Bells will ring, candles will be lighted and champagne will be toasted and plenty of folks will wish they could forget many of the days gone by this year. Yes, the economy still sucks. Yes, politicians still have no answers. Yes, Congress is still deadlocked. But, don’t be fooled: Lots of good things happened this year, too. With the good comes the bad and, often, the sad and bittersweet. Such is life and despite the every-increasing go-go-go of the modern world, it’s healthy to stop and take a moment to think and reflect on what was. Hopefully, such meditation triggers inspiration on what can be as our local, statewide and national community continues to make brave and historic strides forward in our march of liberty, equality and justice.

Here now, qnotes’ top stories of 2011…

The email heard ‘round the world

Just days shy of New Year 2011, anti-gay Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James fired off an email that sparked the ire of the local, statewide and national LGBT communities. The email, in which he called gay people “sexual predators,” became the focus of a national petition campaign through Just over a week later more than 10,000 people had signed the petition calling upon the county commission to censure James. The censure would never come, though the board did consider a resolution on equality and respect — a document so mild and tame that James himself voted for it. James’ diarrhea of the mouth was how Charlotte’s LGBT community was welcomed into the New Year. And, as always, James never failed to disappoint, making plenty more hay throughout the year.

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Fresh face

Democrat Marcus Brandon embarked upon his first term in the North Carolina General Assembly. He represents a portion of Southwest Guilford County in the North Carolina House.

In January, the North Carolina General Assembly opened its new legislative session with a new member, one who made history in the state becoming our first openly gay, African-American state lawmaker. Freshman Democratic House Rep. Marcus Brandon, who represents portions of Guilford County, followed in the footsteps of the state’s first openly gay legislator, New Hanover County’s Sen. Julia Boseman. In her time in office, Boseman took courageous stands for the LGBT community. Brandon has, too. In his case, however, Brandon has faced down some of the meanest and most extreme anti-gay hatred and malice the state has ever seen, playing a crucial role in the legislative fight to keep an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on marriage and civil unions off the ballot. For his brave leadership in the face of a Republican majority hell-bent on discrimination, Brandon was honored near year’s end as Equality North Carolina’s Legislator of the Year.

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Sensationalistic tabloidism

Mecklenburg County’s Bill James wasn’t the only person kicking up dust in the early part of the year. News channel WBTV’s Steve Crump also took a turn, airing what was eventually proven a trumped-up story on alleged gay sexual encounters in one Mecklenburg County park. qnotes went to work immediately to counter the damaging and sensationalistic news report though the damage was already done and the door to bigotry already swung wide open as James used the opportunity to bring up old horror stories about an “infestation” of gay men in the local parks. Ultimately, facts and real journalism won the day. Despite claims to the contrary, illegal public sexual encounters among local gay men was near nothing when compared to the heterosexual or drug-related crimes against nature charges and arrests, according to data collected from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

As we reported then, “So, let the myth be quashed. There is no “infestation” of gay men in Mecklenburg County parks. There is no overwhelming problem — that is, except for heterosexual prostitution. The evidence points Charlotte — and, in particular, County Commissioner Bill James and WBTV — in one clear direction: stop scapegoating gay men and start looking in the mirror. Misbehaving heterosexuals are your problem. Leave us gay folk alone.”

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Celebrate good times…

In May, qnotes celebrated its 25th anniversary, a feat given the rocky roads experienced by the news industry in recent years. LGBT news-media, including qnotes, was never immune to those industry troubles. Some LGBT newspapers closed shop. Others were reborn. But, qnotes, is still alive and kicking. The future is bright, though its many challenges are daunting, and we’re looking forward to many more years ahead.

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Make it rain

The Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund pulled off a stunner in May. The annual luncheon event, “The Happening,” featured emcee Maureen O’Boyle and keynote speaker Mitchell Gold. The group also doled out a record $85,000 to local LGBT organizations. The event was already going well and a surprise — an additional $25,000 and another $25,000 matching challenge — from new Charlotte corporate citizen Wells Fargo made it that much better. Money, money everywhere and lots of folks in need get a much-deserved boost.

Celebrate, part two

qnotes wasn’t the only local LGBT institution celebrating and chronicling their years of growth and successes. In June, Time Out Youth feted 20 years of service to local LGBT teens and young adults. The anniversary events, spread out over three days included the group’s 20th anniversary gala, an annual fundraising event they hope to continue each year.

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Financial closet

While Time Out Youth was spending June celebrating, North Carolina non-profit NC Pride was busy fending off allegations of mismanagement. The group’s federal tax-exempt status was revoked early that month after years of failure to report their annual finances to the Internal Revenue Service. The group, which produces the annual NC Pride Festival and Parade in Durham each September, and its director, John Short, has yet to speak publicly about the situation. qnotes plans an in-depth follow-up in the new year.

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End of an era

Ian Palmquist at a June 24, 2011, faith rally in Uptown Charlotte.

In July, Ian Palmquist stepped down as executive director of Equality North Carolina. The move came after 11 years working for the organization — the last five years at the group’s helm. Palmquist’s departure — he is currently pursuing a graduate degree at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government — marked an important turning point for the statewide LGBT advocacy and education organization. In the midst of a legislative campaign to defeat an anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, the group dove head-first into the mirky executive search waters. Palmquist’s interim replacement, Alex Miller, led the group with courage and grace until a new executive director, Stuart Campbell, was announced this fall.

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Mayfield makes history

Long known for her neighborhood and community advocacy, organizer LaWana Mayfield announced her candidacy for the Charlotte City Council in May. By August, she had racked up a mammoth election war chest and was out pounding the pavement to beat incumbent Democratic District 3 Councilmember Warren Turner. The September primary victory set her on a nearly-guaranteed path to success — a path ultimately proven when she won the November election by a landslide to become Charlotte’s first openly gay or lesbian elected official.

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Make it rain, part 2

The annual Pride Charlotte Festival got a major boost this year. A new location right in the middle of Uptown Charlotte’s arts district set it on a path for success. And, success it was. Organizers say some 27,000 people attended the event, making it the largest LGBT Pride festival between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Additionally, the 2011 event raised some $60,000 or more — the most its raised for the LGBT Community Center since its inception in 2006. An audit of the group’s expenses and income is expected to be made public at some point in the new year. [Ed. Note — This writer served on Pride Charlotte’s organizing committee.]

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Longtime advocate for change and Human Rights Campaign Board of Governors member Joni Madison might not like the attention, but she’s sure to have a lot of influence on behalf of her fellow Tar Heels. Madison’s co-chairmanship of HRC’s national search committee charged with finding a replacement for outgoing President Joe Solmonese was announced in September. Madison is sure to represent her home state well in what we’re sure is a daunting task in choosing the next executive for the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.

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Small-town Pride

Organizers said 5,000 people attended the local Winston-Salem Pride parade and festival.

While Charlotte celebrated the successes of their Pride festival, Winston-Salem was embarking on a home-grown challenge to host their first locally-produced Pride event following NC Pride’s hosting of their annual event in the Twin City years ago. The event attracted at least 5,000 people for a street fair and evening parade. Organizers say it will become an annual event.

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Ding dong the witch is…

On Oct. 31, anti-gay state Sen. James Forrester, a Republican from Gaston County, passed away. His death followed years of anti-gay political activity and this year’s introduction and eventual successful passage of his anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment. It’s such a shame his legacy will be shaped by the last hate-filled action of his life.

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Matt Comer

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