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RTDNA National Kaleidoscope Award: "Civil Rights--Gay Rights" Alabama Public Radio

The Alabama Public Radio news team spotlighted the diversity of its statewide audience in 2015 with on-going coverage of issues, including the same sex marriage debate in Alabama, the 50th anniversary of the "bloody Sunday" attack on voting rights marchers in Selma, as well as Tuscaloosa's welcome home parade for WBC World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Deontay Wilder. Our entry for the RTDNA National Kaleidoscope Award also includes a feature on the "Bal Masque," a Mardi Gras celebration where Tuscaloosa's gay community interacts with its conservative Christian neighbors in Alabama.

Selma audio postcard/

Pat and Stan

March 9, 2015

SELMA AUDIO POSTCARD_duggins_07200_NEWS Thousands of people crowded the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma yesterday to remember what became known as “bloody Sunday.” Voting marchers in 1965 where attacked by State Troopers and a Sheriff’s posse armed with clubs and tear gas. The weekend observance was attended by President Obama and the children of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. APR news director Pat Duggins and reporter Stan Ingold teamed up to bring us this audio postcard…

Tag out: APR’s Pat Duggins and Stan Ingold collaborated on this audio postcard from the weekend observance of “bloody Sunday.” For all of our civil rights related stories, go to apr.org

Selma Wedding/Stan

March 5, 2015

This weekend, the city of Selma will remember the fiftieth anniversary of the event known as Bloody Sunday. State troopers attacked voting rights marchers with clubs and tear gas in 1965. The Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the bloodshed took place, has been become a monument to the civil rights movement. For one couple in the city of Atlanta, the bridge is a symbol of something else, and that’s raising some eyebrows in Selma. Alabama Public Radio’s Stan Ingold has more…

This is how the world remembers March 7, 1965 in the town of Selma. Voting rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge met by State Police Troopers and a Sheriff’s posse armed with clubs and tear gas.

News footage of the attack poured out of black and white television sets and into living rooms nationwide. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

“It may have started out as something so negative but it depends on how you look at it, cause the strength of the people made it more so a beautiful thing,"

I met Sonja Houston at the Saint James Hotel right next to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. She grew up here and she wants to associate some positive memories with the iconic bridge and its place in civil rights history…

“A year and half or two years ago, I thought it would be so beautiful if I could have my wedding ceremony someday, I wasn’t engaged yet, have my ceremony out here, it’s just beautiful.”

If Houston gets her way, her wedding photos will include the Edmund Pettus Bridge as the backdrop…

“Because it has so much character, history, it’s the main focal point of Selma, when you think of Selma or any outsiders think of Selma. Why I want to come home to Selma is because it is home to me.” 

Like any bride-to-be, Houston has enlisted help in getting everything organized for the big day. Rebecca Nichols is the couple’s wedding planner. She and her husband help plan and organize weddings all over the state, but she says using the Edmund Pettus Bridge is a first…

“When Sonja called me and said she wanted to get married down there, I was so excited because we love a good challenge. It’s different and no one has done it before so it’s exciting, and it’s exciting for Selma because if we can get some kind of policy in place for this, Selma could really become a destination wedding place.”

More chatting and walking around… We make our way from the St. James hotel around the block to the City Walk where Houston hopes her wedding can be held…

The City Walk runs alongside the Alabama River and provides a clear view of the Edmund Pettus Bridge…Couples who get married in Selma typically flock to neighborhood parks or stately plantation homes for the big day. Nichols says Houston’s goal of using the Edmud Pettus Bridge carries more complications than where to put the flowers and the dance band.

“The city’s concern is that they have no way for us to actually reserve it because you can’t block it off or keep people from coming down here and I think their concern is because it is public area and there is a walking trail right by the river that there will be public coming in and out and I don’t think we’re that opposed to it, they’d get to see a beautiful ceremony.”

