[Ed. Note — The article below is an updated version of one that appears in the Aug. 20 print issue. New information on this article’s topics developed after we sent our Aug. 20 print issue to press on Sunday, Aug. 14.]
RALEIGH, N.C. — A pro-gay rally planned for the first day of a special September legislative session received little and muted responses from LGBT community members and organizations across the state. It’s Eastern North Carolina organizer is calling foul after the statewide Equality North Carolina announced Thursday they would hold their own rally one day after the original event was slated to occur.
Republicans in North Carolina control the General Assembly for the first time in over a century. With their new-found majority came the distinct possibility that an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment banning marriage and other relationships for same-sex couples might finally be heard and voted on after nearly a decade of dead-end committee assignments by former Democratic legislative leadership. The change in power has inspired fierce grassroots organizing across the state.
In June, a pro-LGBT rally at the state legislature resulted in the arrest of three activists. Planned by the North Carolina chapter of the national GetEqual grassroots activism group, the rally and its arrested organizers received criticism from LGBT leaders with differing opinions on strategy and mobilization.
Equality North Carolina, the state’s LGBT lobbying and advocacy group based in Raleigh, and Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford), the state’s only openly gay lawmaker, called the June civil disobedience a “disruption.” Ian Palmquist, who then served as Equality North Carolina’s executive director, said at the time that he appreciated direct action though it needed to “be used in smart and strategic ways.”
The statewide advocacy group seemed to be on much the same track, sticking to canvassing, phone banking and constituent mobilization, when Rocky Mount, N.C.-resident David Cappel announced on Facebook that he would be organizing a second rally scheduled for Sept. 12, the day legislators are due to return for a special session devoted solely to the consideration of potential constitutional amendments.
“I realize this time it’s gone beyond what Equality North Carolina is doing with their emails and postcards,” Cappel told qnotes in an interview via phone in early August. “It’s time to put a face to the count. This past census showed that the percentage of gay families in North Carolina jumped. I don’t think people’s representatives are noticing that there are that many of us.”
Cappel had hoped to show state legislators the strength of the community at his rally on Sept. 12, though he admitted that state lawmakers likely wouldn’t have taken it seriously.
“I think they already know how they are going to vote,” Cappel said. “Politicians are all the same — one is scrubbing another’s back while the other is screwing you. It’s just one of those things where you hope and pray that they notice.”
Cappel’s dreams for a rally of his own making now seem dashed. Equality North Carolina announced Thursday that they’d be holding their own rally on Sept. 13, in partnership with a coalition of supporting organizations.
Cappel had previously criticized Equality North Carolina for what he called inaction and inefficiency and for their decision not to sponsor or co-organize his event.
“I seriously can’t fathom why the only actions [Equality North Carolina] wants to do is make calls, write emails, send out postcards, and plan a day of action,” Cappel wrote recently before the advocacy group announced their own rally.
Cappel, who managed to attract no more than 100 RSVPs on his rally’s Facebook event page, told qnotes via Facebook on Thursday that he had decided to cancel his event. He lashed out at Equality North Carolina for their decision not to work with him and instead schedule their own activity.
“They could have told us this is what they were planning a month ago,” Cappel said. “I would have work[ed] with them. I should have listen[ed] to my partner about this … he told [me] if I couldn’t get a group known statewide to back me it wasn’t going to work. I guess he was correct.”
Cappel’s partner, James Smith, known by his internet handles “Sick-n-Tired” or “SNT,” has often launched into acrimonious and profanity-laced tirades against LGBT bloggers, organizations and leaders, this writer and newspaper included. Much of Smith’s accusations and criticisms have included false allegations and sexually salacious slurs and innuendo.
Alex Miller, interim executive director of Equality North Carolina, confirmed with qnotes that his group had decided not to participate in organizing with Cappel and his partner. Instead, they are focusing on their own coalition events and their statewide, grassroots advocacy and mobilization efforts, which he credited for helping convince legislators to abort a last-minute attempt to hear the anti-LGBT constitutional amendment during their July session.
“Our organization, in concert with our partner organizations across the state, went into overdrive and we activated our network of supporters,” Miller said. “Legislators in the building that day told us that they were hearing from our supporters all day and, apparently, when votes were counted that day the votes were not there.”
Miller called Cappel’s and Smith’s statements a “one-sided flame war” and said their actions had proven too aggressive and confrontational for any true partnership.
“When I was contacted by Mr. Cappel about his rally, I didn’t know who he was, so I reached out to our coalition partners who knew him and began reading some of the things he’s written online,” Miller told qnotes. “We thought it was better for our coalition to jointly organize an event ourselves because the tone and tenor of the comments this individual makes online were not respectful of the work our coalition partners are doing.”
