A Gay in the Life for Aug. 30, 2012

For Weekly SurgeAugust 28, 2012 

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S.C. Equality leader steps down

The executive director of S.C. Equality, Christine Johnson announced her resignation as leader of the decade-old equality organization last week. South Carolina Equality Coalition was established in 2002 as a statewide non-partisan coalition of local and state, social, religious and political LGBT organizations and allies with a mission to secure civil and human rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender South Carolinians.  

Prior to S.C. Equality, Johnson served as a Democratic member of the Utah House of Representatives from 2007 to 2010 before moving back to her home state. During Johnson’s time at S.C. Equality, she has helped lead the organization to successfully secure anti-discrimination protections for public LGBT workers in Richland County and the City of Columbia and was instrumental in passing public accommodations protections in Richland County and Folly Beach. The organization helped introduce a statewide hate crimes bill and also a safe schools bill, which we wrote about last year. It defeated an unconstitutional, anti-transgender bill in the 2012 session and helped prevent passage of a bill that excluded the LGBTQ community from domestic violence protections. It’s often things like this that organizations such as S.C. Equality are able to successfully fight against that outweighs the creation of more pro-equality motives. The organization, however, also launched the country’s second pro-LGBT, state-issued license plate this year and started the S.C. GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) Network to educate teachers, counselors, administrators and students about the importance of these organizations in public schools.

During the same week as Johnson’s resignation, the organization also announced that it has created a political action committee, or PAC, which will allow the organization to financially support pro-equality candidates and lobby more effectively for change. The PAC is interviewing candidates in order to make endorsements and provide support for this year’s elections. In an e-mail to supporters and members, the organization’s Board Chair, Jeff Ayers, said, “It will give our community a voice in the political and legislative process of this state and has the potential to change the political landscape of South Carolina.”

He also thanked Johnson for her work and said that she has been an asset as an advocate for equal rights. “Her tireless and tremendous work . . . has helped us to achieve many goals . . . her inspiring spirit and accomplishments will be carried on.”

The average tenure of non-profit executive directors is surprisingly short, compared to similar executive positions in the for-profit sector. But for S.C. Equality, two to three years seems to be the shake-up point. Before Johnson, C. Ray Drew served as Executive Director for slightly more than two years before resigning in February 2010. Previously Drew had served as the director of Family Pride Coalition, the organization that would later become Family Equality Council. Following his time in South Carolina, Drew went on to serve as Executive Director for the ACLU of Colorado for a short time.

While both Drew and Johnson did a lot for the organization and seemed well-qualified – they both returned to the state after being away for many years. Johnson only lived in Charleston until she was 7 or 8 before moving to Greenville and then to Virginia and eventually Utah. Beyond the challenges that any non-profit leader has to tackle, the political atmosphere and historically high-level of prejudice against the LGBT community (among others) may just be too much for someone who’s been absent from it for too long. While there are pockets of progress, the majority of the state is far from welcoming to gays and lesbians.

Even Johnson stated, “returning home to the Palmetto State has brought not only challenges but amazing opportunities,” in her public resignation statement. “I have worked diligently to foster the strength of not just S.C. Equality, but the standing and visibility of our statewide LGBTQ community.”

I’ve been lucky enough to chat with Johnson on several occasions during her tenure and her energy and devotion to the LGBT community is extraordinary. On a national level, I’m sure we will see her again as she continues to stand up for the simple concept (used by S.C. Equality) – “Equal Means Everyone.”

Johnson will officially step down from her post at the end of October. “The future for S.C. Equality is bright and full of possibility,” Johnson also wrote. “The S.C. Equality board is the heart and soul of our organization and has already begun the task of find the next executive director to take us to the next level.   Someday, with everyone contributing a little time, energy and resources, South Carolina will become a state where equal truly means everyone. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of that fight in South Carolina.”

OUT & ABOUT

Careteam’s Annual 2012 AIDS Walk will take place on Sept. 29. The community-based event raises money to support those affected and infected by HIV/AIDS in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties.

In years past, the event had grown to include a 5K Run, festival-like atmosphere and more with a move to The Market Common for what was hoped to increase public visibility. This year, the event returns to its original home on the beach and will take off from Plyler Park on the corner of North Ocean Boulevard and 11th Avenue North in downtown Myrtle Beach. The event will also feature live music from the local jazzy, funk-rock band Painted Man. With more activity along Myrtle Beach’s new boardwalk – the return to the beach makes sense. Although the event raises much needed funds from participants and sponsors, it also serves as an important community awareness event to continue to educate folks about HIV. The organization’s mission is to empower our community with the means to stop the spread of HIV through prevention, education, treatment and support. A national theme this year has been emerging to focus on the “end to the epidemic” and although great advances have been made in medication and prevention techniques – the disease is far from over and people are still becoming infected at a alarming rate.

If you are interested in participating in this year’s AIDS Walk, registration is at 9:30 a.m. and the walk starts at 10:30 a.m. Minimum donation is $5, although all walkers are encouraged to raise as much as possible by getting friends, family and co-workers as sponsors or forming a team of folks to raise money. All of the proceeds go directly to help Careteam and its services. For more information about the walk, visit www.careteamsc.org or call 236-9000. In Georgetown, you can also call 546-8696.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available. For more information, e-mail Terry@GambleLivingston.com.

Have a thought, comment or Out & About event? Send Chris Rudisill an e-mail to SouthernGayWriter@gmail.com. You can also follow along on Facebook.com @SouthernGayWriter for more news and events.

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