Mount Pleasant, Texas, September 6, 1949: At the time of my matriculation into the first grade at East Ward Elementary (a squat rectangular building that could easily have passed for a penal institution), Miss Sims was already more than 60 years old and had been teaching there for 28 years. Born in Victorian times, she was the classic old maid school teacher, gray hair in a bun, stern countenance and malevolent attitude, who expected her students to color within the lines, behave impeccably and obey her demands instantly.

Me, Art & Nancy

Me, Art and Nancy

I arrived for my first day of school a shy, sensitive, self-conscious, scared, scrawny little kid who typically ingratiated himself to others to gain their approval and be included in their games. But there were so many new faces (20 or so), and Miss Sims’ foreboding manner didn’t raise my comfort level at all.

Holy cow, who are all of these kids? That old woman really looks mean. I don’t want to be here! I want to go home! Please, Mommy, take me home with you! (more…)

Our four-year-old daughter Gracelyn is quite the rhymester, frequently making up poems and songs for her own entertainment and, so it would seem, for ours too. So, at Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) a few weeks ago, we decided to go to the youth poetry slam, where Gracelyn could see kids performing their work and experience a unique style of poetry.LKVRootsHobeyCrowdZB_webMay14

Well, the youthful poets, their poems and their delivery were more intense than we’d anticipated, so after two poems, Shonnie and Gracelyn left to play in the grass away from the tent that served as the venue. Engrossed by the performances, I chose to stick around a bit longer.

The next slammer was an passionate young woman who performed a heart-achingly poignant poem about the life of a lesbian in small-town North Carolina, how she was once called an abomination while grocery shopping with her partner, closing with a defiant stance in the face of such shameless bigotry. I was literally moved to tears, but having made a commitment to join Shonnie and Gracelyn, I reluctantly got up to leave.

As I moved to the back of the tent, I recognized a woman who, with her husband, had joined us on the LEAF hike that Shonnie and I had led on the previous day, her eyes, too, filled with tears. We gazed at each other for a moment, and though words were really pointless, I mindlessly mumbled, “Wow, that was really powerful.”

Without hesitation, “Hug me,” the woman called. As we embraced, she began sobbing inconsolably on my shoulder. In an instant, I began bawling too. We held each other close, crying unashamedly . . . for seconds? . . . minutes? I have no idea. Long enough, seemingly, to at least partially cleanse ourselves of the unexpressed grief we’d been withholding . . . for the young poet, yes, but also for ourselves, our loved ones, our world.

We slowly regained our composure, and in due course, I gently kissed her on the cheek and slowly walked away to rejoin my family.

I may never see this woman again, but I know the serendipitous crossing of our paths will remain with me forever.

CityHall--LGBTflag

Asheville City Hall

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, it was clear that marriage equality was on its way throughout our land. It really wasn’t a matter of if, but when. And I’m really proud of the role that Asheville and Buncombe County have played in helping to overturn North Carolina’s Amendment One and bring marriage equality to our state.

Sensing the time had finally come, last spring Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality, led by Executive Director Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, worked with a team of outstanding lawyers to file a federal legal challenge to Amendment One and North Carolina marriage laws banning same-sex marriage. In April, General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper was filed on behalf of clergy from across faith traditions, same-sex couples and four national religious denominations, a challenge calling for same-sex couples to have the freedom to marry and for clergy to be able to legally perform such marriages in North Carolina.

As many expected, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in July, creating a precedent for Maryland (which already had marriage equality), West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Then on Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down appeals from Virginia and four other states that were seeking to preserve their same-sex marriage bans, leaving the Fourth Circuit Court ruling in place.

On Friday, Oct. 10, Federal Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (based in Asheville), ruled on General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper and struck down Amendment One, ordering North Carolina to begin recognizing same-sex marriages immediately. On Monday, Oct. 13, another federal judge in North Carolina ruled in two cases from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of N.C. confirming marriage equality in our state.

Since Judge Cogburn’s decision came late on Friday afternoon, Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger sought and received permission to keep the Register of Deeds office open late to issue marriage licenses to those who could legally obtain them for the first time. Thus, the first marriage license to a same-sex couple in North Carolina was granted in Buncombe County, and, immediately thereafter, the first legal same-sex marriage took place on the steps of the county office building that houses the Register of Deeds office. Since then, hundreds of same-sex couples have received marriage licenses throughout North Carolina, and the marriages of same-sex couples who were wed out-of-state are now recognized by all levels of state government.

To cap off a week of historic significance for justice and equality, members of the Asheville City Council voted unanimously to hang a huge rainbow flag from Asheville City Hall during the week of Oct. 6 in recognition of the momentous events that were unfolding.

It is impossible to put this genie back in the bottle. In 30 states, including North Carolina, same-sex couples now have the freedom to marry. That number will only increase in the months and years to come until marriage equality is the law of the land in the United States of America. To paraphrase a well-known quotation, the arc of history may be long, but it always bends toward justice.

This post was published in the October 26, 2014 edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Well, I made history today, personal history anyway. The mountain trails we run on are filled with twists and turns with roots and rocks scattered liberally along the way. Typically I’ll take a spill every 20 runs or so. No consequences more serious that a bruised ego most of the time. In fact, once during my last Shut-In Trail Race, I fell, did a complete somersault and came up running.

On my run today, however, I slipped, tripped and fell three times, capped off by running my face into an overhanging tree limb. Granted there were new-fallen leaves obscuring obstacles beneath and making the surface slippery. Nonetheless after the tree limb incident, I decided to walk the rest of the way while Shonnie ran on ahead. Discretion, valor and all that. :-)

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