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Lt. Gov. Robinson touts end of DEI as LGBTQ+ advocates seek protections, equity

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Lt. Gov. Robinson touts end of DEI as LGBTQ+ advocates seek protections, equity

Jun 13, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Ahmed Jallow
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Lt. Gov. Robinson touts end of DEI as LGBTQ advocates seek protections, equity
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Lt. Governor Mark Robinson vows to end Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at a Moms for Liberty rally. (Photo: Ahmed Jallow)

North Carolina Republican gubernatorial nominee Lt. Governor Mark Robinson made an unusual public appearance in Raleigh on Wednesday at a legislative day sponsored by the conservative advocacy group Moms for Liberty. During a brief talk on the lawn outside the Legislative Building, Robinson told a group of activists that he is proud to stand up for what is “right” and pledged to end Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs in schools and government if elected in November.

Echoing what’s become a theme for conservative politicians and candidates across the country in the runup to the 2024 election, Robinson said, “DEI … it sounds nice, but we all know it’s wrecking systems all across the nation, all across the state.” 

“My version of DEI is not diversity, equity and inclusion. My version of DEI is something this nation, this state, our institutions need to bring back,” he said. “It’s what we used to search for in this country … discipline, excellence and intelligence.”    

Supporters say DEI initiatives help ensure that people who belong to groups traditionally treated as second class Americans — women, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities — gain inclusion in workplaces and educational institutions.  

Robinson, who has condemned LGBTQ+ people and homosexuality in the past, said on Wednesday that he is not “against” any particular group, but that certain subjects and topics — an apparent reference to LGBTQ+ people and their lives and lifestyles — have no place in school. “These agendas need to be removed from our schools. They need to be removed from our government.” 

Moms for Liberty was founded in Florida in 2021 and gained prominence for its opposition to COVID-19 school closures and mask mandates. 

It is now a national organization with chapters in 48 states, including 20 in North Carolina. The group has shifted its focus to curriculum content and calls for limitations on discussions of gender, sexuality, and DEI in schools. The group also calls for the removal of books they believe are inappropriate for certain age groups.

Brooke Weiss, Chair of the Mecklenburg County Chapter, told reporters that the group was in Raleigh to advocate for a civics examination requirement for all public high school graduates, similar to the test immigrants are required to take before becoming citizens. “People are taking an oath of office that have never read the Constitution and don’t even understand what it is,” Weiss said. “Every American should be able to answer the same questions that we asked immigrants to answer.”

North Carolina high school students are currently required to take courses on civics and U.S. history to graduate.

Robinson’s sighting at the Legislative Building was relatively unusual. Though the Lt. Governor officially serves as President of the state Senate, Robinson, unlike his predecessors in recent decades, has rarely presided over Senate sessions during his three-and-a-half years in office.

As he has on other occasions in recent months, Robinson used part of his brief speech on Wednesday to criticize what he said has been inadequate outrage over antisemitic statements allegedly made by student protesters demonstrating against the Israel-Hamas conflict on campuses across the state.

“They did nothing while at the same time the same folks, that same ilk, called moms who went down to school boards simply to demand that their children weren’t being fed pornography and weren’t being indoctrinated in their schools and demanded to know what their children were learning were called domestic terrorist.”

The comments were the latest in what has been a sustained effort by Robinson in recent months to distance himself from (and make amends for) past remarks of his own that have been widely condemned as antisemitic.

As Newsline reported in October of 2023, Robinson has said he regretted the “wording” he used in Facebook posts that promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories, denied the reality of the Holocaust, claimed a character in the “Black Panther” movie was “created by an agnostic Jew,” and then in the same Facebook post used a Yiddish pejorative for Black people “Schvartze,” and an antisemitic term for Israeli currency “shekels.”

Robinson’s opponent in November, Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein would, if elected, be the state’s first Jewish governor.

A very different event

Sen. Lisa Grafstein (left) and Rep. Julie Von Haefen (right) address those attending Equality NC's advocacy day
Sen. Lisa Grafstein (left) and Rep. Julie Von Haefen (right) address those attending Equality NC’s advocacy day at the NC General Assembly. (Photo: Ahmed Jallow)

 

Soon after the Moms for Liberty event concluded, a very different group of advocates assembled outside the Legislative Buidling as representatives and supporters of Equality NC, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, held a press conference to kickstart its advocacy day. Speakers included a pair of Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Lisa Grafstein and Rep. Julie Von Haefen of Wake County and multiple advocates.

None of the speakers at the event mentioned Robinson or Moms for Liberty by name, but they highlighted the potential effects on the LGBTQ+ community of policies championed by the group and Robinson.

Grafstein, who is the only out LGBTQ+ member of the North Carolina Senate, said when she first ran for office in 2022, her focus was on public education, affordable housing, and disability rights.

“Naively, I believe that that’s what I came here to work on,” said Grafstein. “When I got here, I found that, in fact, there was a culture war happening right here…every single day, a culture war happening that’s not about any of the issues that affect people’s lives, but that it’s about politics, that it’s about gaining political advantage, and that it’s about demonizing and marginalizing people for political gain.”

On the eighth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre that left 49 people dead in Orlando, Florida, Grafstein said threats against LGBTQ communities still loom large.

“There’s still danger, there’s still hatred, there’s still violence directed at the queer community. What we also know is that that kind of violence is fueled by the ways in which people are talked about in public forums, by the ways that our elected representatives talk about the LGBTQ community, by the policies that are enacted that are marginalizing and that are harmful to our lives.”

Rep. von Haefen expressed similar sentiments. She said she ran for office to fight for public schools and teachers. “But all that I’ve been able to do since I’ve been here is to fight against really horrible pieces of legislation that are continuing to attack our kids, that are continuing to attack the most vulnerable kids in our schools.”

Von Haefen said she was devastated when North Carolina passed the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” legislation into law last year. “I knew what we were doing was literally harming the very kids that we were supposed to be elected to protect. In that building.”

The law makes it illegal to talk to students about sexuality and gender identity in kindergarten through fourth grade. It also requires schools to tell parents if a student changes their pronouns.

“I think of the survivors of Pulse, I think of the young trans kids across the country who have experienced the hateful, relentless bullying fueled by the attacks from elected officials who should be protecting them,” said Rhys Chambers, of Human Rights Campaign, also an LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

“Every family and every child deserve the same protections as everyone else. The youth of North Carolina deserve better. They deserve to live their lives with safety, dignity, privacy and freedom from discrimination. We deserve leaders who will fight for all of us this violence and vitriol against our community, perpetuated and bolstered by misinformation, disinformation and stigma, all of which we are seeing right now, from state houses to Congress to major media outlets.”

Wednesday’s competing events come during a legislative session in which, unlike 2023, Republican legislative leaders who control the General Assembly have advanced little in the way of culture war legislation and have thus far left most debates over issues related to civil and human rights to competing candidates and campaigns.