Atmosphere Improving for Gays in North Carolina Legislature
Voice, January 11, 2001
By Marsha Barber
ASHEVILLE, N.C.State Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird hopes that
gay-friendly bills that surface when the state legislatures 2001 session gets
underway on Jan. 24 just might stand a fighting chance.
"Insuring gay rights is a long-term project, but opinions have changed radically
because of gay activism and the fact that gay people are willing to speak out and let
people know what the issues are," Kinnaird said. "A lot more gay people in North
Carolina are going public about even being gay, and thats a very important
The Carrboro, N.C. resident tried to introduce a reform of the states
"crimes against nature" law-which is sometimes used to harass gays-during her
first term in 1997, to no avail.
"The gay community asked me if I would introduce this bill and I did," she
said. "Of course, nothing happened. It didnt get assigned to a committee. The
leadership hoped it would go away and they made it go away."
As a token nod in response to pressure from gay civil rights activists, legislative
leaders allowed a hearing on the bill only after the deadline for being sponsored by a
committee and introduced on the floor.
"I intend to introduce that bill again during the upcoming session," said
Kinnaird, calling gay civil rights "the last frontier" in the civil rights
"I think theres a very different public opinion out there now, four years
after I first introduced that bill because the gay community has really taken matters into
their own hands," she said.
In other words, activism just might equal positive action on the part of North
Carolinas legislative body. Adding fuel to that fire, Shelley Saraniti of
Ashevilles Blue Ridge Equality Alliance cautions against complacency, particularly
in gay strongholds like Asheville, where its easy to get comfortable.
"The gay community tends to be apathetic until something happens to them
specifically," Saraniti said. "Ashevilles a wonderful place to live, a
very gay-friendly place, so things seem good and people dont want to rock the boat.
People are like, Why do we need this or that legislation?"
"But I just had a situation with a young man recently whod never had a
problem [because of his sexual orientation] before, but suddenly his employment was in
jeopardy. Hed never previously wanted to be involved with BREA or any advocacy
group, but his problem made him come forward."
Neither Saraniti nor Jo Wyrick of Equality North Carolina, a gay legislative watchdog
group formed in 1991, foresees any potentially anti-gay bills surfacing during this first
legislative session of 2001.
"But that doesnt mean it wont happen," Wyrick said.
Saraniti and Wyrick are enthusiastic about the proposed revamping of the Matthew
Shepard Memorial Act (H.B. 884) to include sexual identification and gender expression.
The previous version of the bill, which did not pass when it was initially introduced in
1999, included penalties for hate crimes directed against gays, but did not include
references to gender expression.
To help prepare for the upcomnig session, BREA has scheduled a lobby training event
with Equality North Carolina next month to offer tips on how to effectively push for
"The Matthew Shepard Memorial Act was only 10 votes shy of passing in the last
legislative session," Saraniti said. "In 2001, were determined that it
will become law."
Other priorities for gays this legislative session include employment
non-discrimination and same-sex marriage, Saraniti said.
And Wyrick is interested in how a new proposed Congressional district-district 14-will
"We dont know exactly what area the new district will cover, but in the
past, redistricting has led to some very hot, very partisan battles. Were waiting to
see just how District 14 will inform GLBT issues," she said.
[Home] [News] [North Carolina]