And Houston’s big day isn’t the only thing on the minds of city leaders in Selma. The town is going into high gear for this weekend’s fiftieth anniversary jubilee of bloody Sunday. This is where we find James Benderson, he is the Director of city planning and development. His office also handles special events for the city.

“So if someone wants to have a wedding, bar mitzvah, or baby shower, whatever they want to do in the park, you know, depending on the season they would just make application at the mayor’s office typically and it would get funneled down to planning and development.”

Benderson says the application process is actually pretty easy…

“It’s kind of simple, just fill out the paper work and we look at it and see if we can accommodate you and make sure, we want to know when, where, how many people, if you need police presence, if you need chairs, tables that kind of thing and the amount of staffing it takes, determining what the fee and cost is.”

He says he isn’t shocked someone wants to be married there, he says what does surprise him is the lack people asking… “Believe it or not a lot of people who live here in Selma, a lot of times they don’t even recognize the amenities they have in their own back yard. They don’t even know that

“Oh that’s a beautiful place, I could have a wedding, or a family reunion or something like that,” I probably presume that is why we haven’t gotten a lot of requests about it.”

Houston says while the Edmund Pettus Bridge conjures images of brutality and struggle it also represents the beginning of something good and what she believes ultimately is beautiful…

“The people who made it such a beautiful thing are people I am related to, they are the people I come from, they’re the people we have attachments and bonds too and why I was able to grow in Selma and go to integrated schools and walk the whole city it seems with no problem.”

And Sonja hopes to add to this beauty by beginning her married life in the shadow of one of the most infamous sites of the Civil Rights Movement… I’m Stan Ingold…A-P-R news…in Selma.


January 26, 2015

deontay WRAP_duggins_07207_NEWS

Hundreds of Tuscaloosa residents turned out on Saturday to honor local boxer Deontay Wilder. Alabama Public Radio’s Pat Duggins was at the event and files this report…

Wellwishers lined Greensboro Avenue as Wilder drove past in a red open convertible. From there, hundreds packed the Tuscaloosa amphitheatre

Jay Deas—“I give you the heavyweight boxing champion of the world from Tuscaloosa, Alabama—the bronze bomber—Deontay Wilder!

Deontay – And, guess what? He’s from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, baby!

It’s been just one week since Wilder defeated Bermane Stiverne for the title. His hand is still taped after breaking a finger during the fight…

Same-Sex Marriage Legalized SUPERSPOT / AuBuchon

05210 February 9, 2015

Alabama became the thirty seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage today. Couples throughout Alabama have been applying for – and receiving – marriage licenses. But as APR’s Alex AuBuchon reports, some judges aren't going along with that federal ruling...

Meredith Bagley and Alexandria Davenport, both faculty at the University of Alabama, were married in Vermont five years ago, but they wanted to get an Alabama marriage license now that same-sex marriage is legal. But when they went in to apply at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse earlier today?

“We had barely gotten a sentence in saying that we would like to request a marriage license and we were told that they would not be performing same-sex marriages today or issuing licenses today, and we were handed those letters.”

Those letters were copies of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s letter to all Alabama county probate judges. Moore sent the letter out late last night; it states that no probate judge in the State of Alabama may issue or recognize a marriage license inconsistent with Article 1, Section 36.03 of the Alabama Constitution. That is, the same-sex marriage ban that was just declared federally unconstitutional. Richard Cohen is the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He says there’s no legal validity to Moore’s argument, and that the letter only serves to increase confusion in the state.

“Justice Moore is playing a very, very dangerous game. If he wants to preach, he ought to become a pastor. If he wants to be the chief justice of Alabama, he ought to follow the law and act prudently rather than issuing statements of defiance.”

Cohen says that any probate judges that refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses are putting themselves at risk of expensive lawsuits. The Southern Poverty Law Center has recently filed several ethics complaints against Chief Justice Moore and says the Judicial Inquiry Committee may levy sanctions against him. I’m Alex AuBuchon, APR news in Tuscaloosa.

