Want To Honor Orlando? Fight Homophobia.

Last Friday was the 1-year anniversary of the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. A white punk walked into an historic black church and killed nine people, because he was a racist.

Last week, we remembered that day. All over the country, there were ceremonies and there were speeches. It was a somber occasion.

But this week, I want to remember a different anniversary.

Listen to Aaron’s commentary:


This isn’t just the 1-year anniversary of a senseless massacre. This is also the 1-year anniversary of something positive: a national conversation that we all had, together, as a people, about racism, why it still exists, and what we can do to eradicate it. What we can do to make the world a slightly better place.

One year ago, in the face of hatred, we sat down together and we had that conversation.

And we did something. We looked all over the South and we saw our governments still flying the banner of racism, the Confederate battle flag. We went all over the South and we pulled that banner down. We did it to send a message: this country is not going to tolerate racism. We’re not going to treat racism as a valid argument. We’re not going to give it a microphone. And we’re sure as hell not going to fly its victory banner over our state house lawns.

What did that accomplish?

Did it end racism forever? No.

Did it bring back the nine people who died? No.

Is there anything we could have done that would have ended racism forever or bring back the nine people who died? No.

But we had that national conversation anyway. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

And we tore down that victory banner anyway. Why? Because it was the right message to send.

It made our world a slightly better place.

Ten days ago, a man walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and opened fire on the crowd. Forty-nine people were killed. Dozens more were injured. And if you think there were only 100 victims of this attack, you are wrong: all over the country, LGBT people everywhere are still hurting.

This was an attack of hatred, and this was an attack of homophobia. We know that this is the case. There isn’t any doubt or debate.

One year ago, we responded to a murdering racist by having a national conversation on racism.

Where is the national conversation on homophobia today?

Read the news reports about Orlando. Read the speeches. People are going out of their way to avoid talking about Orlando as an act of homophobic violence. The silence is conspicuous.

It’s not just conservatives. Our own Congressman, David Price, has always been a vocal advocate for the LGBT community. But today he made a statement when he went to join the sit-in on the House floor: a whole page of words about Orlando, and not even one hint of a mention of who was targeted. He’s not even close to being the only one. It’s been standard operating procedure, for nearly two weeks.

Imagine talking about Charleston without mentioning racism.

Which isn’t to say we’re not talking about Orlando. We’re sure having a big ol’ fight about guns. Democratic Senators are staging filibusters, Democratic House members are holding a sit-in. We need to talk about guns, they say. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans say no, it’s Muslims we ought to be talking about. Ban the guns. Ban the Muslims. Ban the guns.

Who is talking about homophobia right now?

Everyone’s excited because Democrats are trying to stop the haters from getting guns.

Who is talking about how we can stop there from being hate in the first place?

Nobody. Instead we’re making excuses.

“Gosh, we can’t ever eliminate hatred, so I guess there’s just nothing we can do.”


It’s true, we can’t ever eliminate hatred.

But we can fight it.

We can strike back.

We can make it clear, with our words, with our actions, and with our laws, that this country will not tolerate homophobia.

And in doing so we can make the world a slightly better place.

Aaron Keck spoke Wednesday with Chapel Hill writer Steven Petrow, who writes the “Civilities” column for the Washington Post.


I know we can do it because we’ve done it before. This week is the one-year anniversary. This week we celebrate the one-year anniversary of a national conversation on racism, a conversation that led to action and real change. Last year people who spent years waving the Confederate flag were apologizing. They had contributed to a culture. They helped make it seem okay to be a racist. They changed. People changed.

Who is apologizing today?

Who is searching their souls?

Who is asking themselves, did I do enough? Did I contribute to a hateful culture? Have my words or my actions made it seem okay to hate on gay people? Have I told my kids I love them no matter what? Have I supported laws designed to make it harder to be gay? Have I supported laws designed to make it easier to be a homophobe?

Read Steven Petrow’s column on “straight-washing” this week in the Washington Post.

Last year we tore down the Confederate flag because it was the symbol of racism.

What is the symbol of homophobia?

