The stories & issues: the year that was 2006


It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love every song you hear seems to say…

Boy am I glad this year is over.

2006 was full… chock full of issue after issue, controversy after controversy, work, work and more work.

But it was a good year, too.

So now… the top stories of 2006. They aren’t ranked in any order, they’re just listed, beginning with January 2006 all the way through December:

1. The Alternative Resources of the Triad (OutGreensboro.com)/Graffiti Ads advertising controversy
Near the end of January, and continuing through early February, news broke right here on this blog of a controversy surrounding Alternative Resources of the Triad (OutGreensboro.com), a Greensboro, NC-based LGBT organization, and its problems with an advertising company which refused to work with it because they thought their customers and viewers would be offended due to the gay nature of the organization. At the time, I was on the Board of Alternative Resources.

The story was never quite resolved, except for the fact that the Winston-Salem, NC-based Graffiti Ads continued to refuse business with the LGBT organization. After an official statement had to be made by Alternative Resources, the story finally made its way to the local press (here & here & here) and a media-frenzy ensued. In the end, or so I’m told, Graffiti Ads ended up losing some customers because of their fear of anything “too gay.” I’m sure their reputation of fearing gay business will follow them; even know, if you Google “graffiti ads winston-salem” posts regarding the anti-gay discrimination pop up. Click here for all the relevant posts.

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2. Governor’s School Turned my Son Gay & the Susan Wiseman/Winston-Salem-Forsyth County School System controversy
In February news broke of a mother of a gay high school boy, who claimed that an optional seminar at the NC Governor’s School discussing a book on gay teens made her son “choose” to “turn” homosexual. Later, another controversy which seemed to be quite separate from the Governor’s School controversy popped up: An openly lesbian teacher at East Forsyth High School, Susan Wiseman, was accused of improper sexual misconduct with a student she taught.

Later, as more information became known, the two controversies became intertwined, as it was none other than Susan Wiseman (along with high schooler Wes Nemenz, an active member of East Forsyth’s Gay-Straight Alliance) who had led the optional seminar at the Governor’s School. Wiseman, considered to be one of only a handful of openly gay teachers was, with no doubt, the only one brave enough to actively and publicly work on issues relating to the safety of LGBT students and the hostile atmospheres which high schools in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County afforded them.

Although it was clear to many, many people that Wiseman never did it and never publicly admitted to it and was never charged and never put on trial, she took the brunt force of a Board of Education all but too willing to get rid of “gay agitator” in their midst. Questions lingered in the case against Wiseman, especially considering the mysterious connection between the timing of the misconduct accusations and the revelation of the “turn my son gay” seminar at Governor’s School. John Railey, a columnist for The Winston-Salem Journal, admitted as much and left us all with a scary quote from Vic Johnson, one of the members of the Board of Education: “Being openly gay is “something that this community doesn’t approve of,’ he said. He added, ‘as long as you’re openly gay and not accused of being with any children, I think you can get away with it.'”

When Wiseman was fired by the Board of Education (a board including members who compare gays to murderers & rapists and justify their unwillingness to protect gay students with beliefs of homosexual “sin”), it took nothing more than a “recommendation” from Superintendent Don Martin (the same man who encouraged school system employees to attend a workshop at First Presbyterian Church featuring a speaker from an ex-gay ministry). The Board of Education, without discussion and without offering any questions, asking for evidence or more information, simply approved Martin’s “recommendation.”

One student told me: “I never really like W-S and now i know why. Will will this end…? It makes me feel unsafe in my own school. What can they do to be because im gay? I dont know but i dont want to find out.”

As I said then, in response to that student: “The Board of Education and the administration of the WS/FCS has handled this case completely in the wrong way. While doing so they have managed only to invoke even more fear and trembling into the hearts of LGBT teachers and students.”

Later, in December 2006, Doug Punger, the attorney who defended this anti-gay Board of Education in Winston-Salem, retired after more than 30 years of “service.”

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3. A foray into journalism
In Mid-February I made my first entrance to the world of print journalism – well… more like print opinion writing. In Massachussets In Newsweekly, I was published first online on February 8th and in print on February 16th, with my guest column, “Letter from a Red State Activist.” The column dealt with a variety of topics, comparing LGBT activism work in the South and in North Carolina to that of “liberal,” “blue state” Mass.