Same Sex latest/Pat

February 13, 2015

Tuscaloosa County issued its first marriage license to a same sex couple this morning. The historic moment was the result of a federal court order in Mobile County. Alabama has been in a legal whirlwind all week over when the State’s chief justice refused to enforce an earlier federal ruling that same sex marriages in the state are legal. Today’s legal change of heart in Tuscaloosa means joy for one couple and confusion for another. APR’s Pat Duggins reports…

“I was at work and I heard the news about the Mobile case… "

We met Meredith Bagley earlier this week…

“But I was frantically checking and posting and seeing what it meant up here. And frankly I got a text from someone we had met here at the Courthouse on Monday. And we started hearing from multiple sources were confirming that and it was awfully exciting…”

Her excitement was in contrast to Monday when Bagley and her spouse Alexandria Davenport were turned away from the Tuscaloosa County courthouse. Probate judge Hardy McCollum sided with Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and refused to issue marriages to same sex couples. Last night, everything seemed to change… How are you… Friends and supporters met Bagley and Davenport in the hallway in front of office that issues marriage licenses. Making a quieter entrance was Angela Chanel and Dawn Hicks. Chanel says they’re here to get a license after thirty years together and raising three kids…

“They’re thirty one, twenty nine, and twenty eight. And they love their mamas. So, they want that opportunity to share our joy, and to have a great big party…”

Tuscaloosa County wouldn’t issue Chanel and Hicks a marriage license on Monday. Hicks says they could have gone to one of the minority of counties that were issuing licenses, but choose not to…

“We did not want to go to another county. We wanted to be married in Tuscaloosa, we’ve lived here for thirty three years. This is where we raised our kids, and I’m actually from Vermont. We could have been married years ago, but we wanted to marry here in the state of Alabama, this means everything in the world to us.”

Chanel and Hicks were at the head of the line when they were turned away on Monday, so Bagley and Davenport let them go first… Not everything went perfectly. Hicks and Chanel had to enter information into a personal computer on the counter. The on-line form listed both parties as the groom… In the end, they received their license and were headed out the door. Bagley and Davenport were next… That’s where things didn’t go as expected. Bagley and Davenport had been married in Vermont. The clerks told them they couldn’t get a new marriage license if they were already married. The couple then asked if they could get their Vermont license recognized in Alabama. Bagley says the clerk said no…

“So, just to clarify, the couple in front of us…they currently hold more rights in the state of Alabama, than we do as a couple because it’s not recognized… "

The discussion poured out in the hallway with Bagley and Davenport on one side and court clerk Myra Alexander on the other. Bagley says she doesn’t want to vilify the courthouse staff who are just doing their jobs, but their concern was what appeared to be a bigger issue…

“Many, many same sex couples in Alabama went and got married out of state to get that federal protection. Now, you’re going to have a huge chunk of people of our community who are going to be stuck that way. So, some solution has to be found by someone much smarter than me about the law.”

As heartrending as today’s situation appeared to be, the American Civil Liberties Union is offering a glimmer of hope.

“Rejecting their application is in fact recognizing their marriage…”

That’s Randall Marshall, the ALCU of Alabama’s legal director…

“If you’re lawfully married anywhere, then you’re marriage is valid here in Alabama. And that’s certainly one of the prongs of the order that judge grenade issued, is that.”

