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Posts Tagged North Carolina

Letter to a friend about Marriage

Dear Thomas:

I wanted to give you a bit of food for thought in regard to something you said in our conversation the other day: that you support civil unions. At one point I did as well, until I made the statement in front of two dear friends of mine in San Francisco. Sean and David had been married during that window in time when same sex marriage was legal in the state.

David and Sean spoke forcefully about civil unions and marriage not being equal, arguing that the term has been coined to avoid the usage of “marriage” which is embedded in civil laws across America. I had to ask myself the question: do we as a society want a distinction- a carve-out if you will- for the loving unions of two people of the same sex as opposed to the loving union of a heterosexual couple?

In the middle of our conversation, David disappeared for a moment and returned with what appeared to be a framed photograph. To the contrary it was his and Sean’s framed marriage certificate issued by the State of California. David broke out in tears as he said to me “do you realize how important it is to us to be able to show this to our friends, to have a piece of paper that recognizes that we’re all equal under the laws of California?”

I couldn’t help but agree. Words matter. There is absolutely no compelling reason for a “separate but equal” definition of any loving union between two people. Today I’d say to you as I do to all: I don’t want a civil union. I want the same civil rights that you and Mary have and I want them defined in the exactly same manner as yours. That is the American way. At the same time I’d man the barricades to protect the right of secular institutions in America to marry whomever they wish according to their beliefs. That is also the American way.

Here are a few eloquent quotes I’d offer for your consideration:

“Marriage in the United States is a civil union; but a civil union, as it has come to be called, is not marriage,” said Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry. “It is a proposed hypothetical legal mechanism, since it doesn’t exist in most places, to give some of the protections but also withhold something precious from gay people. There’s no good reason to do that.”

Or consider the logical argument offered by Ted Olson, former US Solicitor General in the George W. Bush administration. During opening statements in the the landmark Perry v. Brown case he argued that recognizing same-sex couples under the term ‘domestic partnership’ stigmatizes gay people’s relationships treating them as if they were “something akin to a commercial venture, not a loving union”.

Thomas if you truly believe in equality for gay people, then there is only marriage. A civil union is a half-baked legal construction which will never satisfy me or my friends Sean and David.



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Why You Should Vote Against Amendment One


My views on North Carolina’s proposed constitutional amendment certainly have been informed by the fact that I am gay and have born witness to the struggles that many gay people from all walks of life have faced. However I am not Voting No Against Amendment One simply because I am gay. Secondly, you won’t find any partisan bashing herein although I am a registered Democrat who ran for statewide office on the party ballot four years ago. Thirdly, you won’t read any discussion about my personal faith: for the record I have served as a lay minister in a Christian church and both of my sons are Muslim. Fourthly, although I recognize the heartfelt intensity of feelings on both sides of this divisive issue, my bias is that North Carolinians have much more important issues that we should be debating than Amendment One. Fifthly, I am as staunch a defender of keeping government out of houses of worship as I am of keeping houses of worship out of government. And lastly, when I use the term “gay” I do so as shorthand for the broader LGBT community.

Caveats aside let’s move onto the main line item on the ballot in North Carolina’s May 8th primary election: the proposed constitutional amendment on which voters vote Yes or No:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

It is my understanding that the proposed measure would amend Article 14 of the North Carolina Constitution by adding a new section:

Sec. 6. Marriage. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.

I Voted Against Amendment One today. And I’d like to tell you why.


I Voted Against Amendment One because history has taught me that more innocent people have died at the intersection of Church and State than any other corner in history. Passage of Amendment One will have noxious consequences for those who believe they can ignore red lights.

I Voted Against Amendment One because it demeans, diminishes and humiliates me as it does your gay neighbors and relatives and friends. Passage of Amendment One will have noxious consequences for gay people and the communities in which we live.

I Voted Against Amendment One because its passage would send a chilling message to gay youth, a cohort that already commits suicide 400% more often than their heterosexual classmates. A crucial lifeline for gay teens is compromised by fear: the fear of coming out to his or her circle of friends. As members of the “what’s the big deal” generation they enjoy the benefit of strong peer support across what is America’s most inclusive generation ever. Passage of Amendment One will have noxious consequences for gay teenagers (and if you vote Yes your kids and grandkids will think you’re a dork.)

