SBI Accuses Five of Immoral Acts
Before the 1970s the only articles to be found about LGBTQ+ people in mainstream newspapers focused on encounters with law enforcement or homosexuals as victims of violent crimes.
I-85 Rest Areas Said Problems
Before the 1970s the only articles to be found about LGBTQ+ people in mainstream newspapers focused on encounters with law enforcement or homosexuals as victims of violent crimes.
Orange-Durham Coalition for Battered Women (ODCBW), now Durham Crisis Response Center, circa 1976–present
The Coalition for Battered Women first counseled and later also provided shelter for survivors of domestic violence, and offered other services including educational sessions for members of the police force, men who were abusers, and other groups such as churches and women’s clubs. Lesbians were an integral part of the creation of ODCBW and served on its board and in leadership positions. The first organization in Durham to provide help for women experiencing domestic violence, ODCBW literally saved women’s lives.
Durham Rape Crisis Center (DRCC), now Durham Crisis Response Center, 1978 to date
The women’s movement set the stage for the anti-rape movement of the 1970s, in which rape was redefined as an act of violence carried out to assert power and domination, rather than as a sex crime. From its beginnings, the DRCC provided support services for rape survivors, including a hotline, and lobbied newspapers not to print names of rape victims in the paper. Lesbians were integrally involved in creating DRCC, serving on the board and in positions of leadership. It merged with Orange-Durham Coalition for Battered Women in 2001 to become the Durham Crisis Response Center: Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.
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 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.
Whole Women Press, 1976-1981
Leslie Kahn and Nancy Blood founded Whole Women Press as a way for lesbian feminists to control their own stories and print items important to them. In addition to small jobs for local feminist organizations and businesses, they printed Break de Chains of Legalized U. $. Slavery—a book written by women incarcerated at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women in Raleigh and compiled and distributed by a coalition of members of Triangle Area Lesbian Feminists and the North Carolina Hard Times Prison Project in 1976. They also printed Sleeping Beauty: A Lesbian Fairy Tale by Vicki Gabriner, Sign Language by Monica Raymond, Crazy Quilt by Susan Wood Thompson, and a number of issues of the journals Feminary and Sinister Wisdom. Other women who ran the press over time were Eleanor Holland, Cris South, and Jackie T.
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.
Black and White Men Together (BWMT)
Several groups formed in the 1980s to address race in the LGBTQ+ community and create social, cultural, and educational spaces for African-American gays and lesbians. Among these were Black and White Men Together, led by partners Gary Lipscomb and Joseph Fedrowitz. The organization featured film nights, dances, educational play shops, sports-related events, and more for the community.
Triangle Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays
Several groups formed in the 1980s to address race in the LGBTQ+ community and create social, cultural, and educational spaces for African-American gays and lesbians. Among these were the Triangle Coalition for Black Lesbians and Gays, led by Mandy Carter and Gary Lipscomb.
City of Durham Nondiscrimination Policy, 1987
In 1987, Betsy Barton joined the city of Durham’s Human Relations Commission, becoming the first openly lesbian or gay appointed or elected official in Durham. The commission held a public hearing for lesbian and gay people to share their stories of violence, harassment, and discrimination, with Triangle lesbians doing outreach to find people willing to provide testimony. As a result, the city quietly added six new categories, including sexual orientation, to its equal employment opportunity policy in late 1988. The Durham County Equal Employment Opportunity policy goes one step further and includes gender identity and expression. The city instituted domestic partner benefits in October 2002 and Durham County, in September 2003. Duke University first provided domestic partnership benefits in 1994.
Senate Vote ‘90, 1989-1990
Senate Vote ’90, a political action committee, organized a county-by-county LGBT voter registration campaign in an effort to unseat Senator Jesse Helms, who had made attacking the LGBT community a focus of his campaign. Helm’s opponent, Harvey Gantt, Charlotte’s first African-American mayor and a supporter of LGBT rights, won 47% of the vote despite Helms’ long tenure and popularity among conservatives. Political activist and lesbian Mandy Carter managed Senate Vote ’90 and formed a similar organization, North Carolina Mobilization ’96, when Harvey Gantt ran against Helms again in 1996.
Lesbian Avengers: January 1993-circa 1995
The Lesbian Avengers began in New York City in 1992 as a direct action group focused on issues crucial to lesbian survival and visibility. The Durham chapter’s activities included a Valentine’s Day 1993 march supporting lesbians and gays in the military and a stroll-in on Mother’s Day 1994 to support custody and adoption rights. The local group participated under their own banner in the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
To learn more, go to www.lesbianavengers.com
Garden Variety Lesbians, May 1993
Garden Variety Lesbians was an action taken by the Lesbian Avengers in response to lesbian bashing by NC senator Jesse Helms. In 1993, when then-president Bill Clinton wanted to appoint ‘out’ lesbian Roberta Achtenberg as assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Helms held up the confirmation, stating, “I’m not going to put a lesbian in a position like that. If you want to call me a bigot, fine,” and adding, “She’s not your garden-variety lesbian. She’s a militant, activist, mean lesbian.” In response, Anna Clark, Katherine O’Brien, Barb Smalley, Catherine NIcholson, and perhaps others went to Helms’ office in protest.
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.
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.
In 2011 several Durham activists started an initiative to increase bathroom access for trans and gender-nonconforming people. Upon discovering that the plumbing code used by North Carolina restricted the ability of small businesses to have single-stall, gender-neutral restrooms, Durham Unstalled members brought about a change in the statewide code.
North Carolina’s highly controversial House Bill 2, passed in a one-day specially convened legislative session on March 23, 2016, set back LGBTQ+ rights in the state, as well as harming a wide range of other people. HB2 reverses a Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance that included the right to use the public restrooms that correspond with one’s gender identity. HB2 also limits municipalities’ abilities to protect people from discrimination, such as that based on sexual orientation or gender identity; eliminates the ability of workers to sue in state court over discrimination or wrongful termination; and limits municipalities’ abilities to raise the minimum wage. The law serves as a powerful reminder that the battle for LGBTQ+ rights is still in progress.