Great Southeastern Lesbian Conference, Atlanta, May 24-26, 1975, and the “Atlanta Five”
Twenty to thirty Triangle women made the trip to Atlanta for the first Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance-sponsored conference, the theme of which was “Building a Lesbian Community.” Five Durham women were arrested late one night at a coffee shop, officially charged with “creating turmoil and criminal trespassing,” but apparently the charges were largely based on their appearance and talking back to an undercover officer. Lesbians at the conference raised funds for the $1,100 dollar per person bonds and lawyers’ fees and charges were dropped. This run-in with the law reinforced to many that being a lesbian could be dangerous and made the need to organize even more important to many Triangle Area Lesbian Feminist members.
First Southeastern Gay Conference, 1976, Chapel Hill
Three hundred people attended the first Southeastern Gay Conference, which was co-sponsored by the Carolina Gay Association, Duke Gay Alliance, and Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists. Under the name “Southeastern Conference for Lesbians and Gay Men” in 1977, attendance doubled to 600. It moved around the South for conferences three through nine, returning to Chapel Hill for its 10th anniversary.
First National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, October 14, 1979
The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights helped nationalize the movement for civil rights for LGBTQ+ people. A number of Durhamites made the journey and marched with others from North Carolina.
March against Klan/Nazi Terror, February 2, 1980
On November 3, 1979, Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party members killed five protesters marching in a “Death to the Klan” demonstration organized by the Communist Workers Party in Greensboro, NC. The Durham-based February 2nd Mobilization Committee, a project of the National Anti-Klan Network and a coalition of other progressive and civil rights groups, organized another march in Greensboro in response to the killings. This flyer announces that demonstration.
With snow on the ground, LGBTQ folks marched under a “Queers Against Racism” banner to support a renewed civil rights movement. A member of Durham’s War Resisters League Southeast, Faygele ben Miriam, wore a shirt featuring a bulls eye and the words, “Commie, Jewish, Queer.” This event brought lesbians and gays into the public eye as visible and vocal members of the coalition against the Klan and Neo-Nazis and forged ties between them and Durham’s progressive groups.
Organizing for the 80s Conference, St. Joseph’s AME Church, March 28-29, 1981
The “Organizing for the 80s” conference was orchestrated by an ad hoc group called Committee to Save Our Democracy, made up of civil rights, low income rights, environmental, and women’s rights groups. Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists (TALF) had a table at the event, and lesbian and gay rights were one of the topics speakers addressed to the crowd of more than 500 attendees. This was one of the first events at which lesbians were at the table with other progressive groups in Durham.
Little River Attacks and Vigil at Durham County Judicial Building, April 1981
On April 12, 1981, two men attacked four other men at a swimming hole on the Little River, four miles north of Durham, at a site popular with gay men. The attackers shouted homophobic slurs and threatened to kill gay people. The four men were badly beaten, and one, Ronald Antonevitch, who did not identify as gay, died three days later of his wounds.
In response, approximately 125 lesbians, gay men, and allies rallied in protest of violence against homosexuals. While lesbian and gay men wanted the attackers punished, many did not want the death penalty.
Our Day Out, June 27, 1981
North Carolina’s first gay and lesbian march was organized after the hate crime at Little River. Called “Our Day Out,” it was held June 27, 1981, planned by Debbie Swanner and David Ransom in response to the violence. Around 300 marchers traversed Durham’s downtown loop, some with bags over their heads to avoid being recognized. Dannia Southerland and Steve Summerford of War Resisters League (WRL) coordinated the peacekeepers, and numerous police were present because of threatened Klan violence, which did not occur.
Sherri Zann Rosenthal, assistant city attorney for Durham, had this to say in qnotes, an LGBT arts, entertainment, and news publication based in Charlotte:
Transcript “Our Day Out” was the very first march and rally in 1981, and yes I was there. It was fascinating because there weren’t very many of us marching down the street and a bunch of obviously very poor folks were looking at us very oddly.
“Our Day Out” came in the wake of anti-gay attacks at the Little River in Durham, which resulted in the death of one man, Ron Antonevitch. But there were years of community organizing in other areas that made that first event possible.
Many had been active in movements for other people’s rights—civil rights, all kinds of voter registration drives, protesting against racial discrimination, but it was after the Antonevitch murder that more public organizing around coming out as being gay began to happen.
Women’s Peace Walk, June 6-July 4, 1983
Mandy Carter, staff person at the War Resisters League’s Southeast Regional Office and black lesbian political activist, organized the Women’s Peace Walk to draw attention to and protest the buildup of nuclear arms in Europe. The walk began in front of the Durham County Library and ended at the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice in Seneca, New York. Four Durham lesbians were among the women who completed the 600-plus mile walk.
Out Today, Out to Stay, First Annual Pride March, June 28, 1986
A group that would become the Triangle Lesbian and Gay Alliance coordinated the first annual Pride march, 1986’s “Out Today, Out to Stay.” Between 600 and 1000 marchers went from Ninth Street to the Durham reservoir on Hillandale and Hillsborough Roads. With many straight allies joining in, this march solidified the links between Durham’s LGBTQ and progressive communities.
June 1986—“Pride Month,” began with an LGBTQ-related literature display at the Durham County Library, which sparked considerable controversy. Mayor Wib Gulley signed a proclamation declaring the week of Pride “anti-discrimination week,” leading to a recall effort spearheaded by members of conservative churches, who formed an organization known as Durham Citizens for Responsible Leadership. Others collected signatures in support of the mayor, and the recall petition failed.
“Ballad of Wib Gulley,” sung to the tune of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett”
Triangle Lesbian and Gay Alliance, founded 1986
The Triangle Lesbian and Gay Alliance (TLGA) formed after the 1986 march to organize future pride marches. Other activities the group engaged in included working to receive anti-discrimination protection for gays and lesbians from the Durham Human Relations Commission and involvement in Sharon Thompson's campaign for NC House. With the founding of the group, a new generation of younger activists became the drivers of the local movement.
After the first pride festival, a wave of similar festivals was held across the state. For the next decade, PrideFest, organized by TLGA, alternated among several North Carolina cities before becoming an annual Triangle event in 2000, with the parade always held in Durham. In 2001 the festival moved from June to September. A list of the names of the yearly marches/parades can be found here.
Great March on Washington, DC, October 11, 1987
Over half a million people attended the second “March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights,” including a huge delegation from North Carolina, many of whom were from Durham. It has come to be called "The Great March" because of its size, scope, and historical significance. The AIDS quilt was displayed publicly for the first time at this event.
Durham’s politically active LGBTQ community has had a strong presence at other marches on Washington, including the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation, October 1993; the Millennium March on Washington, April 2000; and the National Equality March October 11, 2009.
Sixth “Creating Change” Conference, November 10-14, 1993
Durham hosted the annual conference of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) in November 1993—its first time in the South, and 1200 lesbians and gay men attended! Sponsored by the NGLTF Policy Institute, the conference is a forum for organizers and activists to share skills and dialogue about the gay, lesbian, and bisexual movement and to discuss strategies for the coming year, according to conference organizers. The event made a strong statement that even in right-wing senator Jesse Helms’s backyard, LGBT folks were visible and organizing.