Democrats are in Washington talking about guns. And hey, that’s great – but that’s not the symbol. That’s not fighting back against homophobia.

You want to fight back against homophobia? You want to honor the victims of Orlando?

Forget the gun control. Forget the gun rights. Forget immigration. And for God’s sake forget Muslims.

You want to fight back, here’s what you can do:

Add the four words.

“Sexual,” “orientation,” “gender,” and “identity.”

Amend our federal and state anti-discrimination laws to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories.

(Don’t buy the “religious freedom” argument – truth is, that argument’s always been complete BS. We already ban discrimination on the basis of religion.)

This is long overdue. We should have done it years ago. The fact that we haven’t done it yet is unconscionable. The fact that people are still opposing it is ridiculous.

Let’s do it now. In the wake of Orlando, let’s do it now.

I want one bill introduced in Congress to add the four words to our federal anti-discrimination law.

I want Chris Murphy to filibuster until it gets a vote.

I want John Lewis to sit on the House floor and refuse to budge until it gets passed.

In Raleigh, I want our state legislators to introduce a bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to our state-wide anti-discrimination law.

And make Republicans get in front of the cameras and the microphones and explain to the American people why they don’t want to fight back against the hatred that fueled the murder of 49 people.

Conservatives have been saying this all week: “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a people problem!”

Of course they’re only saying that because they don’t want to talk about guns. They have zero intention of discussing the “people problem,” they have zero intention of addressing the “people problem” – and when it comes to anti-gay hatred, the sad truth is a lot of conservatives don’t even really believe we have a people problem.

But you know what, they’re right.

We do have a people problem. We have a really, really big people problem.

But it’s not enough to just say it and move on with your day.

It’s not enough to sigh and say “what are you gonna do?”

It’s not enough to offer “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of an anti-gay massacre, then go on demonizing LGBT people as sinful and twisted and evil.

Let’s make conservatives put their money where their mouth is.

And while we’re at it, let’s put our money where our mouth is too.

Yes, we have a people problem.

What are we going to do about it?

It’s time for a national conversation on homophobia. It’s time to act. Not just to keep guns away from the haters – we need to strike back against hate in the first place.

Repeal House Bill 2.

Add the four words to our anti-discrimination law.

You personally are not a state legislator? Fine. Be a vocal ally. Speak out against anti-gay hate. Tell your kids you love them no matter what. Tell your kids you love everybody no matter what.

One year ago this week, we fought back against hatred. Let’s do the same thing this week.

We’re not going to fix the problem. We’re not going to cure the whole world.

But let’s do what we can, today and every day, to make this world a slightly better place.


Orlando Shooting Illuminates Concerns with Blood Ban

Thanks to technological advances, the world is rapidly progressing every single day. But for the LGBTQ community, policies from nearly four decades ago have remained stagnant.

More than 40 people died and more than 50 were injured last week after a shooting at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It’s marked in history as the United States’ deadliest mass shooting to date, but could also be marked as a turning point in blood donation policies.

Long lines formed around the blocks surrounding blood banks in Orlando and other locations around the country on Sunday—hundreds of people wishing to give tangible support to those affected.

Hundreds more wished to help, but were forbidden to do so.

“One of the ways that we show support for family, for loved ones, for people we may not know, but to show signs of solidarity and to show our humanity is to give when these tragedies happen,” said Lee Storrow, executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. “I think that the discriminatory nature of the blood ban was really illuminated for a lot of people when they realized that the community that had been so impacted by what happened in Orlando wasn’t in a capacity to donate blood and to give back.”

Storrow said that, historically, the policy prohibited men who had ever engaged in sexual activity with another man from donating blood.

“I think universally everyone believed, even leadership at the FDA voted as early as 2010, that the policy was a sub-optimal one and that there had to be a better way to address this issue.”

According to Storrow, the FDA announced they would be changing the policy in 2014 to a one year deferral for men who had engaged in sexual activity with another man. The updated policy was implemented at the end of 2015 and was in effect during the Orlando aid efforts.