Miller added, “We didn’t want to bring that tone into it and the only thing I know about this person is the incredibly confrontational persona I’ve seen online. We thought it would be better for our coalition partners to plan something jointly and there was support for that idea from the folks we work with.”
Cappel said he doubted his partner’s actions had been the source of Equality North Carolina’s reticence to support him.
“These are his opinions and he is entitled to them,” Cappel said. “For [Equality North Carolina], its [sic] simple, they would like to take full credit if we were [to] successful[ly] block those amendment[s] … if [Equality North Carolina] cares for fame and glory then they should just come and tell folks that.”
On Thursday night, Smith took to Twitter to express his outrage against Equality North Carolina, calling the group and it’s organizers “faggots” and saying he hoped those traveling to Raleigh for their rally received flat tires.
“i hope it fails fails fails, i hope hb777 n sb106 is passed and voted into law…. down with @equalitync,” Smith wrote in Twitter updates. “I hope and pray hb 777 and sb 106 passes and is voted in to law.. in NOV … tradition marriage folk contact I will help u.”
Smith later reverted his blog to private access only.
Despite the controversy created by Smith, Miller stressed the importance of continuing a strategic and unified fight to stop the amendment. He said it’s passage is “not a foregone conclusion” and that it can be stopped, though it remains a struggle with an uncertain outcome.
“There is a tremendously well-funded and well-organized effort by groups pushing this amendment to see it passed at all costs,” Miller said, “so it is important for constituents to contact their legislators, to have business owners contact representatives and to share individual, personal stories on what kind of real-life impact this amendment would have on people.”
As for how a rally and direct action fits into that overall strategy, Miller said such actions need to be taken on with respect, diligence and a consideration for what works best to benefit the movement.
“I’ve worked at the legislature for a long time and I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t,” he said. “A respectful demonstration in opposition or in support for a given measure can be impactful and if it’s not done right it can be detrimental and harmful to the cause.”
The group will hold its rally on Sept. 13, one day after the legislature is set to resume work in Raleigh and a day, Miller said, that might hold more potential for a floor vote on the amendment. He said the rally will give community members a chance to vent their feelings on the issue.
“We still believe it is more strategic and impactful to have a personal conversation with a legislator about this issue, but we also understand and respect that people are outraged about this amendment and want to express their feelings and opposition to it,” Miller said.
Equality North Carolina is also planning to hold candlelight vigils across the state on Sept. 12. They say the vigils will have a two-fold purpose — allowing those who can’t make it to Raleigh a chance to speak out and bringing the message home to a local level.
The news of the vigils and rally came one day after North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) appeared at a town hall meeting in his home district north of Charlotte. There he said the amendment debate was both “difficult” and “emotional.” Tillis also said he was open to data and discussion, though he’d feel “compelled” to hear the legislation if a majority wanted it.
“I’ve talked with Equality NC and other groups and said I’m open to data to talk about the business impacts and talk about the other things to refute that argument, but at the end of the day as the speaker, when I know that over 80 members, both Republicans and Democrats, have signed up to have this bill heard, a part of my oblgiation is to allow these bills to be heard and have both sides build the arguments,” Tillis explained in response to an audience member’s question on the topic. “I do believe that your side has arguments that need to be heard to get them out there and then let the legislative and democratic process take its course. If my caucus and if the majority of the members in the House and Democrats choose to have that heard then I feel compelled as the leader to have it heard. I’m not a king; I’m one of 120 members. If the majority or the overwhelming majority of them want to have it heard, I feel compelled to have it heard.”
Two versions of the amendment have been filed in the General Assembly. The Senate version would could ban both marriage and civil unions, domestic partnerships and other relationships under its “domestic legal union” phrasing; opponents of the Senate version say it’s vague and broad language could have far-reaching and unforeseen side effects. The less harsh House version prohibits only marriage. To pass, the amendment must gain the approval of three-fifths of both the House and Senate. The governor has no veto authority. If approved, the amendment would appear on the November 2012 ballot.
Miller said a ballot initiative is a prospect no one wants to see and that Equality North Carolina and its partners are taking the possibility seriously.
“It is crucially important that everyone understand that this fight is far from over,” he said. “When the bill is brought up for a vote it will either pass or fail by one or two votes. I can tell you that ballot campaigns are incredibly expensive and time consuming and almost always fail. We have better things to do for the next 14 months than fight what will be an enormously costly battle that would ultimately be bad for this state.”
He added, “This is a harmful piece of legislation. We all need to get together to fight it. Folks can get involved on the local level and reach out to the legislators and help to mobilize other constituents. That’s how these battles will be won.” : :
more: Stay up to date with the latest news on the amendment and from the legislature at qnotescarolinas.com/in/ncga/.