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4. Jerry Falwell, Liberty University, My first arrest & the Soulforce Equality Ride
On March 8th, 2006, I was introduced to the world of civil disobedience and relentless non-violent resistence to religious & political oppression by two new friends, Cris Elkins and Gene Hammond. I travelled with them to the very first stop in the very first Equality Ride: The Reverend Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. We only attempted to step onto campus and speak to students and faculty, but the moment we crossed that invisible line between public sidewalk and university campus (a.k.a. holy, non-gay ground, per edict of Falwell) the 24 of us were arrested. Throughout the remainder of the Equality Ride, I followed their actions across the country (past posts here w/ screen caps of the MTV News Special here).

Cris and Gene’s friendship would introduce me to a wonderful organization full of bright, tallented and committed youth activists. Later I’d be involved with Soulforce’s Right to Serve Campaign (official site & local Greensboro organizing site). Now, I find myself tagging along (with Blog Contributor Brandy Daniels) as a Rider in the second, larger Equality Ride this March and April, a journey I’m sure that both Brandy and I will write extensively about on this site.

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5. Straight student/gay film-maker expelled
In March, we learned of high school student Brandon Flyte. His school attempted to censor one part of his film, Brokeback High, yet he showed the film, without the censorship, anyway. For this, he was expelled. The result was a long, public and media-driven battle over students’ rights and the courage of a straight allied teen willing to stand up for education and awareness on issues affecting LGBT students.

The shot in the film for which he was censored (pictured right) was not graphic and showed only two boys in bed doing nothing but talking.

His film, which I have yet to see in its entirety, was rumored to be superb… and it taught, I’m sure, many lessons on LGBT equality and the respect and dignity we all deserve to have, regardless of our sexual orientation.

Flyte was later allowed back into the school and while the school never fully apologized, it hinted at some wrong-doing on its part.

It was, for a short time, rumored that the whole controversy was a hoax, a belief fueled by what many saw to be untruthful, “cover our asses” statements made by Flyte’s school. In the end, we knew the whole story: Flyte was punished, improperly, for resisting the improper censorship of his film and his student rights.

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6. Duke Lacrosse, Collin Finnerty & the DC, anti-gay assault
As we know find the Duke rape case coming to a close and as more and more evidence pops up that the three boys originally charged in the case are, by almost all means, innocent of any wrong-doing, I can’t help but harken back to the day when I wrote a scathing little post on the “connections of hate.”

The post dealt with Collin Finnerty’s assault of a man in Washington, D.C. and although the assault was never officially considered a hate crime, it was one (in my personal belief) motivated by or at least including some anti-gay sentiment. Then, I couldn’t help but ponder on the connections between what I saw as an anti-gay assault and what was then being cast as a rape with various undertones of racism (at the time, the “victims” and others were claiming that racist slurs and other actions were committed against them – something that may not be totally true, given that we know the “victims” probably aren’t “victims”).

I took a lot of flack for my posts on Finnerty, especially from regular blog reader JoeT. Needless to say we had a few spats, some of them public. I’ve put most of all this behind me now… and as the year comes to a close and as the three Duke students will soon find themselves free of all accusations of wrong-doing, I offer this to JoeT: I apologize for my foolishness. I still, however, stand by my assertions that where one prejudice or bigotry comes, another is (more than likely, although not always) soon to follow (the original belief which spawned my “connections of hate” post).

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7. LGBT Youth, the schools, and gay-straight alliances
This year, more than any other I think, we’ve heard a lot about gay-straight student organizations within high schools and the legal fights or public media frenzies which have often followed shortly thereafter when school boards have attempted to shut them down.

We’ve dealt with the GSA ban in the Rowan-Salisbury School System after students first organized a GSA at South Rowan High School. We’ve heard about junior Danielle Smiley in Currituck, NC. The list of student heroes and high school activists goes on and on.

Click here for past posts on Rowan-Salisbury & Currituck.

