Thirty years ago, Debbi Carter’s son came home from the University of Michigan to spend some time with his mother and his three sisters. But this visit wasn’t like previous ones. During that visit, Debbi’s son came out to his family as a gay man.
“He felt like we were going to disown him, but we all accepted him,” she said. “As a mom, I really didn’t understand it all at that time—but we accepted him.”
There was no question in Debbi’s mind that she would welcome her son for who he was and underline her support. But as her understanding developed, she realized some people actively fought against the LGBT community, which now included her son. When her friend started a local PFLAG chapter, she joined right away, and for the last 23 years has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality as part of the PFLAG chapter.
Although Debbi’s activism was inspired by her son, her feelings about the importance of LGBT equality have been deepened by her work as a nurse, by her faith and by her experiences in her community. Debbi worked for 10 years providing hospice care, including in the HIV-AIDS community at a time when there were no case management agencies or other support systems for people living with the disease. Years later, a gay friend of hers died from a heart attack due to all the pressure his neighbors caused him when they found out he and two other men were building their dream home in his neighborhood. The two other men decided not to follow their dream.
“Without these laws, people who are against the LGBT population, they will constantly not protect them in housing, restaurants, marriage … Without the passing of the HRO, those who are against the LGBTQ community will continue to deny them housing and all other services they are entitled to.”
She’s also Jewish, and she says the Torah teaches her that no one has a right to prejudice. It upsets her that others in Jacksonville would use their faith as an excuse to discriminate—something she’s experienced while attending City Council meetings in support of the Human Rights Ordinance.
“The more people say hateful things, the stronger I become in my work to make people understand that everybody is equal. I’m 74 years old. I have been working for equal rights for 30 years, and I will do that until the day I die.”