Sen. Kay Hagan at the 2009 HRC Carolina Gala in Charlotte.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) released a statement to mainstream and LGBT media and bloggers this week outlining her opposition to the state’s proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment.

From Hagan’s office:

In today’s hyperpartisan political environment, I view any attempt to alter our state constitution with a critical eye. Amendment One has far-reaching negative consequences for our families, our children and our communities. North Carolina is one of the most business-friendly states in the nation, and this amendment would harm our state’s ability to recruit the innovators and businesses that are driving our economic recovery. Jobs are my number one priority, and we cannot afford totake our eye off the ball and give businesses a reason to grow and expand elsewhere. The people I hear from everyday – the families that make up the fabric of the Old North State – tell me they are sick and tired of watching their jobs and their livelihoods fall victim to divisive partisan posturing. In North Carolina we say our state is “Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great.” Amendment One harms our state’s resolve to make all people and all families great, and as a proud daughter of North Carolina, I urge all North Carolinians to join me in opposing it.

The statement comes as the Human Rights Campaign is set to hold its Carolina Gala in Charlotte on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Local leaders, too, have taken a stab at speaking out, saying they are “on board for equality” in a “Welcome to Charlotte” video released by HRC this week. The video includes Mayor Anthony Foxx, Mecklenburg County Commissioners Jennifer Roberts and Dumont Clarke, City Councilmembers Patsy Kinsey and LaWana Mayfield and state Rep. Becky Carney. There’s still no word on how “on board for equality” some local leaders are, and if such rhetoric extends to using their offices and votes to take a greater stand for equality (see my commentary last week in Creative Loafing, “Queen City? She’s no reigning monarch when it comes to LGBT equality”),

All my conversation on Friday and this morning regarding Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield’s insistence that “Charlotte City Council has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh,” has glossed over one small, but glaring undercurrent of discontent.

Any longtime North Carolinian is aware of the historic, regional divide between East and West in this state. In modern times, that divide has increasingly come to mean Charlotte v. Raleigh.

Mayfield hinted at that regional divide in her comments on Thursday evening — a sentiment that the City of Charlotte is somehow separate and distinct from “Raleigh,” which can mean either “City of Raleigh” or “State Government” / “State of North Carolina” depending on who you ask.

It’s that sentiment that James Miller, executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, picked up on when he commented on my Facebook page in response to Mayfield’s comments: “This is ridiculous— just because it is ‘out of Raleigh’? PFFFFFFFFF.”

Politicians in Charlotte and state government officials in Raleigh can duke it out all they want (the actual merits of such a silly fight we’ll leave to another day), but the “Great State of Mecklenburg” complex Charlotteans have developed mustn’t need destroy any natural camaraderie we have with LGBT community leaders, activists and community members living in the state’s capital city. In fact, folks in Raleigh likely have a lot to teach Charlotte queer folk, who seem to be living in a not-so-modern world more suited to the late-1980s and early-1990s than today’s vibrant, inclusive and diverse society — an LGBT-inclusive political and social culture that has already developed in Tar Heel cities like Asheville, Boone, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and, yes, Raleigh.

It’s no coincidence that Raleigh has a stronger, more active LGBT community center and other LGBT community organizations than  Charlotte. It’s also worth noting: the City of Raleigh and its elected officials actually held a public, on-the-record vote protecting LGB city workers… nearly a quarter-century ago.

Photo Credit: GoodNightRaleigh.com

Charlotte City Council

(Update, Feb. 13, 2012, 3:25 p.m.: As Charlotte remains silent on matters of LGBT equality, the New Jersey Senate pushes forward with a marriage equality bill and Washington state becomes the seventh to legalize equality in marriage for LGBT couples. Queen City, take note: The future is coming fast, and you’re being left in the dust.)

My post on Friday recounting the exchange between Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, a Q&A panel audience member and me and Mayfield’s insistence that Charlotte “has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh” caught the ire of a couple of my readers.

In particular, “Hunter” cut right to the chase (certainly, in a more forceful way than I would have):

Mayfield’s statement is utter bullshit.

The Charlotte City Council takes positions on state legislative matters all the time. Cities have legislative agendas, and Charlotte is no exception.

Shame on Mayfield for daring this speak such obvious lies.

Anyone with even a single iota of knowledge on how local government works knows that city councils and other local governing bodies (e.g. county commissions, transportation commissions, etc.) take public positions on state and federal matters on a regular basis. That usually happens yearly when, as Hunter points out, local governments adopt their state and federal legislative agendas.

The City of Charlotte is no exception. The council’s Governmental Affairs Committee meets regularly in order to discuss, debate and propose the city’s annual state and federal legislative agenda. They even publish a calendar outlining the timing of their deliberations and subsequent approval by city staff and city council.

