To the staffers at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s Auxilliary Services:

I noticed with great surprise today your social media-esque text-over-photo meme in an announcement of Spring Break hours:

Perhaps it was just an unknowing mistake. I’m willing to give you the great benefit of doubt.

Perhaps you did not know that Chick-fil-A has been embroiled in controversy for years for its corporate support of non-profit groups that fund anti-LGBT organizations.

Perhaps you didn’t know that among those groups are organizations like the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has named an anti-LGBT hate group. Or, other groups like Exodus International, which, before closing last year, pushed the utterly un-scientific, harmful and dangerous “ex-gay” message that LGBT people could be “cured” through prayer and divine healing.

Perhaps you didn’t know that Chick-fil-A’s COO, Dan Cathy, tweeted (and then deleted) a message in response to June’s historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a portion of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, that called the landmark move toward equality a “sad day for our nation.”

Maybe you are exuberantly looking forward to the day when Chick-fil-A will cease funding some of the more extremist political and social groups that have regularly received money from them. Or, perhaps, like Shane Windmeyer, your former staffer and current executive director of the national group Campus Pride, you are hoping that personal relationships and friendships, even across lines of difference, can help move the needle by changing hearts and minds (a strategy, by the way, that I fully support).

But, even if all that is true, what is also still true, as so eloquently pointed out by The Advocate‘s Lucas Grindley, is that Chick-fil-A has yet to fully cease its anti-LGBT funding — still giving to groups that oppose marriage equality, though they’ve stopped giving to the more stridently bigoted groups like Family Research Council.

I’m not a UNCC staffer. I’m just an (extremely) part-time student. But, if I were a staffer, I’d have been greatly displeased that you decided to speak on my behalf and lump me in with all staff people who allegedly “love” the short lines at Chick-fil-A. I haven’t eaten at Chick-fil-A in years, and won’t ever again. I won’t because I don’t want my money going to a company that will turn around and then give it to organizations who are fighting tooth and nail against my very existence and my civil and human rights. If I wanted to donate money to organizations that hate my very being, I’d write a check myself. Instead, I think I’ll support companies like Salsarita’s, which you also named and which spends its company’s time, resources and finances supporting homeless families instead of denigrating LGBT ones.

So, simply put, no, I don’t think all UNCC staff persons love the short lines at Chick-fil-A. Indeed, I’m pretty damn certain there are many of them who skip those lines entirely.

Perhaps — just perhaps — it might be wise of UNCC to do two things: (1) pause and ask itself why it is doing business with a company that has actively funded groups that discriminate against a portion of the community you serve — a community of people whom you have committed to protect via non-discrimination policies and other inclusion practices, and (2) even if it did decide to continue doing business with such a company, why it would highlight it in such a positive manner, knowing that a portion of your students, staff, faculty and others associated with the campus are the direct target of that business’ anti-LGBT funding.

Perhaps, all of this just seems trivial to you. “Oh, those gays and their pesky boycotts,” you might say. But, it’s not trivial. It’s my life, my rights and my human dignity. And, you’ve chosen not only to do business with a company that doesn’t give a shit about me, but also chosen to speak on behalf of some of those very same people just like me who will never look at Chick-fil-A and be able to feel anything but exclusion and distrust.

UNC-Charlotte, you can and should do better.

P.S. (March 3, 2014, 9:24 p.m.) — No, news tonight of Chick-fil-A’s decrease in anti-LGBT funding doesn’t change my mind. The company still has no LGBT-inclusive policies and some of its funding is still problematic. Progress? Yes. But, it isn’t complete inclusion.

I don’t think I could have imagined last fall just how challenging and, at times, frustrating returning to school would be once I actually set foot in class this January. After nearly four years of absence, I decided last fall to finish that elusive bachelor’s degree I put off when in September 2007 I was offered and accepted the position of editor at Charlotte’s QNotes.

Belk Tower. UNC Charlotte. Photo by Andy Ciordia.

Excitement and anticipation ruled the day in January and it continued throughout the semester, even as school and professional work piled on to make my life more stressful than it’s probably ever been. While I’ve enjoyed the renewed college experience (though my experience of “college life” is mighty different now that I’m a little older), I have one major, frustrating regret: I closeted myself.

Yes, me: Big queer activist since the age of 14; gay blogger and citizen journo since college; editor of an LGBT newspaper; volunteer and grassroots organizer; the “most flamboyant, outspoken queer teen Winston-Salem had ever seen,” or so I wrote in my chapter in 2008’s “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America.”

It wasn’t an intentional closeting by any means. LGBT subjects — save ancient Greek pederasty, and I don’t think that counts — never came up in class; had they, I’d likely have spoken out. I simply went to class, took notes, studied for exams and left campus to head back to my office or home when the day was over. But, seemingly out of no where, I was forced to face prejudice and hate I hadn’t experienced first-hand since high school, or, at least, my earliest days in college.

“That proctor guy is a faggot,” the boy sitting behind me said of the young male student assisting our professor that day.

I, along with about 200 other students, sat in an auditorium-style classroom awaiting our instructor and her assistant as they prepared to administer our exam.

“Who?” the boy’s friend asked.

“That guy. That faggot. He’s been staring at us since we sat down. He’s a fag,” I overheard behind me, each instance of the slur stressed, pointed and dripping with hate.

I froze. I did and said nothing. My heart began beating faster.

“Should I turn around and say something?” I asked myself. “What would I say? How would I say it?”

It didn’t turn out to be a very good exam day for me. I panicked — memories from high school bullying flashing back to my head. It wasn’t until later that evening, once I was home and had related the day’s events to a friend, that I came up with what I thought could have been a witty response.

“The next time you call someone a faggot, make sure the person sitting in front of you isn’t one.”