I Voted Against Amendment One because its passage would send a chilling message to closeted gay people in North Carolina. Like all gay North Carolinians they have no legal protections from being fired from their jobs, denied a job, kicked out of their homes and denied housing simply because of their sexual orientation. Passage of Amendment One will have noxious consequences for those gay people who live anxious lives in the shadows of our communities.

And I Voted Against Amendment One because its passage has unintended consequences detrimental to children, senior citizens, economic development, victims of domestic violence and straight couples having entered into civil unions.

If you plan to Vote For Amendment One take a pause. Have you considered that its passage will harm all of us: those like you who Vote For Amendment One and those like me Who Vote Against Amendment One? Here’s why. On May 8th after all the votes have been tallied and the commercials and radio ads and emails and texts and Tweets have ceased, those who Voted For Amendment One will have done so for naught.

Why? There are no winners from a law that threatens all and protects none. That’s the dirty little truth that cheapens an imbroglio hoisted upon us by politicians and pundits who generally don’t give a rat’s ass about us or the state of our State. I for one have much bigger fish to fry and have no interest in excluding anyone from the picnic table.

Admittedly I am an idealist who believes that we all have vastly more in common than we do traits and beliefs that distinguish us. I believe it is possible for the people of this state to demonstrate they can come together, give thanks and enjoy the fellowship that’s best accompanied by a down home meal of hush puppies, coleslaw, banana pudding, sweet tea and BB-Q regardless of their differences.

I don’t know a single person in North Carolina who doesn’t desire to pass along a better condition to the next generation- their kids, your children and grandkids and my sons. The campaigns being waged in opposition to and in favor of the amendment have made me harken back to that a proverb that my mom repeated to me time and time again as I was growing up in Greensboro: “North Carolina is a valley of humility situated between two peaks of conceit.”

Only the cynical man would choose conceit over humility.



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Chapel Hill: Time for an Independent Public Safety Review Commission




Many questions remain unanswered in regard to the Chapel Hill Police Department’s deployment yesterday of a heavily-armed Special Emergency Response Team to clear a private building in Chapel Hill that had been occupied by a group of protesters. Seven people were arrested and charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering.

I submitted a petition this afternoon to to the Chapel Hill Town Council calling for the appointment of an independent commission to review the events leading up to yesterday’s deployment of the SERT unit. Residents of Chapel Hill are divided, one camp outraged by what they deem to be an unmeasured response by a SWAT team and the other yielding to the professional judgment of the CHPD. Neither side has the facts to which the public is entitled in order understand the events that led to yesterday’s display of lethal force by the Chapel Hill Police Department.

The Council will not be considering petitions until its next meeting on Monday November 21st 2011 at 7:00pm in the Town Hall Council Chamber: 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Chapel Hill. The meeting is open to the public.



The Honorable Mark Kleinschmidt, Mayor
The Honorable Jim Ward, Mayor Pro Tem
The Honorable Councilwoman Donna Bell
The Honorable Councilman Matt Czajkowski
The Honorable Councilwoman Laurin Easthom
The Honorable Councilwoman Sally Greene
The Honorable Councilman Ed Harrison
The Honorable Councilman Gene Pease
The Honorable Councilwoman Penny Rich
Cc: Lee Storrow, Councilman-elect

I respectfully submit this Petition to the Council calling for the appointment of an independent review commission (the “Independent Commission”) to research and report to the Council and Chapel Hill community its findings regarding the circumstances leading up to the decision by the Chapel Hill Police Department and other officials (collectively, the “CHPD”) to deploy a Special Emergency Response Team (“SERT”) unit in response to the occupation of the former Yates Motor Company building (the “Yates Building”) at 419 West Franklin Street on Saturday November 12th 2011 (the “Incident”).