Storrow has been advocating the removal of this policy, saying it is a stigmatizing stance not grounded in science and facts about the current state of HIV, about testing for HIV or about who’s impacted by HIV in America.

“Other populations that are also at a high risk for HIV don’t face the same one year deferral,” Storrow said. “From a public policy perspective, while this issue may seem trite compared to the tragedy of what happened Sunday in Orlando, I think the policy is a reminder of ways that we have continued to discriminate against the LGTBQ community, continued to use stigma in the writings in law instead of science and facts.”

Storrow said that the original public policy was important in the 1980s because it ensured that, with the limited information available about HIV, blood supplies were protected and the spread of HIV could be stopped.

“Now, we have very advanced testing when it comes to testing for both HIV and STIs in a way we didn’t during the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis,” he said. “The world’s changed a lot in the decades since then. We now have medication that individuals at high risk for HIV can take to prevent them from becoming HIV positive. We know so much more, the quality of HIV testing has increased.”

Storrow also said that what the advocacy community can do now is point to the best practices that some peer countries, particularly those in Europe, have implemented—that instead of making blanket bans, look at risk activity and where that activity puts people on a spectrum of donation policy.

“This policy is so outdated and reinforces so many negative traits about the LGBTQ community…I know that’s not the world many of us want to live in.”


Facts And Myths (That McCrory Forgot) About House Bill 2

On Wednesday, March 23, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2, in response to a Charlotte ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lawmakers who supported the bill insisted they only wanted to overturn one part of that ordinance – people were worried it would lead to men in dresses barging into the ladies’ room – but the actual bill they passed was much, much broader.

To put it mildly, there has been a bit of a backlash. Dozens of businesses have publicly denounced the bill. The NCAA is hinting that it might not host championship events in North Carolina anymore. The NBA suggested it might move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte. The mayor of San Francisco just banned town staff from traveling here on the public dime. And on and on.

So now Republicans are in damage control mode. On Friday, Governor Pat McCrory released a statement called “Myths vs. Facts,” in the form of a frequently-asked-questions page, to counter some of the criticisms. (They really want to make sure this gets out. We at WCHL have received this same statement three times already, from three different state departments. Others have reported receiving it as many as eight times.)

You can read it here.

Give him credit! McCrory’s FAQ page gets a couple things wrong – for instance, he says “nothing changes in North Carolina cities,” which isn’t right, and he says the bill doesn’t “take away existing protections for individuals in North Carolina,” though in fact it does – but in general, most of what’s there is technically correct.

Only thing is, he forgot a few questions.

So let’s take care of that.

1. Now that House Bill 2 has passed, is it legal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in North Carolina?

Yes. Sections 3.1 and 3.3 of the bill prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, and biological sex. (Section 3.1 also bans discrimination on the basis of age or disability, but only when it comes to employment practices.) Sexual orientation is not included as a category, so it is, in fact, legal now to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Here’s the full text of the bill, if you want to read it for yourself.

2. What does that mean in practice?

You can be fired for being gay. You can be demoted for being gay. Employers can refuse to hire you for being gay. They can refuse to promote you for being gay. Businesses can refuse to serve you for being gay.

3. If someone wants to discriminate against gays and lesbians, do they have to claim a “sincere religious objection,” like in the Indiana law last year that caused such a fuss?

No. State law allows people to discriminate against gays and lesbians for any reason they like.

4. Was that just an oversight?

No. A State House member proposed amending the bill to include sexual orientation as a protected category, but the House explicitly decided not to do so.

5. Is this a change from before?

Not on the state level. But there were local ordinances in towns and counties across the state that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation – and House Bill 2 “supersedes and preempts” those local laws, so they all got wiped out overnight.

6. Can local governments pass new ordinances banning discrimination?

No. House Bill 2 explicitly forbids them from doing so. (Local governments are free to decide how they want to hire and fire their own employees, but that’s it.)

7. Are there other categories that are no longer protected?

Yes. Orange County, for instance, had an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of veteran status and familial status, but that’s been wiped out too.

