Last edited: December 07, 2004

More Than 100 Gather To Discuss Equality For Homosexuals

The Montgomery Advertiser, March 22, 1999

By Tara Johnson Montgomery Advertiser

Equality for all people—regardless of sexual orientation—was the topic Sunday at the first Montgomery meeting of the Equality Begins at Home campaign.

"We need to accept and love everyone equally," said Susan Stewart, president of Parents, Family and Friends of Gays and Lesbians Montgomery, during the meeting of more than 100 people at the Unitarian Fellowship on Vaughn Road. Stewart has a son who is gay.

The Montgomery campaign is part of a one-week national blitz of town meetings, panel discussions and workshops to discuss ways to achieve equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals. Organizers said the campaign is a response to the slayings of Billy Jack Gaither in Alabama and Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, both of which were linked to violence against homosexuals.

"As long as we don’t have any voice or numbers (peoplewise), we are going to get the short end of the stick," said George Olsson, Montgomery area coordinator of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Alabama.

Participants said homosexuals need to stop being quiet victims, become more vocal and work together with one another and heterosexuals to achieve their goal of equality through legislation. Among the items they discussed were:

  • Changing the state’s hate crime bill, which already includes penalties for crimes based on race or religion, to include sexual orientation.
  • Having the law against sodomy taken off the state’s books.
  • Eliminating sexual orientation as a consideration for determining custody of children.
  • Setting up support systems for teen-age homosexuals.

Nichole Latitia, who declined to give a last name because of safety concerns, said, "We know we’re different from everybody else, but we don’t deserve to be treated like a disease that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth."

M. Carolyn Thomas, director of the Counseling Center at Auburn University Montgomery, said members of the heterosexual community who support the equality campaign need to be heard.

"You’ve got to stand up and be counted," Thomas said.

Stewart said sexual orientation is the only difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals -- members of both groups have emotions and spirituality.

Panelists at the meeting included:

  • David Cox, who has defended military personnel on homosexual rights cases.
  • Jan Hart, a Birmingham attorney who has presented homosexual rights cases before the United States Supreme Court.
  • Martin McCaffery, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and director of Montgomery’s Capri Theater.
  • The Rev. John Hankins, co-pastor of Montgomery’s New Hope Metropolitan Community Church.
  • Joan Robertson, a teacher at Saint James School and at Troy State University Montgomery.

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