That would seem to solve Bagley and Davenport’s problem, sort of. They wanted to renew their vows tomorrow on St. Valentine’s day with an Alabama license in hand. They may venture to another county to get one…

Bal Masque/Pat

February 16, 2015

Today is Mardi Gras. The festival along the gulf coast is a time for parades and costumes and party goers catching plastic beads and doubloons. This year’s celebration in Alabama follows a Valentine’s Day like no other. Same sex couples got married and that includes two in Tuscaloosa. This follows a federal court hearing in Mobile that resulted in an order that prompted county probate judges to start issuing marriage licenses. This changed, combined with Mardi Gras, is giving Tuscaloosa’s gay community a unique chance to interact with their neighbors in conservative, Christian, Alabama. APR’s Pat Duggins explains…

“We were at home, and we watched the news all day…”

It was one particular story that Dawn Hicks of Tuscaloosa had been waiting thirty years to hear…

“It was a great moment when we heard Tuscaloosa County was going to issue marriage licenses…”

Hicks and her long time partner Angela Channel received the County’s first ever same sex marriage license. They were married Saturday for Valentine’s Day.

“It’s a great deal for our community in Tuscaloosa…”

Chris Taylor teaches fashion and design at the University of Alabama…

“I think it means the city’s changing, the state’s changing, the country’s changing…”

But, as happy as he is with the news, Taylor doesn’t have a lot of time to talk about it. He and a group of friends are hard at work at the Bama Theater in Downtown Tuscaloosa, one block from the county courthouse where Hicks and Channel picked up their marriage license.  It’s Mardi Gras season. And that means it’s time for Tuscaloosa annual masked ball, known as the Bal Masque. Taylor says the performers will do more than just throw plastic beads into the crowd…

“This year, we have seven in the tableau, three drag queens performing for us and the captain’s numbers.” Let’s put the drag queen part aside for a moment. Taylor explains this year’s theme is the seven seas…

“So, we’ll have the Indian Ocean, the Mediterrean Ocean, Ursula, the Little Mermaid, the Arctic Ocean, Captain Hook, and Jaws.”

The tableau includes performers wearing ornate headdresses which are like wearable set pieces perched on their shoulders. They can range up to fifteen feet high and twenty feet across as the actors walk up and down a runway stretching out into the audience. Words like flamboyant just don’t seem to be enough. We have pictures on apr.org.

Stage manager Alisha Lay barks out orders as the Little Mermaid number goes into final rehearsal. The performer is on wires, so he floats off the stage…

“So, we started with a ray skin as a cover, that will pop off into a ten foot mermaid tail, and then that layers down to a gown, then a little swimsuit underneath…”

The performer is from Birmingham. He goes by the stage name Ginger Snap…

“So far, so good, the biggest issue we’ve had today is getting on and off the wires. But, every drag queen wants to fly, so my dreams are coming true…”

“Well, it’s definitely a different week for Tuscaloosa…” We met Chris Taylor earlier. Along with building the sets, he’s also co-captain of this year’s Bal Masque. The event is a fund raiser for West Alabama Aids Outreach or WAAO. It’s put on by Taylor’s Mardi Gras group called the Mystic Krewe of Druids. He says ticket sales are up and corporate sponsorship is growing, but does that mean acceptance of the gay community?

“I’m not sure. I think with the University here, it’s easier to do this in Tuscaloosa. There’s tons of people from all of the country and all over the world that come here to go to school here. I think that makes it easier with acceptance and moving things a little bit forward…”

“I like to think we’re a little more open to this kind of diversity…”

That’s Elizabeth Aversa. She’s part of Taylor’s target audience. She’s not in the Krewe, but she learned about West Alabama AIDS outreach through friends…

“We like to think this is neighbors caring about neighbors, and if this evening raises money for the people who have AIDS for a variety of reasons here in west Alabama, then as far as I’m concerned it’s worth it and I support it.”

Electric guitar fx It’s the evening of Valentine’s Day. Couples on Greensboro Avenue leave tips for a street performer across from the Bama Theater and the restaurants appear full. Unpacking beads FX Backstage at the Bama, David Ford is at work. Remember this is a Mardi Gras event and Ford may be the most popular man at the Bal Masque…

“My job is to prep the beads for the different officers, the royal and the tableau characters, and everybody has their own beads that they throw to the crowd…”

And there’s a science to being a Mardi Gras bead wrangler. Ford takes strings of beads by the handful and hangs them on a row of coat hooks next to the stage. He says that’s critical…

“Because you can’t get dressed and put your tableau headpiece and then walk there, someone has to prep your beads, and then you can carry them out there. You keep them on a bead rack, so all you have to is stick your hand in and you can pull off a whole bunch at once.”

