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All of Us NC: Shaping the charge against the gay marriage amendment



The county-by-county breakdown of May's Amendment 1 referendum might make a queer person—or a straight person—never want to set foot outside of the Triangle again.

On May 8, 2012, an overwhelming proportion of North Carolinians—more than 60 percent—voted in favor of a constitutional ban on gay marriage, as well as a ban on official domestic partnerships for gay and straight couples.

"It had deep emotional impact in terms of leaving LGBT people feeling more isolated and even more worthless in the eyes of their neighbors," says Manju Rajendran, co-founder of All of Us NC, a group instrumental in organizing against the amendment.

All of Us NC's mission: Bring together as many activist organizations as possible and help each tailor a message against Amendment 1 that would resonate with that particular organization's constituency.

"What we were trying to do was connect race, class, gender and sexuality in the fight," says Rajendran. "Connect our messaging and also connect our communities."

All of Us united disparate groups such as the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, Democracy NC, NC Dream Team and Immigrants & Allies United for Justice.

"The hard part was getting all these different organizations to be able to find common language around an issue that may not have been their primary focus or part of their strategy," says Afiya Carter, another of the group's co-founders.

"Part of what made it so powerful is that we were just one group in this badass pantheon of other organizations in the fight," says Rajendran.

All of Us NC also had another strategic goal, which began with four regional workshops called "training for trainers" that taught more than 400 "popular educators," according to Rajendran. The idea was for these 400 to lead other workshops, discussion groups and get-out-the-vote efforts in their part of the state.

"Our hope was to get folks across the state talking neighbor-to-neighbor that this amendment didn't reflect the kind of North Carolina we wanted," says Rajendran.

That notion of North Carolina's value system being at stake is what drove All of Us from the beginning.

"What I was really thinking about the whole time was my kids and my kid's kids and the legacy that I would leave for them," says Carter.

"I'm a queer woman who has grown up in this state," says Rajendran. "My friends and family who are queer and straight felt insulted that this was even coming up for a vote. It felt like our dignity and our worth were up for a vote. I felt hurt by that, but also it felt familiar."

Despite predictions from leading pollsters, such as Public Policy Polling, that Amendment 1 would pass in a landslide, Carter and Rajendran say they always believed there was a chance to win.

"The numbers were never in our favor," says Rajendran. "But as an organizer, I have to believe that we are going to win in the long haul. I have to believe that, or how else could we do this work?

"They may have won this particular ballot measure but we as a state feel differently about queerness," she says. "It's part of a historical trajectory toward liberation for all beings."

Part of All of Us NC's legacy is establishing a system for advocating for future progressive causes. "The right actually made a big mistake by letting us wrestle with this issue," says Rajendran. "As anti-worker legislation comes up or immigrant justice fights loom, we now have this inter-organizational structure, where no group will be left behind."

All of Us NC's biggest contribution, however, likely was its impact on queer people and their friends and families.

"It was very touching to have people find the language [during workshops] to talk about such a sensitive subject," says Carter. "At the heart of things, people discovered this concept that they don't want to be harmed and they don't want to harm other people."

"We had young people figuring out that they wanted to come out to their friends and families, in order to let their friends and family members know that someone they love will be impacted by this amendment," says Rajendran. "All these people were taking risks in their workplaces, in schools, in their houses of faith to talk about this stuff.

"There was so much bravery in the face of hate and so much hard work in the name of generations to come."

This article appeared in print with the headline "All for one, against 1."

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