For the past few weeks I’ve been on an activism-through-journalism swing over at my day job. In a two-part, pre- and post-election opinion column, I ranted and raved over the lack of LGBT equality and recognition in Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest city.
In the column prior to Election Day, I wrote:
I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life and I’ve visited all of its largest cities. I’d been to Chapel Hill numerous times, but the IGLTA Fam Tour was the first time I’d experienced the town as an adult and outside of the university bubble. While there, I felt completely comfortable, warmly embraced and unconditionally welcomed and accepted. In Charlotte, I work for a gay-owned company and most of my time is spent traveling in LGBT political or social circles. Yet, the warm feeling I had in Chapel Hill is found rarely in the Queen City. Even in my primarily LGBT-involved life, a sense of coldness, rejection and conservative, anti-gay moralism invades my time in Charlotte.
The facts, unfortunately, support my experiences.
Elected officials in other cities across the state uniformly welcome and embrace their LGBT communities. Other cities offer domestic partner benefits. All major cities in North Carolina, excluding Charlotte, include at least sexual orientation in their employment non-discrimination policies and some include gender-identity.
The truth of the matter is that, while Charlotte leads the state in population and business, we’re dead last when it comes to diversity, inclusion and LGBT recognition.
In my post-election column, I called for greater action from Charlotte’s new city council and the city’s first Democratic mayor in nearly 22 years:
On Dec. 7, Foxx and the new council will be sworn-in. That means he, and our new pro-LGBT majority on city council, will have until Feb. 7, 2010, to make good on the promises they’ve handed us for years.
Among the tasks to be completed are a fully-inclusive non-discrimination policy protecting city employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender-identity and an extension of benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.
It wouldn’t hurt to also create a new mayoral task force on LGBT inclusion, appoint a few high profile and openly LGBT folks to city and mayoral commissions, issue a letter of support for the Human Rights Campaign Carolinas dinner in Raleigh and a welcome letter for this summer’s Pride Charlotte.
It’s an ambitious agenda, I know. And, maybe it can’t be completed in two-months’ time, but Charlotte’s new council and mayor can at least attempt to bridge these gaps. That’s really all I’m asking from them — show some real, concerted effort, instead of just talking about it.
And, I called upon Charlotte’s LGBT leadership and community to get more visibly and vocally active in their quest for equality:
But this is a two-way street, of course. If we expect Charlotte’s leadership to act on our behalf, then we will also have to undertake our own community-wide effort to make a change.
Individually and as groups, we’ll need to reach out to our elected officials: write them letters, send them emails, make appointments to sit down and chat with them in person and invite them to our community events.
Our community’s non-profits will have to urge their members to take a more active role in their local politics. Charlotte’s Lesbian & Gay Community Center will need to take a more public role in building, shaping and cultivating its community. Organizations serving large numbers of youth will need to encourage their members to register to vote. Charlotte’s MeckPAC will need to hold their endorsed candidates accountable, even if it means the threat of stripping away future endorsements for failure to act. In short, our community will have to come out of the closet in a public and politically-active way, in much the same way we did countering anti-gay threats in the early-to-mid 1990s.
But, on Nov. 24, I was again reminded how behind-the-times Charlotte remains. In sleepy, coastal Charleston, S.C., city council members there passed far-reaching, LGBT-inclusive housing and public accommodations ordinances. Astonishingly, the new laws passed without opposition.
Charleston is the second South Carolina city to pass such broadly inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. The Palmetto State’s capital city, Columbia, passed similar laws in early 2008.
“Wow. The birthplace of the Confederacy just one-upped Charlotte… again,” I thought to myself.
If Charlotte hopes to move forward on local LGBT equality, our community will have to step up our public visibility. After all, if our own community and its leadership doesn’t care enough to make a stink over our treatment, why would the general public? It isn’t as if LGBT rights are on the forefront of an average citizen’s mind, you know.
Since moving to Charlotte a little over two years ago, I’ve been blown away by the lack of cohesiveness and public advocacy present in the local LGBT community. Coming from Winston-Salem and Greensboro, where our small communities made up for their size with a loud and constantly visible public presence, I expected the Queen City’s behemoth LGBT community to be just as visible. I’ve been saddened and disappointed since finding out my assumptions about Charlotte weren’t the reality.
With a new city council and new mayor, my hopes are that our community will move forward in ways unimaginable in years past. To make that happen, our community will have to come out of its self-imposed closet. Until we do, we’ll be stuck living in a small Southern village, instead of the world-class, welcoming metropolis for which city leaders have striven.