A Letter from our Chair, Jeff Ayers

May 28, 2012

To my fellow S.C. Equality family,
It is with humble gratitude that I write to you as your new chairman for S.C. Equality.  My hope is that I may use previous leadership experience, as well as lessons from other board service for the benefit of this organization.  I would like to take a moment and give a big thanks to Dean Pierce for his hard work over the past three years as chairman of the board.  Dean, you have been a tremendous help to our organization and we will look forward to your continued support and involvement.   
As our organization celebrates its 10th anniversary, now is the time for us to gather our thoughts as a group and move forward collectively.   Considering S.C. Equality is the only statewide organization promoting gay rights, we have a large responsibility to LGBT South Carolinians. 
While our work in this state has never been easy (simply recall that it took years for our state schools to fully desegregate even after the Supreme Court ruling), we must realize this challenge and work to overcome our state's past. 
Recently you all may have noticed several examples of S.C. Equality's success throughout our state.  Local ordinances from cities around the state prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation are flourishing.  We are working with the General Assembly to improve and strengthen our Safe Schools Act and seeing that bill successfully move through legislative process. 
We are also only one of two states in the nation with a pro-equality license plate.  What a joy it is to drive the roads of this state and see license plates proudly supporting our cause!
Despite our success as mentioned above, there is much work to be done.  S.C. Equality is working daily to run defense on bills in this state that directly threaten LGBT progress, while also strategizing offense for bills that enhance our cause.  It is my desire that we can reach a point where we will no longer be on the defense in the state that we all call home, but instead will be out front pushing more aggressively to advance our cause.  This is a new day in S.C. for gay rights!
Last week President Obama also made clear that it was a new day for gay rights in this nation.  With his announcement in support for same sex marriage, each state has been challenged to revisit its own stance on the matter.  In South Carolina, an amendment to the state constitution was passed in 2006 stating that marriage is to remain only between one man and one woman.  The unfortunate majority vote on amendment one in North Carolina which promotes similar language is proof that although polls indicate consistent public opinion trending in favor of marriage equality, we have not won this fight.  Whether through repeal of this amendment to our state's constitution or building support for civil union rights in this state, S.C. Equality must remain committed to this cause.  Now I will be the first to admit that the concept of gay marriage may seem unusual to certain citizens of this state, however; as your leader I will never waver on our endeavor.  I believe that marriage equality is THE transcendent civil right of our generation and therefore we must fight for it accordingly.
And President Obama is not alone in his support of gay rights. Recently the NAACP Board of Directors announced the group's support for same sex marriage.  Also, with repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the military system in this nation is beginning to recognize legislation allowing homosexual service members to serve openly.
As a group, S.C. Equality must rally behind the national support we have received and carry this message to our friends, neighbors, and everyone else we encounter in our daily lives.  I am convinced that in South Carolina, we must reach out to folks at a personal level.  Chances are that most citizens in this state encounter LGBT individuals on a daily basis without realizing it or better understanding who we are and how LGBT is simply a part of who we are.  Our duty is to both be informed and educate others so that everyone is able to make informed decisions about issues close to S.C. Equality's heart.
I would like to also take a moment and mention the implementation of the S.C. Equality Political Action Committee (PAC). A PAC allows an organization to endorse candidates and donate money to campaigns; giving us a voice in upcoming elections.  It is time for our voices to he be heard!  We deserve to be heard, and I promise our demands of equality will be heard LOUD AND CLEAR!  My expectation is that as political players, we will be taken seriously by policy makers, working for candidates who support equality and working against those who dare oppose us.  With the implementation of the PAC, the possibility of electing our first openly gay state official seems tangible.  Could it be you?
Other struggles in the LGBT movement in this state must not be forgotten.  We must work on passing legislation in this state to protect LGBT workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.  Also, South Carolina is one of only five states left in our nation without a state level hate crimes law.  This is an embarrassment for the state of South Carolina. 
By now I hope you all have realized; our work at S.C. Equality is only beginning.   It's time to unite, speak up, and have a seat at the table with our fellow South Carolinians.  We must demand it.
My goal as your new chairman is to help advance our cause such that South Carolina will no longer be at the bottom of the list with regards to LGBT rights, but instead become a state that recognizes the importance of equal rights for all.  But, I simply cannot successfully accomplish this goal alone.  In order for us to be successful, individuals within the LGBT community must resist apathy.  It is so easy to give up in an environment which promotes hatred and discrimination.  Instead, I challenge each of you to let this discrimination serve a purpose as our driving force for change. 
I ask today that each of you do your part to help us work for a seat at the table with the other political officials in the State of South Carolina.  Whether you are able to contribute financially, with your time through service, or with both, we need you!  For those of you who continue to support S.C. Equality with passion, to you I offer a heart-felt thank you.  For those who have become trapped in the shadows of injustice, I would ask you all to consider how you can become involved again.  Your time and talents are needed for the advancement of this organization.
As I close this letter in the warm summer breeze of the Low Country, I am reminded of what a beautiful state we live in!  I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve as your chairman and look forward to the success ahead with our work together as a cohesive group, united in the belief that we, as LGBT individuals, should have equal rights and protections in this wonderful place we call home.
Warm Regards,
Jeff Ayers
Chairman of the Board of Directors