While David Ford organizes the beads, the performers are getting into make-up and costume before the show. Some are in drag, but Terry Hampton isn’t. He’s the new King of the Mystic Krewe of Druids, and his costume reflects it… In other words, it’s easy to feel underdressed… In the lobby of the Bama, the crowd is growing and soon it’s show time. Larry Contri is the Master of Ceremonies…

“You all having a good time tonight?”

The crowd cheers its approval. Music fx up One by one, the tableau performers parade up and down the runway. Each is accompanied by handlers in costume throwing beads into the crowd.

“It’s funny, people go crazy for the beads.”

Bead wrangler David Ford… “They’re not expensive, they’re just plastic from China. But, people will shove folks out of the way, and climb over the chairs, and step on somebody just to get beads. Now, if you’re in New Orleans, they do a little more risqué things, but that’s never happened in the Bama since I’ve been coming here.”

“I’ve gotten beyond wanting to be hit in the head with five pounds of Mardi Gras beads.” Elizabeth Aversa watched the show from her seat, and left the bead chasing to others. “Kinda racy, kinda jazzy, certainly the costumes were crazy…”

Last year’s event raised over forty two thousand dollars for Tuscaloosa’s AIDS outreach effort and this year’s show stands to do even better. But, as for acceptance of the gay community, that may take time. Two conservative groups have convinced the Alabama Supreme Court to hear a petition to stop same sex marriages in Alabama. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue…

Same Sex/Pat

March 4, 2015

There’s been a new twist in Alabama’s same sex marriage controversy. APR’s Pat Duggins reports no new marriage licenses for gay couples will be issued…

All but one member of the Alabama Supreme Court sided with Chief Justice Roy Moore’s order to all of the state’s probate judges. Moore says all of these county judges will stop issuing same sex marriage licenses for five days. At the end of that time, the probate judges have to say why they should be allowed to continue granting licenses to gay couples. Angela Chanel and Dawn Hicks received Tuscaloosa’s first same sex license last month. Chanel says it’s important to have their union recognized…

“To be able to do this legally means a great deal. We committed forever, and it’s nice tio have a piece of paper that recognizes this is forever.”

The issue may not be settled permanently until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the matter. That’s expected in June.

Same Sex feature/AA

June 26, 2015

Today’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is being both welcomed and criticized in Alabama. The nation’s highest court declared that state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional, and that existing marriages have to be recognized nationwide. Many officials including Tuscaloosa County Probate Judge Hardy McCollum say they oppose same-sex marriage and are resisting the implementation. APR’s Alex AuBuchon reports the ruling is being celebrated by couples APR News has been following for months.

“…just got a text from my sister that the Supreme Court rules that all states are to allow same-sex couples to marry. Just wanted to let you know in case you haven’t heard yet. I love you.” That was a text that Angela Channell of Tuscaloosa thought she’d never get. The next step was to break the news to Dawn Hicks, her wife and partner of nearly 20 years.

“…aww, that’s awesome. So it looks like we’re staying married. Congratulations! We only did it twice. To make sure it took.”

“I was watching the clock to get closer to 9 AM central but then I was also keeping myself busy, ‘cause I was just nervous.” We met Meredith Bagley four months ago. She got to break the news to her partner as well…

“I was in a meeting, but I saw – I felt my phone going off and so I just took a quick peek at it. The first text was from my dad, and it just said ‘Congratulations.’ And I knew it had to be the full win.”

Bagley and Alexandrea Davenport joined dozens of supporters outside the County Courthouse with flags and signs to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision. It was here that they asked for a marriage license back in February and were turned down. Despite today’s win, all isn’t well inside the courthouse.