I thought about putting it on the back of a T-shirt and wearing it the next time I had the same class. But, I decided to ignore the comment.

“I don’t need a confrontation in the middle of a class full of students,” I told myself.

I was lucky enough to be working with Campus Pride last fall when they released their landmark report, “The 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People.” The in-depth, first-of-its-kind study documents the experiences of some 6,000 LGBT students, faculty and staff across the nation’s institutions of higher education. Though much attention is often given to anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination in K-12 schools, and campaigns like “It Gets Better” promises good days to teens who simply “stick it out” ’til college, Campus Pride’s report drove home a sobering point: anti-LGBT harassment and prejudice doesn’t magically disappear once a student crosses the stage to receive their high school diploma.

I found myself reflected in Campus Pride’s various key findings (emphasis added):

  • One quarter (23%) of LGBQ staff, faculty, and students reported experiencing harassment (defined as any conduct that has interfered with your ability to work or learn). Almost all identified sexual identity as the basis of the harassment (83%). An even greater percentage of transgender students, faculty, & staff reported experiencing harassment (39%) with 87% identifying their gender identity/expression as the basis for the harassment. The form of the harassment experiences by transgender people was more overt and blatant.
  • One-third of LGBQ (33%) and transgender (38%) students, faculty, and staff have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate.
  • More than half of all faculty, students, & staff hide their sexual identity (43%) or gender identity (63%) to avoid intimidation.
  • More than a third of all transgender students, faculty, & staff (43%) and 13% of LGBQ respondents feared for their physical safety. This finding was more salient for LGBQ students and for LGBQ and/or Transgender People of Color.

Why didn’t I ever say anything? What was it that scared and intimidated me so much? Shouldn’t a 25-year-old, outspoken gay man like me have had the courage to enforce my own zero tolerance attitude toward anti-gay harassment?

What happened to me in class this semester reminds me of my friend Brian Murphy’s similar challenges when dealing with families, friends and other close relationships:

I do not do that which I know I should do. She says something insulting and I let it slide. He calls me Peter’s “friend” and I don’t correct him. They make jokes which aren’t really funny and I chuckle enough to not attract attention. It seems that family, friends, and closer relationships impede the cause of justice by compromising our words and actions, by elevating relationships over rightness.

Such insecurity and uncertainty, as I can attest, isn’t limited to personal relationships. In my case, complete and perfect strangers stopped me dead in my tracks.

As my first semester back at school wraps up, I’ve determined to make a new resolution. When the fall semester rolls around and I again find myself in class, I’ll not let my inner meekness get the best of me. I’ll take a chance, gulp down a shot of courage and confront the bigotry and ignorance that will (hopefully not) drift my way.

All-in-all, though, the experience served as a mighty important personal lesson. No matter how comfortable I think I might be. No matter how accepting or welcoming an environment I think surrounds me and no matter how much I’ve nearly insulated my daily work and personal life with LGBT or LGBT-friendly people and causes, I’m never truly comfortable. There’s still an awful lot of work to do — in high schools and colleges, in neighborhoods, in states and in our country and world. Silence can’t be an option.

crisisbookOn Feb. 25, I was honored to participate in a forum with North Carolina businessman and Faith in America founder Mitchell Gold and Faith in America executive director Brent Childers at a small gay bar/lounge here in Charlotte. Usually, politics and religion don’t go well with bars, but it was a great and attentive crowd — we couldn’t have asked for better. We were able discuss issues addressed in Gold’s book, “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay In America,” to which both Brent and I also contributed.

Before that later evening event, Mitchell Gold was a special guest of Campus Pride and local LGBT youth support group Time Out Youth at Myers Park Baptist Church. There, a little more than 100 folks turned out to hear Gold speak about his book, his experience growing up as a gay youth and issues of anti-LGBT, religion-based bigotry and prejudice.

A day before the event, I spoke to Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer and asked if it would be appropriate to invite to the Myers Park lecture the editor of Voice of Revolution, a Charlotte-area online magazine run by anti-LGBT theologian and activist Dr. Michael Brown. (You can read my previous, in-depth Special Report on Brown here.)

Continue reading this post…

crisisbookFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Contact:
Campus Pride, 704-277-6710
Time Out Youth, 704-344-8335

This Thursday Feb 25 Nationally Acclaimed Author Mitchell Gold speaks about his book CRISIS at LGBT Youth Fundraiser in Charlotte
Accompanying Gold are two of his CRISIS contributors Rev. Reggie Longcrier of Hickory, NC and Matt Comer of Charlotte, NC

Charlotte, NC, Feb 23, 2010 — The national, Charlotte-based Campus Pride (www.campuspride.org) and local Time Out Youth (www.timeoutyouth.org) have partnered for a joint fundraising event on Thursday, Feb 25 to bring attention to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and ally youth in the Charlotte area. The fundraiser will take place at 6 p.m. at Myers Park Baptist Church (1900 Queens Road) and then continue at 8 p.m. at Petra’s Piano Bar (1919 Commonwealth Avenue). No tickets are necessary; however, donations are encouraged. Everyone is welcome.

Titled “Believe In Youth,” the event will feature civil rights leader and author Mitchell Gold and his book “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay In America.” A resident of Hickory, NC, Gold is a nationally recognized leader in the furniture industry as well as the founder of Faith In America, a national nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of the harm caused to LGBT Americans by religion-based bigotry and prejudice.

In addition to Gold speaking at Myers Park Baptist Church at 6 p.m., the event continues at Petras Piano Bar at 8 p.m. featuring Gold and two contributors to his book Rev. Reggie Longcrier of Hickory, N.C. and Matt Comer of Charlotte, NC. Continue reading this post…