CHARLOTTE, N.C. For Janice Covington, being selected as the first openly transgender delegate from North Carolina to the Democratic National Convention was “better than amazing” and is the culimination of a long journey.
Covington, 65, delivered a sermon Sunday at Wedgewood Church, near SouthPark.
“I advocated for LGBT rights, basically human rights, for many years,” Covington told the more than 35 people who attended the service at Wedgewood.
“When we had the Amendment One vote … I thought, I’d like to be a Democratic delegate to the DNC,” Covington said.
Amendment One is the constitutional amendment that makes marriage between a man and a woman “the only domestic legal union” in the state. It passed in May with 61 percent of the votes cast in the state.
She also told the Wedgewood audience that she will lobby elected officials during the DNC for the passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar discrimination in hiring based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
The church’s pastor, the Rev. Chris Ayers, called Covington “a hero and a pioneer.”
Ayers, 53, said that half of the congregation are members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, and his church is home to people of all Christian traditions as well as people of other faiths and agnostics and atheists. About 130 people are associated with the church locally.
Covington received applause, hugs and words of encouragement following her sermon. “She has a vision and courage to take to the Democratic convention. I’m behind her all the way,” said Debra Pettus, 59, of Belmont. “We need much more representation and diversity in this country.”
Ed DePasquale, 79, said he was impressed by Covington’s sermon but added that changes – such as people being accepting of transgender people – take time.
“I’m afraid I won’t live to see it all, but eventually, there won’t be discrimination like there is today,” said DePasquale. “People – particularly in the South – are not ready for change. People voted (for Amendment One) because they’re telling you they’re not interested in change. I appreciate what she’s doing, but it’s something that’s going to take time and a lot of hard work to get it to happen,” he said.
Covington, whose birth name was George – she didn’t want to give her original last name because she is estranged from some of her family members – said she first came out as Janice in 1969, when she was living in San Francisco. But she could not get a job and had to go on welfare.
“There’s this misconception that San Francisco was gay-friendly,” at the time, Covington said. But she said police would turn their back if a gay or transgender person was beaten up. Covington said she eventually began dressing as a man to find work .
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to eat,” she said.
Throughout her life, Covington has had several jobs, including selling cars and doing construction work. She also writes for LGBT publications.
Covington said Sunday that a lot of times people don’t come out because of fear of losing their jobs. “I stand up for transgender people because I don’t want them to have to go through the same things I did.”
Originally from South Philadelphia, Covington moved to Charlotte in the early 1970s after meeting and marrying a woman whom she later divorced.
Covington believes that if more people got to know transgender people, they would not have voted for Amendment One. She said members of the LGBT community need to be active outside their communities – joining organizations like the Elks or their local Democratic parties so people get to know them.
LGBT delegates at the DNC
Of the 158 N.C. delegates, 13 are members of the LGBT community, three times the number of the 2008 delegation, Walton Robinson, a spokesman for the N.C. Democratic Party, said in an e-mail.
The D.C.-based National Stonewall Democrats, a grassroots Democratic gay-rights organization, has kept track of most of the data on LGBT delegates from most of the states.
Of the nearly 6,000 delegates expected at the DNC, the total number of LGBT delegates is 471, Jerame Davis, the Stonewall Democrats’ executive director, said in an e-mail. For the first time ever, Davis said all 50 states set numerical goals for LGBT candidates. Another first: there will be at least one LGBT delegate from every state, Davis said.
It is unclear what the total number of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual delegates from North Carolina attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week is. A spokesman for the North Carolina GOP could not be reached for comment Sunday.