Clerks had no plans to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

“Once there’s a ruling, it’s not final.” That’s Tuscaloosa County probate judge Hardy McCollum. He issues marriages, but not to same sex couples, at least not now… “There is an appeal process for those that make, and until it becomes final – once that’s done, we will comply with the federal, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.”

The appeal McCollum is referring to allows the losing side in a Supreme Court case to ask for a review. Even if the high court says no, don’t expect to see any same sex couples saying “I Do” with McCollum officiating…

“My thoughts are that I’m opposed to same-sex marriage personally and I will not be performing any.”

And, McCollum’s NOT the only one saying not so fast….

“It’s a violation of separation of powers between the legislature and the Supreme Court.”

That’s Jason Kidd, the executive director of the Montgomery-based Foundation for Moral Law.

“It’s a violation of legislative action when you have 81% of a population voting against something, and then it’s thrust upon them by one decision from a court that they didn’t have a voice in.”

And Kidd’s not alone…

“If there is going to be a change on something like this, it should be from the people up, not from the court down.” That’s John Eidsmoe. He’s Senior Counsel at the Foundation. Eismoe is referring to a conservative idea that a popular vote on same sex marriage be held instead of leaving it up to the courts…

Randall Marshall says no way. He’s Legal Director at the ACLU of Alabama. “If 81% of Alabama’s electorate voted to prohibit same-sex marriage, that still doesn’t make it any more right than if today 60% of the voters support same-sex marriage. People’s constitutional rights aren’t subject to vote.”

Alabama’s same-sex marriage controversy dates back to late January. That’s when federal lawsuits on adoption rights and medical power of attorney for gay couples were being heard. The ALCU’s Randall Marshall says that’s when U.S. District Judge Callie Granade declared Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage federally unconstitutional.

“Following that, the Alabama Supreme Court, in a very unprecedented move, issued an order to the probate court judges to continue to enforce Alabama law.”

Meaning no same sex marriage licenses. That push was spearheaded by Chief Justice Roy Moore. His defiant stance against the federal courts and same-sex marriage made him something of a rock star among conservatives… 

“Are we willing to say that a federal court will decide what our faith looks like? What our families look like? What marriage looks like?” Reverend Pat Mahoney heads the Christian Defense Coalition. He led a rally in Montgomery in support of Chief Justice Moore back in February Ironically, Mahoney mentioned Moore in the same breath as civil rights leaders of the 1960’s.

“People who took a stance like Chief Justice Moore, people who took a stance like Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, Rosa Parks right here in this city. We are saying that is the kind of commitment and movement that we are embracing. People who stood up against this judicial overreach and activism.”

Opponents of gay marriage weren’t the only ones on pins and needles waiting for the high court’s decision. People on the other side weren’t too…

Gay rights activists held a rally on the campus of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to bolster support during the Supreme Court’s deliberations…

“People think that these, oh, these aren’t issues for places like this. Dr. Adam Sharples was among those who spoke… But we’re here in all of these places and all of these spaces. And I think it’s time that those justices realize that we are everywhere. And everyone knows somebody who identifies this way. And we’re part of that fabric. And I’m tired of being ripped out, and I want to be netted in.”

Even if today’s decision stands, the process of legalizing same-sex marriage in Alabama may take five years. That’s according to Susan Watson, executive director of Alabama’s ACLU. And it’s not just issues with marriage laws…

“LGBTQ people are not a protected class, so what that means is someone could get married on Saturday and get fired from their job on Monday.”

And Watson says that’s not all…

“Gay people often have problems with housing. They have problems at work. Gay people shouldn’t be fired because of who they love. They have problems being served in restaurants and even being affectionate in public. So, we’ve got a long way to go.”

Supporters of today’s high court decision plan a celebration at Tuscaloosa’s Mellow Mushroom. They want to savor the victory today before facing whatever legal wrinkles come up tomorrow… [SOQ]

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