Coming out before the mid-1990s usually meant losing child custody and often visiting rights. In the 1970s and 80s the lesbian community of Chapel Hill and Durham had fundraisers to help mothers with court expenses. By the 1990s in the Triangle, lesbian and gay parents had a much better chance of keeping their children and receiving fair treatment.
Before the 1980s, most children in LGBTQ+ families were from previous heterosexual relationships. Beginning in the 1980s some lesbians chose to become parents by insemination with sperm of a known or anonymous donor, and both lesbians and gay men carried out single-parent adoptions, then parented the adopted child jointly with their partner. However, regardless of how same-sex couples had children, only one parent was a legal parent and no laws protected the parental rights of the other parent. To insure that both parents would have rights to their children, many different legal approaches were tried, with varying degrees of success. It was not until 2004 that attorney Sharon Thompson, a Durham family law practitioner and former state legislator, developed the legal basis of second-parent adoption to address this problem. She estimates that over 300 children were adopted from 2004 to 2010, when the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that second parent adoptions were not permitted under NC law.
Even after the United States Supreme Court decision holding that states cannot prohibit marriages between same-sex couples, same-sex parents still face problems and challenges in establishing legal parentage for both parents. Although both parents now may be listed on a child's birth certificate, the parental rights of the non-biological parent can still be challenged. Because of this possibility, non-biological parents still need to do a step-parent adoption.
Recollection about creating family through The Newsletter
In this written recollection, Sherry Kinlaw remembers the importance of the community created by The Newsletter.
Transcript The friends I made while working on The Newsletter formed my new family. My fellow lesbian feminists felt like a special secret club. I remember the first Pride March in Durham back in the 70s [actually 80s]. I was a marshal. One of the women marching was caught in a photo that made its way into the newspaper. She lost her job! Everything we did was undercover and out of sight… . We saw ourselves as radical feminists. I still do. Feminary eventually faded and The Newsletter remained viable for many years. This publication was on time and consistent. These were my two priorities. It grew in size and covered many topics, but not in so much depth that it became burdensome. Lesbians were welcome to join the group and some of us left to pursue other interests as they became available. I started a business.
Can you imagine a bunch of young women sitting in a circle in someone’s living room or around a kitchen table to discuss patriarchy, gender bias, and issues of great concern for women and lesbians alike? I imagine you can, because women have gathered in this manner for a long, long time. I imagine women who feel oppressed or on the outside of the norm are still meeting in this manner and having these types of discussions, in private, all over the globe.
NC Lesbian and Gay Health Project and HIV/AIDS, 1982
In 1982, a group of four Durham-based activists founded the North Carolina Lesbian and Gay Health Project (LGHP) in response to widespread stories of homophobic treatment by health care providers. The project was notable in being a collaboration between lesbians and gay men at at time when the two groups often maintained separate activities and organizations, and in being a project focused on gay health issues before the arrival of the AIDS crisis.
In its early days LGHP created a telephone referral network and and presented “Homo 101” workshops to health care providers. With the onset of AIDS, much of their work began to focus on its impacts. LGHP supported the start-up of a number of other organizations focused on HIV, including the Piedmont HIV Health Care Consortium, the AIDS Community Residence Association, and ACT-UP/Triangle.
Some local gay and lesbian activists held protests at the offices of the drug company Burroughs Wellcome in Research Triangle Park, NC. The corporation had developed AZT, an antiretroviral drug used against HIV/AIDS, and the activists charged that the prices were set too high to be accessible to many people who needed the medication to survive. For more information, see the NCLGHP papers at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
In this audio clip from oral history with Mignon Hooper, she speaks about how her time working at the National AIDS Hotline, then based in RTP, allowed her to develop relationships with people living with HIV.
Transcript It was a way for me to connect with other people who were out and proud. I was out but not quite as proud because I was still fearful of all the vulnerabilities. But it was really great to be immersed in a group of folks who were proud of who they were, who were fighting this battle against HIV and AIDS together, and who were supporting each other in it. It was also a privilege to work with people who were living with HIV who helped me understand what it means to be a friend, a real friend, in those situations. And I became very good friends with a man by the name of Jim Cole, James [??] Cole, a man of Norwegian heritage. He and I became good friends; we were very, very close, and we were bosom buddies. At one point he said, “You know, if things were different, you and I probably would have been married.” And I said, “You’re probably right. Even though you’re a little bit of a wimp, you know. [laughter] You’d have to man up a little bit. But you’re probably right.” Because he was just such a love.
And I met him as a co-worker, and in the end I was changing his diapers. Right down off of 15-501 in his cute little house. Friends and I were taking turns caring for him. He wanted to be in his home and not in a hospital or hospice center. And we cared for him, we took turns, we tag-teamed. And so we took turns, I would find someone to babysit my dog so I could go stay at his house. I would pay someone to babysit my dog, go stay at his house, and we bought baby monitors so we had baby monitors in each room. And so when I heard him getting up–even though I told him, “Do not try to get up without assistance.” Because he’d lost so much weight, even though he was like 6’3’’, he was too frail to try to walk. So I would walk him into the bathroom and let him stand there and I would step outside and tell him to call me when he was ready, and I’d walk him back to the bed.
But it was an opportunity for me to understand the epidemic in a much more intimate way. And also to understand what it means not to be a queer separatist, a lesbian-feminist separatist. I was able to, first of all, befriend this man, and then absolutely love him, and then be there for him when his own family rejected him. The rejection for being queer didn’t come anywhere near the rejection for being infected with HIV, and told not to come home for future Christmases, because, “We have to think about the grandbabies, after all.”
