Throughout the 1970s and beyond, those of us who provided leadership for local human relations and human rights organizations across North Carolina advocated for local laws and ordinances that would provide essential safeguards and protections for all our residents to enjoy the full fruits of such status.
We did so as members of the statewide Association of Human Rights Workers, employed in most cases by various levels of local government. The goals we sought were, in part, to regulate such assurances at the local level without the need for federal interventions. The laws we sought were to secure equal protections for all N.C. residents in areas such as education, housing, public accommodations, employment and voting rights.
It was (and presumably still is) the practice of the federal government to defer to state and local authorities on such matters when and if the rules are equal to or exceed those required by federal law. These efforts were undertaken to reverse long-standing and deeply entrenched discriminatory practices whether de jure or de facto in origin.
Now, once again, we are faced with similar circumstances regarding the rights of minorities who identify as members of the LBGT portion of our population, a percentage, according to scholars, historically not unlike that of other racial and ethnic minorities.
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Several questions are worth asking about these long-standing and ever-lingering efforts to perpetuate discriminatory and unequal practices within our state.
▪ At the most basic level, why doesn’t the state of North Carolina seek to encourage and provide the fullest recognition and participation of all residents in all areas of our common life, such as in education, housing, voting and employment? Such are the loftier goals of a democratic society that arise from the human spirit that continually calls out for them.
▪ Why is it that those in positions of power (usually white males) seemingly abhor the prospect of a level playing field for all? Of what does true success consist when the deck remains stacked to the advantage of one group over another? Do not even sports paradigms encourage fair play and teams of equal strength as the ideal?
▪ Why not foster local control over human rights and relations rather than incur federal interventions as now seems to be the result of House Bill? Are we unable or unwilling to take on the task of assuring N.C. residents equal protections under the law? We could do this for ourselves. On a historical note, it was a very reluctant Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson who were basically forced by social upheaval and public outcry to forsake their comfort zones in order to address the needs of a democracy at odds and at war with itself. The times called for federal intervention.
North Carolina, for all its tragic and ill-conceived acts of commission or omission with regard to human and civil rights, has given birth to and nurtured those of extraordinary and visionary strength – male and female, black and white, gay and straight – in the struggle for fairness, human decency, justice and participation in the good life for all her residents. We are once again witnessing the voices of those who have heard the cries of the oppressed, demeaned, exploited and forsaken within our midst. We should be proud of and stand steadfastly behind them as the struggle continues. May the angels of our better nature lead us all into a fuller inheritance of the best a democratic society can offer.
Mac Hulslander of Raleigh led the city’s Community Relations Commission.