8. So you can be discriminated against for being a veteran now?

Not quite. There is a federal law that bans discrimination against military veterans, so you’re still covered there. If you do experience discrimination for that reason, though, you can’t seek redress at the state level – you have to go through the federal system, which is harder and costlier.

9. Rrgh! Okay, how about Republicans? Is it legal to discriminate against Republicans?

All right, smart-aleck.

10. No, seriously. Can I ban Republicans from eating in my restaurant?

Well…actually, yes. But not because of House Bill 2. Party affiliation has never been a protected class, so technically you’ve always been able to do that.

11. Has anyone tried doing that?

Not to my knowledge. But I think if you ask a Republican, they’ll tell you half of Carrboro’s been doing it for decades.

12. Ha ha.

Hey, you try being a Republican in Carrboro.

13. All right, back to being serious. House Bill 2 bans discrimination on the basis of…what again?

Race, religion, color, national origin, biological sex, and sometimes age and disability.

14. Okay, suppose I get discriminated against for my religion. I can still sue, right?


15. WHAT?!

According to sections 3.2 and 3.3 of the bill, “no person may bring any civil action” if they experience discrimination, even when it comes to the categories where discrimination is explicitly banned. So no, you’re not allowed to sue in state court.

16. That’s bul!&@%*!

Hey, watch it, bub.

17. Are there any other states that do that?

Yes. Mississippi.

18. Literally the only other state is Mississippi?

Yes. North Carolina and Mississippi are now the only states in the US that do not allow you to sue in state court if you experience discrimination.

19. Sigh. Okay, so what can I do?

Well, you can still sue in federal court, if it’s a category that’s covered by federal law. But again, that’s much harder and way more expensive.

20. Is there anything I can do on the state level?

Yes. House Bill 2 authorizes the state’s Human Relations Commission to “receive, investigate, and conciliate complaints of discrimination in public accommodations.” So if you experience discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Human Relations Commission.

21. Didn’t the General Assembly try to eliminate the Human Relations Commission just last year?

Yes, they did.

22. Unbelievable.

Look, why are you focusing on all this discrimination stuff? This bill is about sickos in bathrooms, remember?

23. Okay, fine. Let’s go there. What exactly is House Bill 2 supposed to protect us from?

House Bill 2 protects us from sexual predators who might claim to be “transgender” in order to go into women’s restrooms and commit acts of peeping or even assault.

24. Isn’t there already a law against peeping and assault?

Yes. But sexual predators can’t be trusted to obey the law.

25. But they can be trusted to obey this one?

That’s the idea.

26. So, evil people will break all kinds of laws, but they’ll obey a little sign on the door. Isn’t that basically the same dumb logic conservatives rail against when we talk about gun-free school zones?

Hey, you liberals are being inconsistent too, you know.

27. Fair enough. There are already more than 200 cities in the US that allow people to use the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, like Charlotte was trying to do. Has this been an issue in any of those cities?

No. There was one guy in Seattle who went into a women’s locker room, apparently as a form of protest (he was dressed as a man and never claimed to be transgender), but other than that, there have been zero reported incidents.

28. So all this is because people are worried that something might happen, even though it’s never happened in 200 other cities?


29. Great. Okay, so let’s talk about enforcement. If all these people want to use the restroom, where will they have to go?

House Bill 2


Biologically, those are all women. House Bill 2 requires them to use the ladies’ room.

30. Wait, really? House Bill 2 requires all of these people…

House Bill 2


…to use the ladies‘ room?

Yes. But there is a caveat. If you have a sex change, you can go through the process of having your birth certificate altered. So if those people have had their birth certificates altered, they can use the men’s room.

Think You Can Enforce House Bill 2? Take This Easy Quiz!


31. But if they haven’t? They’d be required to use the ladies’ room?

Yes. For your safety and protection.

32. So House Bill 2 requires us to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender listed on our birth certificate. Are we supposed to carry our birth certificates around now?

Of course not.

33. So how are we planning on enforcing this?

They didn’t really think that far ahead.

34. Okay, say I’m a woman, and I’m out with my six-year-old son, and one of us has to use the restroom. Can I bring my son in the women’s room?

