Reel Equality: Real Change
Earlier in the year, it seemed same-sex marriage in the U.S. was in a positive place status-wise. Moreover, it was making strides in the right direction. In June, after much lagging, the Marriage Equality Act was passed, making New York the largest state to allow same-sex marriage, as all eyes of the country watched closely. The generally liberal state was far from the first to accomplish such a feat (Massachusetts was first to do so in 2004, and, consecutively, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia have followed suit). Regardless, it was wildly celebrated and, momentarily, seemed like New York, a natural birthing ground of American trends, would once more lead by example.
As of September, the North Carolina House and Senate have passed Amendment One (dubbed by critics as the Anti-LGBT Marriage Amendment), which will go to vote in May 2012. The bill passed by a 30-16 vote in the state Senate, in which Republicans hold a 31-19 majority. Constitutional amendments do not require action by the governor, which means Governor Bev Perdue—who has been very vocal on her opposition to the amendment—has no veto power.
Not only does this amendment bar same-sex marriage, but it also bans the recognition of any sort of domestic legal union outside of the bonds of heterosexual marriage. The bill carries great underlying potential to impact domestic violence protection for unmarried couples, child custody and visitation, end-of-life directives, and domestic partnership benefits for public employees.
The detrimental effect of the bill outreaches basic human rights; its bigotry is also bad for business. Hundreds of our state’s business leaders have publicly combatted the amendment, claiming the discriminatory legislation will deter generations of creative minds and talented workers to work in a state that offers them second-state citizenship. After the bill passed, Charlotte-based Bank of America issued a public statement highlighting its “long-standing commitment not to discriminate based on sexual orientation and its domestic partner benefits.”
“If you want to figure out a way to push Bank of America from its headquarters in Charlotte to New York, pass this amendment,” Martin Eakes, a member of Bank of America’s national advisory board, said during a NC General Assembly press conference in September. Eakes, along with nearly 75 other NC CEOs, signed a letter urging legislature leadership to vote the amendment down.
The project intertwines with another ongoing Working Films initiative, “Reel Aging: Real Change.” With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Reel Aging: Real Change will tie compelling documentary films and transmedia projects that explore aging-to-ongoing policy work and grassroots campaigns supporting older populations globally. It begins at the end of March with a four-day residency in Washington, D.C., as eight to ten teams will strategize how to engage audiences and community. After the residency is complete, the teams will present their projects to regional, national and global NGOs, funders, government agencies, activists and policy makers to potentially turn the proposals into on-the-ground efforts. (Application deadline is January 6th for those interested; www.workingfilms.org.)
At the helm of these movements are Andy Myers, community engagement coordinator at Working Films and documentary filmmaker, and Lynn Casper, social media strategist at Working Films and founder of the gay-friendly music website HOMOGROUND (which also won encore’s annual Wilmington Webby Award in August).
encore sat down with Casper and Myers to find out how Reel Equality intends on making a difference for North Carolina through the power of community involvement.
encore (e): How did Reel Equality come to fruition?
Lynn Casper (LC): It first started in September when the amendment was passed to go for the vote in May; our boss, Robert West, wanted to do something about it—especially because it’s something that’s happening in North Carolina. We’ve worked with a lot of films that are about gay marriage, so he came up with the idea of starting a campaign around it and contacted the HRC and Equality NC. They were really eager to get on board with this.
e: If passed, what kind of impact will the amendment have on North Carolinians?
Andy Myers (AM): Basically any couple—heterosexual or homosexual—that’s not married will lack benefits. Also, there are statistics that say suicide is higher among states with discriminatory legislation. It’s easy to see why, it’s like saying, “You’re a second-class citizen, and you have to behave as such.”
e: How did you choose the films?
LC: They’re mostly films we’ve worked with in the past, whether they attended a [Working Films] residency, or we helped them with their outreach campaigns. So we contacted [the filmmakers] and told them what was going on in NC. There’s one film called “The Campaign,” which follows Proposition 8 in California and the activists that were organizing against [it]. So that’s really motivating, in terms of organizing NC and building the energy of ‘OK, we’re going to change this.’
e: This project encourages communities to organize their own viewings. What kind of hand do you have in that?
LC: In Wilmington we’re having a more hands-on approach and setting up screenings, but we would like other communities to do their own screenings [details to be revealed soon]. We’re willing to help out however we can to use these films to make people aware of what’ll happen if the amendment passes . . . especially for people who are on the fence. Through personal narratives, maybe they can see that this really does affect people.
AM: Fifty-six percent of North Carolinians do support some form of legal recognition of same-sex couples, and there’s a miscommunication on what the amendment actually does: It’s going to strip any form of legal recognition [for same-sex marriage]. So voting “no” on the amendment doesn’t necessarily mean you support gay marriage, it just means you support the bare minimum of legal recognition, even if it’s just a hospital registry.
e: What would you advise anyone who wants to get involved?
AM: Be educated about the amendment; know its extremities and how far-reaching it can be. Register to vote, and make sure everyone you know knows about the amendment and is registered. Come to a screening in Wilmington and start a dialogue with your community—that’s key.