Coalition forms to advocate for gay and lesbian rights

by Amy Kingsley

Greensboro residents might be slogging through an election loaded with all the familiar faces, but this year they at least have a new organization to help guide them through the process.

The NC Advocacy Coalition is a fledgling political action committee a shade different from its predecessors. The group, founded by a college sophomore, has dispensed with fussy suits and direct mailings in favor of rainbow colors and a Myspace account.

Matt Hill Comer, a local blogger scarcely of voting age himself, has filed paperwork to establish the NC Advocacy Coalition as a fully registered non-profit, tax-exempt political organization. The group’s goal is to advocate for members of Greensboro’s gay, lesbian and transgender community and engage young voters.

The NC Advocacy Coalition is not a pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian political activity. Equality North Carolina has lobbied state legislators on behalf of gay and lesbian residents since its formation in 1990. In addition to their focus on the General Assembly, they’ve weighed in on local races in the Triangle and Charlotte. But the group has never entered the Triad’s political sphere.

‘“[Equality North Carolina] has done a lot of great work and they are good at making things happen,’” Comer said. ‘“But from my standpoint as a youth and a college student, we need more of a grassroots effort in the community.’”

Comer has submitted all the necessary forms, but he’s still seeking volunteers to fill a couple of crucial positions. No one has offered to serve as the group’s treasurer or development director yet.

The NC Advocacy Coalition has a website and an account on the popular networking site Myspace. Comer decided to create a Myspace profile for the organization because of the effectiveness of an umbrella group called Equality Myspace that centralizes gay-related profiles. The feature keeps members updated on the activities of different groups across the nation.

‘“To me it seems like the best way to reach the youth,’” Comer said.

And the youth focus is especially important for groups working on behalf of gays and lesbians.

‘“The 18 to 24-year-old crowd is the most progressive but also the least likely to vote,’” he said. ‘“If we can convince some of these people to go to the polls, we can have a big impact on our community.’”

And the community could use all the support it can get. Ian Palmquist, the executive director of Equality North Carolina, said lawmakers would probably consider legislation to add an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution in the upcoming session. His group has been instrumental in blocking similar laws during the last two sessions of the General Assembly.

‘“I don’t know how likely it is to pass,’” Palmquist said, ‘“but they’re certainly pushing hard for it.’”

The proposed ban encompasses all same-sex relationships and could even prevent local governments and private businesses from offering domestic partner benefits, Palmquist said. Equality North Carolina has helped secure domestic partner benefits in the city of Durham, and Orange and Durham counties.

In Greensboro, the city’s Human Relations Commission has advocated taking similar steps to provide domestic partner benefits. That proposal has stalled in the city attorney’s office, where employees are awaiting guidance from NC Attorney General Roy Cooper.

Response from the attorney general has been slow in coming; the city attorney’s office has filed three written requests for guidance starting more than a year ago.

But the NC Advocacy Coalition will probably have its first list of endorsees ready in time for November’s general election.

‘“Unfortunately there won’t be a lot of money going out with this first set of candidates,’” Comer said. ‘“But we are going to research and find out which candidates are the most friendly to the GLBT community.’”

Comer has already started his investigation of local candidates. Unlike most Greensboro residents, he voted in the May 2 primary.

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