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.