Marcus Brandon is a voice for equality in NC

July 1, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:

Marcus Brandon gave the N.C. House of Representatives one of its finest moments in recent memory last week. The Democrat from High Point has distinguished himself in many ways during his two terms. He’s not afraid to cross partisan lines to advance issues that he thinks would benefit his constituents, especially those having to do with education.

He’s also the only openly gay state legislator.

But that was beside the point, he stressed Thursday in arguing for a provision to bar discrimination against students in public charter schools.

The subject produced an embarrassing episode during debate earlier in the week.

The concern was about students who are gay or transgender. A proposal was made to prohibit charter schools from turning down applicants on the basis of sexual orientation. Speaker Pro Tem Skip Stam (R-Wake) objected, producing a list of 30 “sexual orientations” that included pedophilia, masochism, sadism, exhibitionism, incest, asphyxophilia, kleptophilia, prostitution and bestiality.

Brandon, clearly shaken, protested but didn’t launch an assault against Stam’s wrongheaded attempt to equate homosexuality to those other behaviors. He was much better prepared when the issue came up again Thursday.

He didn’t speak about sexuality but about rights.

“Whether you like the fact that I am a homosexual or not does not matter,” he told colleagues. “I have the right to be here because I am an American. Let’s send a clear signal to the state of North Carolina that if you are a child in this state, you are also an American, and you are entitled to all the privileges thereof.”

Brandon noted that he has supported equal opportunities for poor and minority children “not because I am black but because I am an American, and that’s the right thing to do.” He has defended the right of students to pray in school, he said, “not because I am a Christian but because I am an American, and it’s the right thing to do.” And he would fight for Stam’s right to express his views, he added.

Brandon’s point was correct. Students who are gay or transgender deserve a seat in a public school the same as other children. Only if any student’s behavior becomes disruptive or threatening to others should he or she be removed. That can be for any reason, including many of those on Stam’s list. But simply being gay or transgender is not such a reason.

The House finally adopted a measure that promised North Carolina students the same protections as those provided under the U.S. Constitution. Those protections obviously are already in place, but the statement was helpful because it recognized the validity of Brandon’s argument, not Stam’s.

For most of this state’s history, people of Brandon’s race were not allowed to attend most public schools. People of his sexual orientation should not be excluded today. Everyone deserves the opportunity to receive a public education with anyone else.

Brandon forcefully reminded fellow legislators that they represent all North Carolinians. They seemed to get the message.

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