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8. LGBT college students in North Carolina & the UNC Association of Student Governments
From winding its way through a long and painful legislative process, starting at the lower levels of a committee at UNCG’s Student Senate and ending up in debate at a state-wide General Assembly meeting of The University of North Carolina System Association of Student Governments (UNCASG), LGBT students found themselves being, unsurprisingly, let down in an attempt to recognize them and protect them from discrimination.

What originally started as a one-piece addition of sexual orientation to the consitution of the UNC System’s state-wide student government (an institution funded through tax-payer monies fees collected from every one of the more than 200,000 UNC System students and connected to the UNC System’s Board of Governors), slowly turned into a resolution asking for the addition of numerous categories. The resolution, originally sponsored by me and just a few other students, was finally presented as an amendment to the UNCASG’s constitution at an April General Assembly meeting. The amendment proposed adding sexual orientation, gender-identity/expression, gender & socioeconomic status to the state group’s constitutional equal opportunity clause.

2006 marks the year in which this progressive piece of student legislation for the UNC System was shot-down by approximately 90% of the Assembly members representing over 200,000 North Carolina college students, after numerous members of the Assembly (including one student who had told me the night before that I was not equal to him due to my sexual orientation) erroneously stated that the Constitution of the State of North Carolina wouldn’t allow it.

The proposal didn’t die completely, however (Bradley Ballou, the then-Student Body President of UNC-Wilmington pushed for the proposal to be tabled until the next year) and hope lives on that it may pass this year. Although no action has been taken, the proposal is tucked neatly under the arm of the UNCASG’s head officers and has been forwarded to the General Counsel of the UNC System. Hopefully, by the end of this year (or perhaps next year), LGBT students in The University of North Carolina System will have a firm and reliable constitutional protection that might have the possibility of pushing the UNC Board of Governors into officially protecting LGBT students.

As for now… students must continue to wait, work and hope. Click here for all the past posts.

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9. Election 2006
Yeah… I’m not even going to write much about this… I’m sure you all remember it well.

Here’s just a few, key names you should remember (whether these names are good or bad… past writings will fill you in):

  • Vernon Robinson
  • Pricey Harrison
  • Brad Miller
  • Sandra Mikush
  • Buddy Collins
  • Jeannie Metcalf

See Q-vote 2006 for all the coverage that was.

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10. The Soulforce Right to Serve Campaign
In the fall of 2006, LGBT and straight allied youth across the entire nation geared up to take part in what was to be the very first organized, national movement bringing attention to the discriminatory, anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the United States Military.

In Greensboro, NC, I led the way as a City Organizer, assisted by my good friend Kimberly Krieg, national organizer Katie Higgins and participants Stacey Booe, Jessica Arvidson, Jackie Hernandez, Caitlin Stroud, Cris Elkins, Alex Barbato, Alex Nini, and Danielle Hoffman.

On September 21, 2006, four openly gay youth in Greensboro, NC, walked into the Army Recruiting Center, told the recruiter they wanted to enlist, while being completely honest about themselves. They were willing to serve their country, but they weren’t willing to lie and live in hiding and secrecy in order to do it.

In the end, nine persons were arrested that day, after sitting-in for the right to serve without discrimination based upon who they are as American citizens. We were charged with trespassing. In November 2006, we were given a deferred prosecution, with all charges being dropped after 90 days, given that no one return to the recruiting center or break any other laws.

The Right to Serve Campaign, which was endorsed by the national Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and named as number 5 on its list of the Top Ten “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” stories of 2006, brought the issue of government-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT Americans home to millions. Now, as we enter 2007, we are the closest we’ve ever been to seeing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy rescinded and replaced with one which will offer all American citizens, no matter their sexual orientation, the rightful respect and dignity they deserve.

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So… That’s it… Your year-end recap and top stories of 2006 from InterstateQ. I’m sure there have been many, many other huge stories and issues covered: The LGBT Center at NC State University, the “outing” of Representative Patrick McHenry (or, at least, the outing of the rumors of his gayness), Lance Bass & the HRC, the anti-gay ‘gay=pedophile’ Guilford County Republican Party Chairman, the establishment of my political action committee, the Thomasville & Davidson County anti-gay marriage resolution, the ex-gays, Ignite Student Outreach & Exodus International, LGBT youth homelessness and Gay Jesus.

