Conference Confronts Hate to Create Hope
Posted March 5, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
DURHAM — Duke Universityis hosting a conference this weekend that must address hate before it can introduce hope. The Southeastern Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Conference is expected to draw up to 500 people.
Speakers include Candace Gingrich, the lesbian half-sister of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and theRev. Jimmy Creech, a North Carolina native and graduate ofDuke's Divinity School, who presided over a lesbian union ceremony then lost his Nebraska church.
Hundreds of people who plan to attend the conference are trying to come to terms with a murder in Alabama, a possible hate crime against a gay man. Many believe anti-gay violence could happen anywhere.
"Being gay can still get you killed in the South," says activist Kevin Jennings.
Jennings says a lot of things have changed since he grew up gay in North Carolina, but the recent murder of a gay man in Alabama reminds him the South can still be a hostile climate for homosexuals.
"The news story breaking about the murder of a gay man in Alabama, much like what happened to Matthew Shepard in Wyoming, shows that we still face incredible prejudice and hostility," Jennings says.
Police in Alabama say two men confessed to murdering Billy Jack Gaither because he made sexual advances toward them.
Gaither's murder bears striking - and disturbing - similarities to the beating death of Matthew Shepard last fall.
Gay students from local colleges helda candlelight vigil in Chapel Hill for Shepard, who once lived in Raleigh. They say Gaither's death is a reminder that intolerance can lead to violence.
"The first thing I thought was, 'It could have been me,'" says Duke student Silas Holland. "I was just lost for words and my Mom called me crying because she thought, 'What about my baby?'"
Gay students say the murders will be discussed at this weekend's conference.
They also say the Triangle is tolerant of their lifestyle.
"The Triangle is just a great place to be gay," says Duke student Kimberly Stanley. "It's a little more liberal and, especially at Duke, people are really accepting and tolerant."