Same-sex families find community at festival

tgrubb@newsobserver.comMay 4, 2013 

— Ashley Broadway told a downtown crowd at Saturday’s Out! Raleigh festival that she thinks LGBT families will one day be treated like everyone else.

“I feel in my soul that in just a few years, we will not be discriminated against – that we will have all the rights of our heterosexual friends nationwide and in North Carolina,” she said. “But, again, we can’t just sit back and wait for something to happen.”

Broadway’s remarks kicked off the third annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender street festival, sponsored in part by the LGBT Center of Raleigh. Despite a chilly start, organizers expected more than 15,000 people by the end of the day.

The festival was founded in 2010 to be more low-key than other gay pride events and focused largely on families, said James Miller, executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh.

Broadway was chosen to headline the event after she challenged the military’s treatment of same-sex spouses last year.

Broadway and her partner, Lt. Col. Heather Mack, based at Ft. Bragg, married in November. Despite sharing 15 years and two children together, Broadway was denied membership in the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses Club. The Pentagon doesn’t recognize same-sex spouses.

So, Broadway, director of family affairs for the American Military Partner Association, and others campaigned to change the rules. By Oct. 1, all same-sex spouses are expected to have military identification and other benefits.

Although LGBT individuals have more rights now, it doesn’t include family ties, she said.

“God forbid, Heather, if something happens to her on the way back to Ft. Bragg tomorrow or even when she deploys to Afghanistan later this year, I have no legal right over (our children) and no legal say,” she said.

The festival attracted families, who munched on street food, listened to music or visited the Marbles Kids Museum-sponsored KidsZone. Many same-sex families declined comment.

Clayton resident Beth Daniels said she and her 9-month-old son, Mason, were there to meet friends and show their support.

Daniels is not a member of the LGBT community, but their friends – Mason’s godmothers – are a lesbian couple she befriended in college.

“We love them so much, we want to be here to support them,” she said. “We want to be sure they can get married one day.”

Those connections with heterosexual allies are vital to the struggle, both Miller and Broadway said.

“(The festival is) putting a human face on the LGBT of the Triangle,” he said. “If you know one person who is LGBT, it will change your ideas about how we affect policy.”

Last year’s event was more somber because the community faced the specter of Amendment One, Miller said. Voters approved amending the state’s Constitution in May 2012 to reflect a traditional definition of marriage.

The crowd this year is more energetic and excited, he said.

“Some people just want to go out and be seen and to be public with who they are,” Miller said. “I think that’s very important to the mental health of this community, is to actually be who you are and to see everyone else around you accept it.”

LGBT Center co-founder and board Chairman Glen Madders said the city of Raleigh also has been supportive. A strong gay community is good for attracting new businesses and visitors, he said.

A few folks in the crowd held a different opinion. The festival is an opportunity to share God’s message of love and forgiveness, they said.

Davidson County resident Fred Hege spent a few minutes listening to Broadway and others. He was in town for a Gideon’s International event and saw the festival as an opportunity to suggest an alternative. He wasn’t there to condemn anyone, he said.

“The word of God says that marriage is between one man and one woman. That’s what I believe,” Hege said. “I love these people. I care enough to be out here, but I don’t have to agree with their philosophies.”

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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