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Activists storm House, arrested during rally

Three gay rights activists stormed the N.C. House of Representatives last Thursday chanting “liberty and justice for all”—only to be immediately arrested and detained by the police.

The trio, which included openly gay former U.S Senate candidate Jim Neal, a Democrat, was participating in the “Rally in Raleigh for Equality” event that day—along with roughly 200 other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists. The event was held to protest Senate Bill 106, titled “Defense of Marriage,” which would ban private businesses from offering domestic partners insurance benefits, as well as create other legal restrictions for the gay community.

Rally in Raleigh was organized by the national LGBT rights organization GetEQUAL. Neal and Mary Counce and Angel Chandler, the N.C. state organizer for GetEQUAL, was arrested at the rally. Chandler said the decision to disrupt the legislative chamber that day was not planned by the organization, but quickly agreed upon by the three members of the group.

“We are a fairly new organization and we wanted a movement that would utilize civil disobedience to affect change,” she said. “That is the only way that we can gain civil rights.... This was a perfect opportunity to use direct action, so we walked into the legislative building and gathered in the door and we starting chanting.”

Junior Peter Kuo witnessed the three members enter the chambers of the N.C. General Assembly. Kuo, an intern for Conservation Trust for North Carolina—an environmental lobbying group—said the disruption and arrests happened very quickly, but added that the officials in charge dealt with the issue in a respectful manner.

“As [the trio] ran in, the sergeant at arms that keeps order in the chambers tried to stop them from rushing and then forcibly took them out,” he said. “They dealt with it well, though—they didn’t drag them out of there or anything. There are pretty strict rules and you can’t do something like that during a legislative session.”

The House was not discussing “Defense of Marriage” that day. Chandler noted that important issues like gay rights demand the presence of a powerful message before the bill reaches the floor.

“Actions like this can’t wait for the moment when the bill is being discussed,” she said. “The message is that we are not going to silently consent to these actions against the gay community and this bigotry. We are not going to take it anymore. The rushing of the floor allowed us to build some momentum.”

James Forrester, Jerry Tillman and Dan Soucek, Republican representatives of the general assembly in favor of the bill, could not be reached for comment.

Ollie Wilson, a senior and former president of Blue Devils United, applauded the actions of the GetEQUAL activists and lamented the reaction of public officials.

“It’s tragic that some state legislators are wasting the public’s time with their hateful and pointless ballot initiatives, especially when there are so many other critical issues,” Wilson said. “These latest protests are a brave call for equal rights and dignity for all in this state.”

Kuo said as far as he can tell, business has resumed normally in the state legislature since the protest.

But Chandler said she hopes that the actions of GetEQUAL will have a ripple effect in the North Carolina community that will spark further action on the issue.

“It is time for North Carolina to have LGBT activism that we haven’t seen before,” she said. “It is time to build our own equality and our own future, and it is time to do it using direct action.”

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