Matt Comer

One lone vote on the NC Jesse Helms resolution

Filed By Matt Comer | June 11, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Jesse Helms, Julia Boseman, North Carolina

When the North Carolina General Assembly took up voting on a resolution honoring the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) on Wednesday, June 10, only one legislator had the courage to vote no.

N.C. Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover), my state's sole openly gay or lesbian state legislator, stayed behind in the Senate chamber when 26 other lawmakers walked out of the House and Senate during the resolution's reading.

But the one no vote and the walkout wasn't enough to stifle the North Carolina legislature's sickening memorial to a man who almost single-handedly did more to tear down American ideals of equality, liberty and justice than almost any other in the last half of 20th century.

The 26 protesting lawmakers were members of the state legislative black caucus.

Caucus member Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) was one of the more than two dozen legislators absent for the resolution's vote.

"I could have never voted in favor of a resolution honoring Sen. Helms because of his divisive history and his anti-civil-rights principles," said Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham), according to an Associated Press report.

The resolution reads, in part: "North Carolinians mourn the death of this dedicated public servant who was known and respected for his love of his home State and his nation."

It resolves: "The General Assembly of North Carolina expresses its appreciation for the life and public service of Jesse Alexander Helms, Jr., and honors his memory."

It passed the Senate 41-1 and passed the House 98-0.

Helms was among the nation's most conservative, racist and anti-gay lawmakers. A chief opponent of HIV/AIDS funding during the 1980s, he said gay men were "weak, morally sick wretches" who contracted the disease through their own "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct."

Helms once vowed to attempt making a fellow U.S. senator cry by singing the anthem of the Confederacy.

Upon entering an elevator with U.S. Sens. Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Helms said, "Watch me make her cry. I'm going to make her cry. I'm going to sing 'Dixie' until she cries."

Helms died on July 4, 2008, much to the delight of many a queer.

In an in-depth interview after his death, activist Mandy Carter told my newspaper, Q-Notes, that Helms' actions and legacy served to unite the Tar Heel LGBT community:

Today, the river of time has carved out enough emotional distance that the perspective required to accurately assess NCSV90's [NC Senate Vote 90's] "failure" is possible.

Beyond the progressive coalition that was established, other essential, lasting benefits from the campaign include EqualityNC -- the statewide LGBT advocacy organization was founded as NC Pride PAC by key Senate Vote 90 organizers -- as well as an increase in the number of openly gay elected or appointed officials in the state.

A couple of years after working with NCSV90, Mike Nelson successfully ran for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. After serving just one term, in 1995 he became the first openly gay candidate to be elected mayor of a North Carolina city. Mark Kleinschmidt and Julia Boseman are additional out candidates who successfully campaigned for public office.

The slightly ironic and possibly humorous takeaway from the situation: The only state legislator following in "Senator No"'s legacy of disapproval... yeah, that would be the lesbian woman.

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Angela Brightfeather | June 11, 2009 9:58 AM


I often get into trouble here in NC when "Old Jessi's" name comes up in conversations among good southern gentlemen. You know the people I'm talking about. The ones who still don't think to much about those "black folks, Latin people and queers". When I moved down to NC from NY, people like Jessi Helms had established an attitude about "Yankees" that made my first few years here like running a gauntlet of jokes about Northerners that made me cringe. He set the stage for discrimination in this state and I will never forget his deliberatly amending the Fair Housing Act to specifically exclude us Trans folks from it.
He may be the reason why GLBT people in NC had to start up organizations to defend themselves, but as you well know, his brand of discrimination and exclusion still permeates even those groups when they refuse to include Transgender people in their
leadership positions. The trouble is, like Jessi Helms and his supporters in NC, they just don't see it as discrimination, they think it is the way to do business in this state.

And now I have a new hero from North Carolina. Where can I send her a campaign donation?

You can contribute to Boseman's campaign here.