There is a groundswell of rancor and confusion in the Chapel Hill community regarding the circumstances leading to what many view as the disproportionate response by the CHPD to the Incident and the ambiguous press release issued by CHPD Chief Chris Blue on November 14th. It is my belief that an Independent Commission’s findings can best report facts and conclusions absent bias claims leveled at the CHPD and Town officials.

The review and recommendations by the Independent Commission should address the matters delineated, but not limited to, below:

  1. What were the conditions that led the CHPD to deploy the SERT unit to respond to the Incident?
    • Were there communications with occupants at the Yates Building? Were threats made?
    • CHPD monitoring intelligence- how was information gathered and what high-risk security issues did those findings raise?
    • Was intelligence gathered from third-party safety and security sources including the Federal Bureau of Investigation in regard to the occupants of the Yates Building, including the identification of “known anarchists” and any prior history of violent behavior from said persons?
    • Given the presence of “known anarchist members of the group”, I noted that the seven people arrested were charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering and released without having to post bail. This calls to question the degree of risk they posed despite CHPD intelligence indicating they posed a critical threat to public safety.
    • Is it the policy of the CHPD to treat all persons deemed to be “anarchists” as posing security and safety risks to the community? What are the “known risks associated with anarchist groups”?
      • Would the known possession of copies of literature such as The Anarchist Cookbook by a party to whom a warrant was about to be served by the CHPD constitute a high-risk situation?
    • Given statements that it was “unclear if any weapons were inside the [Yates] building”, was there an attempt to determine prior to the deployment of the SERT unit if any weapons were inside the premises, given the CHPD’s extensive observations and monitoring?
    • Given the concerns expressed by the CHPD in regard to “the group” at the Yates Building having hung large banners in an attempt to obscure the windows to the building, what intelligence supported the CHPD’s awareness “that the number of people inside [the Yates Building had] dwindled to the point that we could safely enter”?
    • What tactical equipment did the SERT unit possess in responding to the Incident ? Were the automatic weapons leveled at bystanders in front of the Yates Building lethal?
    • What orders were given to the SERT unit members as to the circumstances under which they were authorized to utilize lethal force?
  2. What are the procedures governing the deployment of a SERT unit and what parties participate in making that decision?
    • Why was the Incident deemed to pose security and safety risks that necessitated the heavily-armed tactical response by 25 SERT and CHPD personnel?
    • What alternative procedures were available to the CHPD in responding to the Incident?
      • Which of those alternative procedures, if any, were reviewed by the CHPD prior to deployment of the SERT unit?
  3. Why was a self-identified member of the press, Katelyn Ferral of the News Observer, forcibly pushed to the sidewalk by members of the SERT unit and handcuffed along with other bystanders in front of the Yates Building?
    • Was the safety of Ms. Ferral and others in front of the Yates Building compromised in any way given the possibility of a lethal encounter?
  4. What are the policies and procedures governing the dispersal and protection of bystanders prior to the insertion of a SERT unit?
    • Given that the SERT unit received orders to commence operations in a so-called “critical condition” situation, what forethought did the CHPD give to the insuring the safety of parties in front of the Yates Building and crowds gathered across the street?
      • Why weren’t people present at the scene dispersed to a safe distance from what the CHPD itself feared might be a violent, lethal response by those inside the Yates Building?
      • Under what high-risk scenarios of concern to the CHPD would the safety of bystanders in the immediate area been threatened?
  5. What precedents have there been for deployment of the SERT unit since its creation in 1979?
    • Number of occasions and circumstances of each.
    • How have other local police departments handled similar incidents?
    • Is there a set of law enforcement best practices detailing the conditions that necessitate the deployment of specialized, armed tactical units?
  6. What parties were consulted prior to the CHPD’s decision to deploy the SERT unit at the Incident?
    • Federal
    • State
    • County
    • Local
  7. How often does the CHPD review the policy and procedures governing the deployment of a SERT unit into so-called “critical conditions”?
    • What constitutes a “critical condition”?
    • What are the boundaries that limit the deployment of a SERT unit?
    • What are the command-and-control procedures governing a SERT unit?