For sake of time and sanity… I think I’ll stop. If I were to name all of the “top stories” I think I might go crazy (or, at least, without sleep for a night or two).

Do you have any more? Were there any stories that just spoke to you or stand out to you?

The archives are, always, open for permanent viewing. Looking into the past is always a good thing. You can learn a lot from the past. Reviewing each year as it comes to a close and a new one starts is always a great way to figure out where you are and how you’ve gotten here.

I thank ALL OF YOU who have become regular readers and commenters at the blog. Your support, your comments, your knowledge, your sometimes serious and sometimes hilarious shots at the expense of my pride (haha) have all been wonderful, exciting, humbling and memorable.

So… Cheers! To a bright, new and exciting 2007 to come!


Comments
6 Responses to “The stories & issues: the year that was 2006”
  1. Lee says:

    Matt,

    As far as #8 is concerned, I just wanted to correct one point, which many people always confuse. It doesn’t change the point of your post, but it does have a significant legal impact in what we’re allowed to do and say.

    You say, “(an institution funded through tax-payer monies and connected to the UNC System’s Board of Governors)”

    The technical correction is that UNCASG does not receive a dime of taxpayer money, and therefore do not fall under state law or regulation for state agencies. UNCASG is FULLY funded through student fee money, which is a collection directly from the people being served, so it is a service money. It is filed under a “5” account, rather than a “3” account like money from taxes that goes to schools, and is collected by the UNC General Administration instead of the NC Government like tax money is. I just figured you should know that, and I’m only hinting here…because it really does provide a significant impact over which state laws we have to or do not have to follow.

  2. Matt says:

    Thanks Lee. Honestly… I knew that… I really did, haha. Thanks for the correction though. I guess it is an honest and easy mistake to make when you aren’t paying close enough attention (*cough* like me).

    I think this makes my point stronger… UNCASG operates off money received from every student, therefore it should be sure to add protections for students when needed and, in my personal opinion, we’ve seen enough anti-LGBT discrimination within the UNC System to know that we need clearly stated protections for LGBT students in North Carolina.

  3. Matt says:

    Note… the section on UNCASG has been edited… some stuff was striken out, some stuff was added… all in an attempt to clarify and elaborate.

  4. Matt says:

    Thanks Joe… acting rashly… foolishly… whatever it is I’m certainly glad I’m not living Nifong’s life right now. Being gay in the Piedmont of North Carolina… yeah, I’d definitely take that over being Nifong and his crew right about now.

    That post was a good one: “It’s all my fault… I’m bringing down society” quoted just a portion of an opinions column written by Charles Davenport Jr. The quote from his column regarded me and how gay activists are “bringing down society.”

    I believe it was you, Joe, who stated: If he really went by “..centuries of accumulated wisdom and natural law..” he’d know that- from Alexander, to Michelangelo, to Francis Bacon, to Alan Turing- homosexuals should be able to enjoy equality so they can get on with their business of benefitting society.

    In response I said… including the photo:

    Yeah… that and we’d still have slavery and women would still be considered property… Oh and we’d still be living under the Feudal System.

  5. Joe T. says:

    Matt : It’s sort of unnecessary to apologize to me, re. the Duke case, but I admire and appreciate the gesture. It’s very very rarely seen these days. So much of Durham County did so much worse than you did, and will probably never admit mistakes. But, unlike you- who probably just acted somewhat rashly- those others became a lynch mob for malicious reasons. (And I still say the new revelations about the case don’t negate your theories on links-between-hatreds. Look at the New Black Panther Party and Victoria Peterson).

  6. Joe T. says:

    My nominee for your best moment of 2006: While criticizing the basis for those opposing same-sex marriage being that it goes against centuries of time-honored tradition, one poster astutely pointed out that sometimes going against such tradition is a good thing, or else we could still be living under medieval feudalism. You posted a chart illustrating the feudalism set-up. This might seem like an underdog for the choice of “best moment”, but I’ve often noticed that the most powerful points are sometimes made with the simplest images.

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