Southerners on New Ground, 1993-present
In 1993, for the first time, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual “Creating Change” conference was held in the South—in Durham, North Carolina. Included in the program were lesbian feminist writer, activist, and scholar Mab Segrest delivering a keynote address about the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a workshop presented by black and white progressive southern lesbians on living and organizing in the South. These two events led to six southern lesbians founding Southerners On New Ground (SONG). Its mission statement declares that “SONG is a home for LGBTQ liberation across all lines of race, class, abilities, age, culture, gender, and sexuality in the South. We build, sustain, and connect a southern regional base of LBGTQ people in order to transform the region through strategic projects and campaigns developed in response to the current conditions in our communities.” While SONG is no longer headquartered in Durham, it remains a prominent representative of Southern LGBTQ people on the national scene. See the papers of SONG, Mandy Carter, and Mab Segrest at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library for more information.
Domestic Partner Benefits, Durham City and County Government
The city of Durham began offering domestic partner benefits to its employees in 2002, the third in state to do so. In 2003 the county followed suit.
In late March 2004 two Durham men, Perry Pike and Richard Mullinax, applied for and were denied a marriage license at the Durham County Register of Deeds office. They were turned away because the state's Defense of Marriage Act clearly stated that marriage is between a man and a woman. The couple filed a complaint in District Court, setting in motion the first lawsuit against the state of North Carolina to assert a right of same-sex marriage.
A district court judge dismissed the lawsuit in May, saying that the case involved constitutional questions that belonged in a higher court. Mullinax and Pike had indicated they would pursue the matter in Superior Court, but dropped their legal efforts because of the costs involved. Their lawyer, Cheri Patrick, commented that, “Hearts and minds have opened, and Perry and Richard have moved the conversation on civil marriage forward in North Carolina. The dialogue has just begun.” Read article about Perry and Richard applying for license in Durham County.
View All of Us North Carolina: The Queer of Color Fight Against Amendment One. The film is a documentary by Sowjanya Kudva about an organization founded in Durham to defeat Amendment One and connect North Carolinians across a wide range of issues.
In May 2012, North Carolina voters approved Amendment One, an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution stating that “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” While state law already banned same-sex marriage, the amendment went one step further, denying recognition of any civil union, regardless of gender of the parties involved. However, 70% of Durham voters opposed the amendment, and Durham activists founded “All of Us NC” to oppose the amendment and work in the campaign against it.
In July 2014, the Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban, setting a precedent for every state in the district, including North Carolina. In October 2014, the US District Court in Asheville declared Amendment One unconstitutional, allowing North Carolina same-sex couples to be legally married for the first time.
Durhamites Chantelle and Marcie Fisher-Borne were the lead plaintiffs in another lawsuit against Amendment One, this one filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of North Carolina to request the court’s recognition of same-sex couples’ rights to second-parent adoptions.
El Centro Hispano’s LGBTQ+ groups
El Centro Hispano, a community center for Latino immigrants, became a pioneer in the South when it started its LGBT programming in the early 2000s. It started with one general LGBT group and within 10 years was home to four groups—men who have sex with men, transgender women, lesbians, and LGBT. As the number of local Latino LGBTQ folks grew, they also found a home at the bar El Chino Latino, which hosted regular shows featuring travesti performers (similar in style to drag queen shows).
In this audio clip, Alex Cordova talks about the way that he sees El Centro Hispano’s different LGBTQ groups come together and grow over time.
Transcript Lo que a mi me ha hecho muy feliz es que todo los grupos al final son una familia. Eso es bien importante. Una se enferma, ya nos ha tocado ir al hospital ha estar días enteros con una de las chicas que está enferma. Nos ha tocado ir a ver a la mamá de una de ellas que está enferma. Como nos ha tocado que tienen su nueva pareja y van a comprar casa o se van a mover de casa. O su hermana va a celebrar su quinceañera o su cumple, o sea esa necesidad de pertenecer, familiar, eso si me gusta. Y ellas–lo les llamo y les digo ‘Oiga, que fulana va cumplir años.’ ‘Ok’ dicen. Y estamos diez, treinta, cuarenta personas juntas haciendo esa comunidad. Y eso verdad es parte de todos los grupos. Si viene cierto, algunos vienen a los grupos y no quieren ser vistos, no quieren ser fotografiados. Pero en un proceso pasan los años y ellos son los mismos que toman las fotos para los demás grupos. Y es un proceso muy lindo. Es como tener una organización que tenga kindergarden y de repente los gradúes.
What has made me really happy is that at the end of the day, all the groups are one family. That is very important. We’ve spent entire days at the hospital with one of the girls who’s sick. We’ve gone to see the mom of one of them who was sick. And when one of them has a new partner and they’re going to buy a house, or move houses, or their sister is going to celebrate her quinceanera or birthday. That need to belong to a family–that, I like. And I’ll call them and tell them, “Hey, so-and-so is going to have a birthday.” And they say, “Okay.” And we’re 10, 30, 40 people together creating that community. And that’s really part of all the groups. Some people come to the groups and don’t want to be seen, they don’t want to be photographed. But a few years will pass and they’ll be the ones taking the photos for the other groups. And it’s a beautiful process. It’s like having an organization that has kindergarten and suddenly they graduate.