first set of elected officers within the organization and we are hopeful that we will be able to add to our diversity at our next election later this year by adding a transgendered officer or member of the executive committee.”
Several questions posed both to Caliendo and other LGBT Democrats officials went unanswered in Caliendo’s June 29 statement and the caucus’ official statement. You can read the full statement posted in its entirety at the end of this article.
An issue of inclusion
June Mabry, of Stanly County, said she was supportive of the LGBT caucus’ formation and joined as a member at the group’s organizational meeting in Greensboro in 2011. She believes groups like the LGBT caucus should be helping to advocate for inclusion.
“My view of what the caucuses are is that they are advocates and are literally educators to help us understand,” she said. “It’s just like the AARP. The AARP’s job is to advocate for seniors to Congress and state legislators and help the general public understand the needs of that community and understand who that community is so they don’t fall into the shadows.”
Mabry served as chair of the party’s Eighth Congressional District Convention when Covington began her quest to become an elected delegate to Charlotte’s Democratic National Convention. Mabry, who also served on the state party’s delegate selection committee, said she knew of at least one person at the time who had questioned Covington’s qualification to run as a female for a Democratic convention delegate seat. Those experiences point to a need for more inclusion and education about transgender issues.
“We are a party that is inclusive of people and we accept people for who they are, not what they are,” Mabry said. “Janice’s situation brings an educational need into relief. One of the things the party needs to do is actually incorporate some of those things into their trainings, about what the caucuses do, what the caucuses stand for, why we have them and what are we trying to accomplish by having them. What does it mean to be a big tent?
Currently, the state party’s platform and charter include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination and equality provisions but omit gender identity. Mabry thinks future transgender-inclusive changes in the state party are possible.
“This party is about equal rights and dignity for everyone,” she said. “We believe in equality for all and we believe in humanity. … If you are a human being, you deserve human dignity and you have the same rights that I have, regardless of gender.”
North Carolina Democratic Party spokesman Micah Beasley said changes to the platform can be taken up when the platform committee convenes again next year.
Full statement: LGBT Democrats of North Carolina
Official Statement from the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina
July 1, 2013
The LGBT Democrats of North Carolina were recently asked by Matt Comer
to respond to several questions regarding our organization. Mr.
Comer’s recent article on qnotes contains several inaccuracies and
makes allegations against Concetta Caliendo, which she has strongly
denied. In addition, qnotes questions the LGBT Democrats support for
The LGBT Democrats are the official NC Democratic auxiliary working to
secure full equal rights for LGBT Citizens through effective
legislation and policies and working to elect pro-equality Democrats.
Our all volunteer organization consists of many LGBT activists who
have spent countless hours advocating on behalf of the rights of
transgendered persons. Any assertion that the LGBT Democrats are less
than 100% behind our transgendered brothers and sisters in our fight
for equality is absolutely absurd.
We are aware of the terrible discrimination that transgendered persons
suffer throughout our country and have been fighting tirelessly to put
an end to it. Among other things, we support and advocate for a full
inclusive ENDA and we plan to propose amending the Democratic Party’s
governing documents to include gender identity in its
non-discrimination policy at the next SEC meeting.
We are a new and small organization. We have no staff, little money
and limited resources. While we do not ask our officers to disclose
their gender identity, we do not currently have any officers who have
self identified as transgendered. To our knowledge we have not had any
persons who identified as transgendered attend any of our initial
meetings. We have publicized most of our meetings via email, listed
them publicly on our website at lgbtdemocrats.org and on our Facebook
page, encouraging any democrats to attend.
The current officers are the initial first set of elected officers
within the organization and we are hopeful that we will be able to add
to our diversity at our next election later this year by adding a
transgendered officer or member of the executive committee.