Yes. As long as your son is under seven, you can bring him into the women’s room.

35. Glad they thought of that, at least.

Oh, they actually didn’t. The original bill didn’t have that exception. It was added as an amendment after a state legislator brought it up.

36. What if my son is eight years old?

Then he’ll have to go into the men’s room by himself, or else wait outside alone while you use the women’s room.

37. I have to leave my son standing there alone outside a public bathroom?

Yes. For his safety and protection.

38. Why did they make seven the cutoff age, anyway?

Why are you asking so many questions?

39. This all seems ridiculous.

Look, we need this to protect privacy. Women have the right to privacy, you know.

40. Women have the right to privacy?

Don’t you go making this a birth control thing.

41. Is House Bill 2 even constitutional?

Good question. In Romer v. Evans (1996), the Supreme Court struck down a Colorado law that banned local governments from protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. That’s because the law treated gays and lesbians unequally, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The justices said Colorado only needed to provide a “rational basis” for the unequal treatment, but they couldn’t find one.

House Bill 2 basically does the exact same thing that Colorado’s law does, so there’s a chance the Supreme Court will rule the same way. On the other hand, Colorado’s law explicitly singled out gays and lesbians by name, whereas House Bill 2 just omits them from a list of protected classes. So the Court may rule differently here. (Two other states, Arkansas and Tennessee, also have similar laws that ban local governments from protecting gays and lesbians.)

Either way, there will definitely be a lot of litigation over this, and the state will have to pay a lot of money to defend it in court.

42. My tax dollars, you mean.


43. Is there anything good about this bill?

Why yes. House Bill 2 establishes a uniform statewide anti-discrimination policy, so the law is now exactly the same from city to city.

44. What’s the benefit of that?


45. What else does the bill do?

Glad you asked. We’ve covered Part 1, which deals with bathrooms, and Part 3, the anti-discrimination stuff. I haven’t even mentioned Part 2, which bans local governments from passing living wage ordinances or regulating hours, benefits, and a bunch of other stuff.

46. “Bunch of other stuff”?

Yes, “such as the wage levels of employees, hours of labor, payment of earned wages, benefits, leave, or well-being of minors in the workforce.”

47. What does any of that have to do with sickos in bathrooms?


48. Is House Bill 2 more sweeping than expected?

No. Let’s be honest, we all knew they were going to do this.

49. Will the General Assembly ever call a special session to bring teacher salaries up to the national average?

Ha! Good one.

50. Anything else I need to know?

Yes. Election Day is Tuesday, November 8.


EDIT: Thanks for all your comments! I’ve edited the FAQ list to fix one error: a reader pointed out that HB2 actually does make an exception (sections 1.2d and 1.3d) for caregivers who enter an opposite-gender restroom to assist someone with a disability.

Another reader noted that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that the federal ban on sex-based discrimination also includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity – so if you’re fired for being gay or transgender, you can (currently) file a claim on the federal level with the EEOC. That’s a matter of statutory interpretation, though, not the law itself: federal law still doesn’t specify sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories, so the EEOC could change its interpretation at a later date (say, with the next presidential administration). This is also a subject of ongoing litigation, so a court could overrule the EEOC in the future too.

In any event, the EEOC only covers employment – so regardless of how they happen to interpret the law, businesses can still refuse to serve you for being gay, anywhere in the state of North Carolina.


NC Leaders Voice Opposition to Charlotte LGBTQ Ordinance

The Charlotte City Council extended the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance to members of the LGBTQ community at its meeting on Monday night.

The 7-4 approval vote came after several hours of public comment.

The piece of the discussion that drew the most attention was that the ordinance will allow transgender residents to use either the men’s or women’s bathroom, based on which gender the individual identifies with.

A similar ordinance was put before the council last year. It failed by a 6-5 vote.

North Carolina leaders, including Governor Pat McCrory, have voiced opposition to this action by the council and have suggested that the legislature will work to undo what the state’s largest city has done.

