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The North Carolina We Believe In

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We are nearly one month removed from the vote on Amendment One in North Carolina, and only days removed from the official certification by the state that made the amendment official. Many have written from their perspective since the vote. Some urged people to boycott our state, even suggesting that the Democratic National Convention should move. I tend to agree with Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt who wrote in The Huffington Post: "End this talk of boycott. Visit North Carolina, and help us have the conversations necessary to move this state forward. None of us can do this alone."

We need you now more than ever because the foundation has been laid for a brighter future of equality in North Carolina as a result of the campaign that we waged.

When we began the campaign we stated that we intended to have 1,000,000 conversations across North Carolina. We urged our supporters to speak to their parents, uncles and aunts, siblings, cousins, friends and neighbors. We called on them to have the difficult, honest conversations that were needed to move our state forward and, overwhelmingly, they responded.

Volunteers quit their jobs to travel the state, one supporter bought 5000 yard signs and added hundreds of miles to his odometer driving around distributing them. People came out of the closet -- some spoke of being gay for the first time, others became straight allies who cared.

The unique nature of the campaign was underscored by the business, political, and religious leaders who spoke out courageously -- some at great risk to their careers. Jim Rogers, the CEO of Fortune 500 Duke Energy, said that one day we would regret Amendment One as his generation regretted Jim Crow lows. Attorney General Roy Cooper called the amendment "unwise" and "unfair." Richard Vinroot, former GOP nominee for Governor, and Harvey Gantt, former Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate and an icon to many, appeared in a advertisement against the amendment together.

Those leaders, and the thousands of volunteers they inspired, represented the best of North Carolina. They were the better angels of our state's nature.

Our campaign broke ground in giving them the tools to speak out, speak up, and bring about change. We hired a documentary filmmaker who crisscrossed the state to bring forth powerful stories.

One such story came from Andrea McConnell who drove three hours to be filmed for fifteen minutes because her sister had been murdered by her boyfriend and she was concerned that domestic violence protections would be weakened.

Reverend Ricky Woods eloquently issued a call to action when he said that his faith called him to oppose Amendment One because of our charge to stand up for "the least, the last and the lost." Reverend Barber from the NAACP of North Carolina appeared on film from his home church decrying the "dirty tricks" of the amendment.

We released over 100 videos that told the story of why the amendment was bad for our people and our state over and over again. Storytelling is an ancient art but one that far too often becomes lost in the hustle and bustle of modern campaigning, but when faced with an amendment that sounded as if it was simply validating deeply seated beliefs for many about marriage, we knew that we had to do something different.

Our polling showed that when people were made to think of the harms that would come to children of unmarried families, gay and straight, that they began to turn against the amendment. We knew that when people were informed of the harms of the amendment for their family, friends, and loved ones that they would begin to move into the "against" column.

We used photos, videos, and graphics to prevent the National Organization for Marriage to make the campaign "us v. them." A seasoned North Carolina politico friend of mine said it best when she said, "The brilliance of the campaign messaging is that we didn't let the other side "them" the LGBT community."

Our campaign preempted NOM's usual tactics and messaging in such a way that the other side could not run their usual ads that try to make voters afraid of the LGBT of community which, in many ways, underscored the positives of our state and our people.

The successes of the coalition has spelled the end for closed-door discussions of LGBT rights in North Carolina, and brought this important issue front and center in public discourse. You could see that in the broad outrage against Pastor Charles Worley, who told his congregation that gays ought to be fenced in since they can't reproduce. His own special brand of division won't survive in North Carolina anymore, or at the least it won't be the only message that people hear.

My friend Paul Guequierre, from the Human Rights Campaign, linked to Mayor Kleinschmidt's piece recently and stated, "The people I met were some of the best. North Carolina is better than Amendment One."

He was right. Our people are some of the best and our state remains better than this amendment. That fact was underscored by the thousands of protesters who rallied against Worley's remarks over the weekend.

Even today, weeks after the loss, I believe that those who were fully informed regarding the amendment voted overwhelmingly against. The eight counties that officially rejected the amendment represent nearly thirty percent of our population. Beyond those eight counties we won the overwhelming majority of precincts in Greensboro, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem. We won many precincts in Greenville, which was a shining star down east for the campaign.

Consider also what we achieved, with the help of the NAACP, faith leaders, and others, in terms of unprecedented "against" votes from the African American community. In Wake County's Roberts Park, a predominantly African American precinct, the early vote was 671 for and 2,071 against. That's 75 percent against Amendment One. You find this pattern in urban counties across N.C.. In Durham, the majority of African American precincts voted "no" by almost 65 percent and in Mecklenburg (Charlotte), it was almost 53 percent. Even in Guilford and Forsyth, where voters as a whole approved the Amendment narrowly, voters in African American precincts rejected it by 53 percent and 55 percent respectively. In Durham some traditionally African American precincts voted 4 to 1 against.

The Prospect even noted that:

Yes, even rural North Carolina had islands of resistance. The amendment failed 2-to-1 on the African-American side of Scotland Neck, a village that has witnessed forty years of civil-rights struggles stretching from a landmark school-desegregation case in the 1970s to the recent stun-gun death of a black bicyclist. The result, says former Mayor James Mills, is an "organized and sophisticated" black electorate. "We were able to communicate was that this really had nothing to do with same-sex marriage," he says. "What this has to do with is hate."

Mayor Mills nailed the real divide in the vote with his quote. The communities that were informed voted against the amendment, and in doing so underscored the divide in our state -- a divide that is felt in many, if not most, other states in our country.

The truth is that a great deal of our state is suffering economically and, for many, that suffering began long before the current recession. The people in my hometown of Lenoir have been left behind for decades by our political and business leaders. They didn't buy our campaign's argument that our state would be hurt economically or that our reputation would prevent the next Facebook from being born here because they have been left out of the boom cycle all along. For the most part, shifts to the global economy of the 21st century have meant jobs leaving rather than coming.

For many in my own family and my old neighborhood, these shifts are a threat. People's fear has left them in disarray. which has, in turn, allowed cynical political operatives to urge them to "take our country back" and issue clarion calls to return to "the good old days." These manipulative thought leaders have built that message into a platform that, to borrow a phrase from Governor Dean, urges them to misplace their anxiety over economic change and instead "cling to their guns" and the "homosexual agenda."

It is a cynical form of politics that seeks to divide rather than bring us together. Sadly, during times of economic strain, it often works.

The Protect ALL NC Families Coalition will continue to work for LGBT equality, but the true wealth of the coalition all along was that it was a coalition of groups who also seek equal pay for women, fairness in the tax code, and who generally stand up for the least, the last, and the lost that Reverend Woods spoke of. When the coalition's agenda takes hold, the message of division will be diminished and the North Carolina that we believe in will grow.