It’s a year of anti-incumbency. All across the nation, conservatives and Tea Partiers are pushing to oust any and all incumbents who haven’t stuck to their hard-core anti-establishment, anti-immigrant, anti-working class, anti-gay, anti-[fill in the blank] agenda.

Yet, in Winston-Salem, N.C., there’s a different kind of anti-incumbent fever sweeping through the races for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.

Here at my site, I’ve documented over-and-over, time-and-time again the outrageous anti-gay zealotry and bigotry exhibited by members of this board. As an alumnus of their district (RJRHS ’04), I know first-hand the effects of this board’s inaction. In high school, I joined with local advocates in attempting to persuade these people to do something about the rampant anti-gay harassment and bullying in their schools. Their response was nothing short of jaw-dropping: board members either treated us with silence and a cold shoulder, or others chose to make purely hateful, anti-gay comments all of which are recorded and documented by area media. Pam and her host of Blend baristas have also become attuned to not only the words, actions and beliefs of America’s religious right, but also of those in this state and in Winston-Salem.

The board of education there is overwhelmingly composed of incumbents who’ve had their seats for almost a decade or longer. In the same amount of time, local advocates’ pushes to get the board to do anything at all to protect LGBT students went no where. And, after all that time, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education was ultimately forced to protect LGBT students when the state legislature passed the School Violence Prevention Act in 2009. Yet, board members there continue to ignore real problems. They might have an inclusive policy, but that doesn’t mean its being enforced.

Longtime advocate Janet Joyner, a former five-year member of the State Department of Education’s Safe Schools Advisory Board, is circulating an in-depth history of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education’s anti-LGBT actions. The document, which you can read after the jump, is extraordinary. That any school official, elected or otherwise, would go to such amazing lengths not to protect students boggles the mind and chills to the bone.

The board of education is being reelected, finally, on non-partisan tickets. Joyner and a host of other advocates are hoping the non-partisan races will give them a chance to defeat longtime, anti-LGBT incumbents.

I encourage you click on past the jump and read Joyner’s history below. It’s a shocker, and all the proof anyone needs to vote against every incumbent on this board of education on Tuesday.

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Incumbent U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Democratic challenger Elaine Marshall, North Carolina’s current secretary of state, held their last televised debate this week in Chapel Hill.

News coverage of the event centered on what is now being called the “sharpest exchange” between the candidates while they shared the stage for an otherwise boring discussion. Pollsters say the election might already be decided; Burr shows a considerable lead over Marshall. But, as TPM notes, Burr’s and Marshall’s testy exchange over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) exposes stark differences between mainstream Republican and Democratic platforms on issues of LGBT equality.

TPM reports:

The exchange between Sen. Richard Burr (R) and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) isn’t likely to change the election’s outcome — polls show Burr with a big lead, and most observers expect him to cruise to reelection this fall.

But the debate offered one of the clearest views of the differences between Republicans and Democrats over LGBT rights found this year. Marshall called DADT “governmental discrimination,” equal to “judging people by the color of their hair, the color of their eyes, or the color of their skin, or other factors they have no control over.”

Burr said he had no idea whether homosexuality is a choice or biological and bristled at the idea that the battle for racial Civil Rights is equatable to granting LGBT rights.

“This is a very specific group of individuals,” Burr said to Marshall. “Don’t bring race into this.”

TPM goes on to note several polls and other data showing Americans’ general disfavor toward DADT. But, Burr’s and Marshall’s debate and the resulting news coverage didn’t center on the facts. Rather, it focused on whether being gay is a choice, an issue, as TPM also points out, that’s near moot among the majority of Americans.

The debate this week is a perfect example of why our community needs a “seat at the table.” In 2008, openly gay Chapel Hill businessman Jim Neil ran against party favorite Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary. Then, as now, issues of LGBT equality cropped up during debate. Yet, silly and ridiculous questions like “choice” never rose to the surface (although slight arguments over comparisons of LGBT rights to the Civil Rights Movement did create some stir with one of the lesser known primary candidates).

Perhaps there are several reasons for this, primarily that the debate was between primary candidates not otherwise affected by party affiliation in an election season defined by absolute polarization. But, one could make the argument that questions of “choice” were never asked because of Neal’s mere presence.

The question of whether or not being gay is a choice is pretty insulting to the majority of gay folk. I’d bet many straight people are aware of that. In political discourse, the question serves to take the focus off any particular political or legal issue and places it squarely on a person or group of people. It’s a personal question. A very personal question. A question most civil and courteous folks wouldn’t necessarily ask to someone’s face. Perhaps the question never came up in 2008 because it would have taken the focus off the issues and put it solely on Neal, as a person — as a gay person, and not a contender for public office. Despite all the criticism against Hagan that year, perhaps she already believed being gay wasn’t a choice. Perhaps, she was just kind and polite enough to keep such a personal question off the table.

I don’t really know.

Regardless, I believe LGBT people are best served when we have a physical, personal presence in our communities’ and nation’s political debates. It’s easy to insult people when you aren’t sitting across from a person that insult directly attacks. Even if the question of “choice” comes up between a straight candidate and gay candidate, I have faith any intelligent, gay candidate seriously contending for office will quickly turn the question around, refocusing debate on real facts and real issues — facts that knock down most, if not all, anti-LGBT talking points.

At the end of the day, whether being gay is a choice doesn’t really even matter. What matters more is our nation’s promises and guarantees of equality, liberty and justice, those guiding principles and mores defined in our social contract — you know, that pesky thing we call the Constitution — that have kept this nation forever toiling to become better and brighter, forever wary of allowing our Great Experiment to fail before the ever-watchful eyes of a candid world.

But, for Republicans, I guess it’s easier and more politically expedient to debate moot points that serve only to stoke the fires of bias, prejudice and hatred. After all, if they debate facts we know what happens: We win, they lose.


‘The least of these’

There’s been an eery silence from anti-gay evangelicals and other religious leaders in response to the string of reported teen suicides over the past few weeks.

Perhaps they are all pondering these words from Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46 NRSV):

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”

Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

UPDATE (10/1/2010, 10:25 a.m.): They’re done reading, and the divine wisdom didn’t sink in. From PHB, “In wake of anti-lgbt youth climate, Focus on the Family attacks GLSEN.”