Leading from the Left

Friday, October 05, 2007

More on 20 Years of Change

Yesterday, I wrote about the 20th anniversary of Joe Herzenberg's history-making election to the Chapel Hill Town Council. Following in Joe's footsteps have been a number of successful openly gay or lesbian candidates for office in Orange County. Without Joe breaking through that barrier, the road would have been longer for the rest of us.

But what about the issues? How do we stand under the law? And what about attitudes, have they changed?

Let's start with the easier of the two, issues. Beginning in the early 1990's there was a consistent march towards equal treatment under the law in Orange County. Carrboro added sexual orientation to it's non-discrimination policy in 1991 or 1992. Then in 1994, after I was elected to the Board of Aldermen, Carrboro became the first municipality in the South to provide domestic health benefits to the domestic partners of it's employees. We were the first to treat all families equally, regardless of what how that family was defined.

Chapel Hill followed suit about a year later, and Orange County didn't get it's act together until 2004 or 05.

It's hard to overestate the importance of these changes as they effected more than just a few families in a couple of relatively small towns in central North Carolina. We were part of the beginning of a movement, a movement to halt discrimination against lesbian and gay families. At the time few people understood that if you offer family health benefits to one class of people (straight) but not to another (LGBT), you are discriminating.

Now, 15 years later, there is generally support in the US for domestic partner or civil union legislation. But thirteen years ago, the night the Board of Aldermen passed the South's first domestic partner program in a room full of lesbian, gay, and progresive activists, it was inconceivable to us that the rest of the country would catch up so quickly.

in my next post, I'll address the tougher question: have attitudes changed? How much have they changed?