Nationally, it was called "Seven Straight Nights for Equal Rights." Raleigh's night was Friday, the sixth of seven. Straight folks were invited to "come out" at the state Capitol in favor of equal rights for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbors. About 125 did, according to host Jack McKinney, co-pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, including Congressmen David Price and Brad Miller and state Rep. Jennifer Weiss, who spoke. But the speeches were over by the time I arrived, just after dark, and a light mood prevailed among the few dozen making an extended vigil. Rootzie, a blues band from Chapel Hill, started to play. Talk naturally turned to why everyone had "come out."
"I'd like to think I'd be here anyway," Eleanor Sableski offered. "But I have a daughter who lives in Massachusetts, and I'm so glad she does and is able to be married to the love of her life there."
Massachusetts is the one state where same-sex marriages are recognized legally. A year ago, Sableski's daughter underwent surgery, and her partner was able to spend the night with her in the hospital and be consulted by her doctors. That was on her mother's mind as we listened to the music. Why shouldn't everyone, gay or straight, be treated the same? Sableski asked.
Sableski came from Durham with a group from the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. I met her as my friend Edith Seifert approached with cookies she'd gotten from Jean Aycock, a member at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh.
"So that's a Methodist who brought the cookies and a Baptist who passed them out to the Unitarians," said Seifert, a Pullen member. "And a Catholic," I added, taking a cookie. (Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.)
Aycock is a psychiatrist, and she remembers vividly the day she was first confronted by her prejudice about gays. It was during her residency in 1988. She was treating a woman for depression. The session was being observed through a one-way mirror. The woman hadn't mentioned a husband or boyfriend. Tactfully, Aycock brought it up. "My patient felt comfortable enough with me, I guess, to tell me that she was a lesbian. I almost had a panic attack, I was so unprepared for her answer," she recalled. "I couldn't wait to get out of there."
Today, Aycock belongs to Reconciling United Methodists and Friends of N.C., created to welcome gays to the Christian community. About 10 percent of her patients are gay—about the same as the general population, she says.
That experience was the beginning of her journey. When Aycock ended the session, a supervisor complimented her on the smart way she'd elicited important information. It was anything but, Aycock says. In fact, it took her a while to realize that, on subsequent Tuesdays when she saw the same patient, because the woman always wore pants, Aycock always put on a dress.
"One Tuesday, I just woke up and said, You've got to address these attitudes or you're going to hurt her."