House Speaker Tim Moore issued the following statement on Tuesday morning:

“The Charlotte City Council has gone against all common sense and has created a major public safety issue by opening all bathrooms and changing rooms to the general public. This ordinance is impossible to regulate as intended, and creates undue regulatory burdens on private businesses. I join my conservative colleagues and Governor McCrory in exploring legislative intervention to correct this radical course.”

Lee Storrow is the executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network and was formerly a member of the Chapel Hill Town Council. He spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about what this ordinance does and the legal standing municipalities have to implement these changes.


Kleinschmidt Attends Mayors Conference

The 82nd Annual Meeting of the US Conference of Mayors began today in Dallas, Texas, and will last until Monday, June 23rd. Here, mayors from across the U.S. will gather to discuss hard-hitting issues, including the economy of cities across the nation, education, transportation, housing, climate change, help for returning Veterans, minimum wage, and more. Among the more than 200 mayors in attendance of this conference is Chapel Hill’s own Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt.

“It’s a time for mayors from urban areas around the country to come together and speak with a voice, to send messages,” says Mayor Kleinschmidt, “not only to our local communities and states, but also to our federal government about what important things are happening in cities.”

Mayor Kleinschmidt says that one of the biggest topics of discussion this year is the relatively complex issue of net neutrality. Chapel Hill is currently undergoing its own significant changes regarding Internet accessibility with the recent alliance made with AT&T and the potential joint efforts with Google to create interconnectivity across the Triangle.

“It’s a conversation that can be difficult to have,” says Mayor Kleinschmidt, “but we want to make sure that access to broadband is available to everyone, and that there aren’t slow roads and fast roads for information and, depending on how big your wallet is, which road you are able to be on, and that there’s not discrimination among the content on the Internet. Being one of the first communities in the country to be able to access that, it’s important for us to be at the table and talk about the importance of net neutrality as we move forward; it’s going to be a big conversation here.”

In addition to co-sponsoring the net neutrality resolution at this year’s conference, Mayor Kleinschmidt has also said he is also a member of the Mayors for Peace group where he will sponsor the resolution that seeks to utilize the peace dividend that will reinvest towards returning Veterans, education, and transportation to benefit the community, as well as a LGBT equality resolution in order to educate his fellow colleagues around the country about the subject.

On the final day of the conference, the mayors will cast their votes and decide how these various national issues will be handled in their respective cities going forward and what subjects will take priority upon reconvening next year. Mayor Kleinschmidt says he is proud to work alongside these mayors from across the U.S. to improve their own communities.

“Here, I can stand with hundreds of other mayors from cities of varying sizes around the country, and we can make a statement, and we can demand to be heard,” says Mayor Kleinschmidt. “We’re going to stand together and hopefully make sure that the common sense policies are prevailed in that controversy.”


UNC LGBTQ Director “Ecstatic” About SCOTUS Ruling

Terri Phoenix (Courtesy of UNC)

CHAPEL HILL – UNC’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) director, Terri Phoenix, joined Ron Stutts on the WCHL Thursday Morning News to express her reaction to  the Supreme Court’s 5-4 votes Wednesday.

***Listen to the Interview***

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act, which recognized marriage at the federal level as only between a man and a woman, as unconstitutional. It also denied ruling on Proposition 8 in California.

“I’m ecstatic,” Phoenix says. “It was a decision that we really hoped would come through.  It does not address whether or the not the current state ban is unconstitutional, but it does say that federal recognition of marriage is something that all citizens should have access to.”

Phoenix says she looks forward to making more progress in North Carolina. The Supreme Court ruling on DOMA seeded the right of the state to define lawful marriage. Terri Phoenix expresses some concerns about what this has on people who have recognized marriages in other states.

“The question is what’s going to happen for people who have a marriage license from a state that recognizes marriage in terms of federal benefits if you live in North Carolina?” asks Phoenix.

Phoenix legally married her partner in Massachusetts, giving her concern about receiving federal benefits while residing in North Carolina. The Supreme Court ruling does not address how states that do not recognize same-sex marriage should handle same-sex couples like Phoenix.