No longer two lives - Amendment One's impact on Griffey
For more than 20 years, internationally acclaimed vocalist and performer Anthony Dean Griffey has drifted between two real-life presentations about a fundamental facet of his life.
In the world of opera and the stage — where the High Point native has become friends with actors and singers and earned four Grammy Awards — Griffey can openly discuss his homosexuality. He feels comfortable about the acceptance by his friends in his professional realm.
But in his socially conservative hometown, Griffey hasn’t expressed widely that he’s gay. He broaches his sexuality in social media circles, such as on Facebook. Griffey candidly told The High Point Enterprise he wonders whether he might close doors in his community when it becomes more commonly known in the city that he’s gay.
Griffey has performed a variety of fundraisers over the years for local causes and charities, as well as making personal donations. Last Christmas season, for example, Griffey helped secure $122,000 for Open Door Ministries in High Point.
For Griffey, the high-profile campaign and vote a year ago this week to ban gay marriage in the North Carolina Constitution, known as Amendment One, crystallized his personal divide about his sexuality.
Though he was deeply disappointed when 61 percent of North Carolina voters approved Amendment One to ban gay marriage through the Constitution, Griffey wasn’t surprised by the outcome. He wore stickers and buttons opposing Amendment One and talked with friends about his support for gay marriage. But having grown up in a socially conservative community, the outcome of the vote May 8, 2012, wasn’t unexpected.
Griffey has friends — gay couples living in the state — who have gone to other states where they can legally marry. But those unions aren’t recognized in North Carolina.
“It still is something that weighs heavily on my mind,” Griffey said. “It reminded me we have this prejudice.”
A life change in more ways than one
Griffey became a political person 23 years ago after he moved to New York as an aspiring vocalist and performer.
He graduated from Eastman School of Music and The Juilliard School in New York and was accepted and went through the prestigious Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artist Development Program.
Through his new-found friends, the people he met through the stage and an enlightened church, Griffey came to a realization about being gay, that it wasn’t a badge of shame.
“I realized that what I had grown up to believe, that I was damned to hell for who God made me, was not the truth,” he said. “The truth is that God loves all of us.”
When Griffey broached the subject with his mother about 10 years ago, he received the most heart-warming reaction from anyone he’s ever told he is gay.
“I was crying and very upset and said I understand if you don’t want to have anything to do with me. But this is how God made me,” Griffey recalls. “And she said she had known this since I was a little boy. It was like a huge weight lifted.”
But Griffey acknowledges that other family members and friends from his days in High Point haven’t been as accepting when he’s confided about his sexuality to them.
“They decided that they don’t want to have anything to do with me,” he said.
An internal realization as a child
Griffey, who grew up in the Baptist church, said he realized around the age of 10 that he didn’t see girls in the same way as his male friends from boyhood, a time when adolescents begin to discover sexuality.
“It’s not a choice,” Griffey said. “Who would choose a life of discrimination, of being ostracized, not feeling like you fit in? That’s the reason the suicide rate is so high amongst gays and lesbians.”
Griffey struggled with his realization as an adolescent and teenager, especially because he didn’t feel comfortable sharing it.
“Growing up here in the South, and in High Point, then moving away and coming back nine years ago, a lot of things changed for me for the better,” he said.
Griffey emphasizes that being gay doesn’t define him or his life. But he also has reached a point where he doesn’t shy from who he is.
“It wasn’t a choice to be who God made me,” Griffey said, “but it was a choice whether to live a lie.”
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On May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved adding an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution to ban gay marriage. Amendment One mandates that the only marriage allowed and recognized in the state is between one man and one woman. Here are results for the state and area counties (a vote for Amendment One was to ban gay marriage in the Constitution).
Statewide 61% For 39% Against
Guilford County 50.02% For 49.98% Against
Davidson County 75% For 25% Against
Randolph County 80% For 20% Against
Source: N.C. State Board of Elections
Still volatile a year out — supporters, opponents of gay marriage reflect on vote
A year after voters went to the polls in North Carolina to decide whether to ban gay marriage in the state Constitution, the outlooks and attitudes of Anthony Dean Griffey of High Point and the Rev. Richard Callahan of Archdale symbolize the still-simmering passion about the issue.
Griffey, a four-time Grammy Award winner, vocalist and performer of opera across the world, said he remains disappointed that 61 percent of state voters decided to add the ban on gay marriage to the Constitution.
“Same-sex marriage is about dignity and respect, equal rights, finances and security. Most of all it’s about love,” Griffey said. “I pose the question to the readers: If being gay and lesbian is a choice, when did you choose to be straight? There are all types of families in the world. The focus of the family is love.”
Callahan, pastor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Archdale, said supporters of what was known as Amendment One weren’t expressing hatred toward gay people. Instead, they were standing up for what they see as a fundamental principle of the Bible and Judeo-Christian society.
“Marriage was a biblical issue long before it became a political one,” said Callahan, who’s been with the church for 35 years and was involved in rallies statewide last year for Amendment One. “This is so foundational to society, the very definition of marriage and family.”
A year ago, on front line
A year ago this week, North Carolina dominated political coverage for a time — even in a presidential election year — as millions of voters turned out to decide Amendment One’s fate in the May 8, 2012, primary election.
Thousands of activists on both sides attempted to sway voters, and the airwaves rippled regularly with ads for and against the amendment to codify the ban on gay marriage in the Constitution.
Gay marriage was formally outlawed in the state more than 15 years ago through a law passed by the N.C. General Assembly. But supporters of marriage between one man and one woman wanted to include the provision in the state Constitution to strengthen the prohibition against gay marriage.
Opponents of Amendment One argued the constitutional ban not only wasn’t necessary, but also was mean-spirited. In addition, organizers against Amendment One argued it could have unintended consequences, such as affecting the status of domestic violence orders involving unmarried couples.
In the end, the outcome wasn’t close. Voters statewide approved Amendment One by 61 percent in favor to 39 percent against. The vast majority of counties, including Davidson and Randolph, overwhelmingly backed the ban on gay marriage in the Constitution. Guilford County recorded one of the most narrow margins among the 100 counties, with 50.02 voters supporting Amendment One and 49.98 opposing it, according to N.C. State Board of Elections returns.
Thoughts a year later
A leader of a gay rights organization said some groups have attempted to use passage of Amendment One to roll back domestic partnership benefits and employment protections for gay people.
“We’ve been striving very hard to make sure the impact is as minimal as possible,” said Stuart Campbell, executive director of Equality NC in Raleigh.
Campbell said the most detrimental lingering effect of Amendment One is a personal one.
“The rights of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) citizens were put to a vote in North Carolina, and it lost,” Campbell said. “Their neighbors and coworkers, and in some cases family members, voted to create second-class citizenship, in a sense. But our community is resilient.”
A supporter of Amendment One said the campaign to change the Constitution wasn’t about the dislike of a group of people, but standing firm on a pillar of society.
“The whole idea was to protect the institution of marriage. Because it has passed, it has clearly done that. It hasn’t left it open to being challenged by the courts or the Legislature,” said Jere Royall, counsel with the N.C. Family Policy Council in Raleigh.
Royall said he hasn’t noted widespread unintended consequences from the adoption of Amendment One like the possible effects that were raised by opponents of the measure during last year’s campaign.
“One of the concerns that was raised was about domestic violence laws. We haven’t seen that happen,” Royall said.
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