LGBT rights supporters rally in the rain in Charlotte
Love rained down on the streets of Charlotte, N.C., as 600 people marched from the convention center, site of the Unitarian Univeralist Association’s 2011 General Assembly, to Marshall Park to rally for rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Heavy rain also came down in Charlotte, bringing the rally to a hasty end, just as UUA President Peter Morales took to the podium to offer a prayer.
But even with soaking wet Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts, the crowd was in generally good spirits. That’s despite discontent before the public witness event that the 10-minute march from the convention center to the park was not accessible to people of limited mobility. Standing on the Side of Love organizers had originally planned an event at the convention center for people in wheelchairs and scooters. However, after complaints that a separate event was not equal, organizers invited people with disabilities to take a taxi to the park and submit their receipts to the UUA for reimbursement.
The march began in the sunshine, with people streaming from the convention center in yellow Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts. Songs broke out along the way, with sections of the crowd singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “We’re a Gentle Angry People.”
The interfaith rally included local clergy supportive of LGBT rights, including the Rev. Nathan King, a United Church of Christ minister from Concord, N.C., who was carrying a sign that said, “My God Believes in Equality,” with rainbow-striped lettering. He had come after hearing about the rally from Equality North Carolina, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, which is battling an anti-LGBT amendment being considered by the North Carolina legislature.
As the marchers reached Marshall Park, they sat on the hillside and along the edges of the plaza to listen to local, national, and international clergy speak out for equal right for LGBT people. The Rev. Mark Kiyimba, minister of the UU Church of Kampala, Uganda, told the crowd that when it comes to discrimination against LGBT people, “Enough is enough.” In the spring of 2011, the Uganda Parliament had considered a bill that would have made homosexuality a crime that in some cases would be punishable by the death penalty. International pressure, including petitions signed by thousands of Americans, is credited with persuading Parliament not to vote on the bill before the legislative session ended.
Loan Tran, a Charlotte high school student and youth board member, spoke out against taunting and bullying. And local clergy members asked North Carolina residents to take postcards to send to their legislators to oppose anti-LBGT measures.
With storm clouds building, the rally was shortened. Morales closed with a prayer, asking people to remember that everyone has worth and dignity and that no one should be marginalized. “We shall prevail,” he concluded. “Amen.”
The crowd responded with Amens, and people began to scurry for the edges of the park. As the skies opened up, musicians led the retreating crowd in song. “There is more love, right here,” they sang.
Suzanne Fast, a delegate from the UU Church of Fort Myers, Fla., uses a wheelchair. She was among the people worried that people with disabilities were being excluded from the rally. “This has happened for several years,” she said, referring to public witness events at past GAs that were difficult for people with disabilities to attend.
Fast took a cab to Marshall Park. But when the rains came and the rally ended early, she had difficulty getting back to her hotel. She waited for a taxi for 20 minutes, as friends stood beside her, putting their knapsacks over her scooter to protect its electronic components from the rain. Before a cab could come, a UU from a local congregation picked her up and drove her to shelter. She stressed the importance of talking about issues of accessibility.
Prior to the rally, Fast had spoken at a workshop held by the UUA Board of Trustees inviting people to share their concerns about the 2012 Justice GA in Phoenix, Ariz. “It’s important to learn from what’s happening here and to not make some of the same mistakes around inclusion over and over.”
As Theresa Soto of Portland, Ore., drove her scooter to the rally, she carried a “Standing on the Side of Love” sign with her own wording on the back. In black marker, she had written, “Sitting on the Side of Love. Handicaps Love, Too.”
People walked around her with great support for the rally. “The LGBT community needs to have the same rights as everybody, period,” said the Rev. Christina Sillari of First Parish in Portland, Maine, UU.
“We look like a big bowl of macaroni and cheese,” said Ellen Quaadgras, a recent graduate of Andover Newton School of Theology, who will be working at First Unitarian Church in Dallas, as she looked out at the stream of yellow t-shirts. She said she hoped the rally “would be a peaceful, loving demonstration that would melt differences on both sides and create mutuality and love.”
Virginia McDonald of the UU Church of Brevard, N.C., put her feelings succinctly: “I never miss the public witness event at GA,” she said.