The membership of the Independent Commission should be comprised of individuals who are in no way affiliated with Town government in order to preclude real or perceived conflicts of interest that could weaken public buy-in of the Independent Commission’s findings and recommendations.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of this petition. I have every confidence that you will weigh its merits in the spirit of preserving harmony and goodwill in The Southern Part of Heaven.


Respectfully yours,


Jim Neal
Chapel Hill
November 15, 2011


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On civil disobedience in perilous times

In North Carolina state legislators are seeking to score political points by diminishing the rights of the LGBT community with the impending passage of legislation that State constitution (amendments to constitutions usually expand- not restrict- individual rights)– here as across America there is a frontal assault on our education system, mental and public health systems, our environment, womens’ access to reproductive healthcare and the social compact that once supported a strong middle class. Most cynically, these repressive attacks to undermine equal rights are waged on the backs of the poor, the intimidated and the disenfranchised. What’s playing out before my eyes is the classic “it’s them” divide and conquer ploy, a tactic that has always failed in this nation’s ongoing march towards full equality. “Equal rights” aren’t some nebulous province of this class or the other; rather, equal rights are your rights, they are my rights and they are the rights of all mankind.

I am but one individual, an individual who once campaigned for elective office as a proxy for those having no voice- as politicians all so often do. My campaign didn’t end in 2008 anymore than did our nation’s progress end on the battlefront at Yorktown, the steps of Appomattox Courthouse or the streets of Selma. For until the day when no man, no woman and no child is embraced in the bosom of liberty and justice, there will be equal rights for none.

I am no longer willing to passively bear witness to the ghettoization of LGBT people, the poor, the middle class and the weak. No body and no individual has the rightful dominion to diminish the unalienable rights to to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in our United States of America. And- I do not stand alone.

My defiance of the law today is neither some personal manifesto, act of self-aggrandizement, stunt or press release. What I and others did today was hardly courageous or unprecedented.

As some of you know, two of my heroes are Alexander the Great (hence, the name of my business Agema) and Sir Winston Churchill (hence, the name of my youngest son Winston.) Both men captured my fancy for their courage and leadership and defiance of the status quo.  Alexander, a king of all kings, always led his troops into battle from the front line (protected by his elite regiment, the agema) thereby putting his life at most risk. And Sir Winston, amongst his many quips, said:

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something sometime in your life.

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In July of last year I posted Gasland- in my backyard on this blog. I fired a missile across the bow of those who treasure the world’s most precious resource: water. Water is a resource under assault and increasingly the source of regional conflict and inter-community squabbling. In North Carolina, the vast Falls Lake Reservoir which provides drinking water to two of our largest urban areas- Wake and Durham counties- is polluted. That’s right, the source of drinking water to hundreds of thousands residents does not meet the minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act. Cleaning up the mess will cost ~$1.5 billion.

Given North Carolina’s  was concerned grave at the prospect of  Big Oil & Gas interests using their political and financial power to upend North Carolina’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a toxic but profitable technology used by natural gas companies to extract natural gas from shale deposits. Here’s a telling excerpt from last year’s post:

Though fracking is currently illegal in NC, speculators are betting that will change. My concern is that politicians in Raleigh- consistent with our Legislature’s bipartisan refrain for economic growth and the GOP’s aversion to regulation- will fall in line with Big Oil. Experience has shown that any sort of perceived economic growth prospect for NC- like keeping cigarette taxes absurdly low at the expense of responsible public health and fiscal policy- prevails over concerns about irresponsible public health and fiscal policy. It’s the old growth at any cost argument.

I’m curious just how toothy the NC statute banning fracking really is. I don’t want to awake and discover that some lobbyist for the Oil & Gas industry is drafting its own Halliburton loophole.

Best get fired up before it’s too late to turn the spigot on.

Yesterday my concerns became reality. The North Carolina State Senate passed a bill entitled The Energy Jobs Act (SB 709) on a bipartisan basis. The spigot is ready to flow.

For interested North Carolinians here’s a link to which Senators voted in favor of the oil & gas industry.

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