The city’s 2012 state legislative agenda has yet to be finalized and I couldn’t find a copy of its proposed contents on the city’s and county’s website. I did, however, find the proposed 2011 state legislative agenda, complete with a full 22 pages of in-depth public policy position statements on items ranging from public safety and criminal justice to infrastructure, taxing and budgeting needs.

Perhaps I should have posted more about this on Friday; I just figured the existence of legislative agendas was a no-brainer. Hunter’s comment reminded me, perhaps, that’s not true, despite the fact that so many current council members and candidates certainly knew what a legislative agenda was during campaign season.

Mayfield

Back at the old day job, we spearheaded an initiative to get council candidates on-the-record responses to four issues of importance to local LGBT citizens and residents.

The fourth question in our candidate questionnaire asked:

Would you support the adoption by city council of a legislative agenda that includes items to (a) seek legislative approval to extend public accommodations and public housing ordinances to include both sexual orientation and gender identity, (b) oppose the state’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a statute which bans recognition of same-sex marriages, and (c) oppose any attempt to pass a state constitutional amendment that would ban recognition of same-sex marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships and other legal arrangements?

Mayfield’s answer at the time:

Yes I would support A, B and C. I believe that by building relationships and commitments among the Council members we can ensure enough support to sustain a yes vote.

That doesn’t square so easily with Mayfield’s response at the Thursday evening panel, when she argued, “Charlotte City Council has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh.”

Mayfield also said (emphasis added):

As far as taking a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh, it has never been the policy of the Charlotte City Council to make a statement one way or another. We really focus on what’s happening in the City of Charlotte. We do not step outside of our realm too often. If it’s going to benefit the city, that’s our focus.

And, that bears a more in-depth response than the one I offered on Thursday evening, when I said, “It might have been something that came out of Raleigh, but it is something that will affect Charlotte. It will affect all the LGBT people who live in Charlotte — people who are represented by the people on city council and who will be affected by the amendment.”

A few of many ways the amendment impacts Charlotte and why it is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council:

  • The amendment would bar the extension of health and other benefits to the same-sex partners of city employees. The city doesn’t currently offer these benefits, but, as mentioned by Mayfield, the issue is currently being discussed and considered by council members and city staff. If the city truly desires to one day offer these benefits to LGBT employees’ families, then taking a position on the amendment and its ban on domestic partner benefits is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
  • The amendment could mean the end of domestic violence protection for individuals, both gay and straight, in unmarried relationships. The city-county’s joint police department would have to explore new ways to combat and control domestic violence between unmarried partners. How would the police department ensure the safety of a person being battered and abused by an unmarried partner? How much authority would they have to remove the abuser from the household if law prohibits the recognition of their relationship? The city oversees and administers the police department, therefore it is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
  • The amendment could invalidate joint child-custody and visitation arrangements between unmarried couples. Though the county primarily oversees the social services and children’s welfare programs here, if the city has any stake at all in the preservation of healthy homes and families, then this is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
  • Studies have found that LGBT people in states with anti-LGBT constitutional amendments face increased mental health problems. According to anti-amendment organizers, one such study found that LGBT people reported increases in mood disorder (36.6% increase), generalized anxiety disorder (248.2% increase), alcohol use disorder (41.9% increase), and psychiatric comorbidity (36.3% increase). Again, the county primarily provides health services to the public, but if the city has any stake in protecting, preserving and promoting a healthy population and workforce, then this is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.
  • The amendment could result in a chilling effect in businesses currently located in North Carolina and those thinking of moving here. North Carolina is home to 15 Fortune 500 companies. The five largest — Charlotte’s Bank of America, Lowe’s and Duke Energy, and Winston-Salem’s Reynolds American and BB&T — each offer protections to LGB  employees. With the exception of Lowe’s and Duke Energy, all offer protections to transgender workings. And, four — Bank of America, Duke Energy, Reynolds American and BB&T — each offer domestic partner benefits in addition to some some 50 other private companies across the state. Research of the “creative class” by Richard Florida has found that more and more workers within “creative” professional fields highly value respect, tolerance, inclusion and diversity. Such values are respected even among straight workers, who seek to know that a diversity of viewpoints, life experiences and people will be honored at their workplaces. According to anti-amendment organizers, the creative class workers were more than 2.5 times more likely to move to Massachusetts in the three years following marriage equality there than in the three years prior. What kind of message will this amendment send to current and potential employees and businesses in North Carolina? Will the amendment cause some citizens, along with their tax income and personal economic activity, to flee the state? Will some employees of major companies like Bank of America request to be moved to the company’s already-large presence in places like Boston or New York City (where marriage equality is recognized)? Will young entrepreneurs — the backbone of our small business economy — find it harder to recruit and retain highly-skilled and highly-valuable employees? Will companies themselves — those like Bank of America — find it easier to do business in less hostile places? According to the city council’s own 2012 Strategic Focus Area Plan for Economic Development, Charlotte seeks to “be the most prosperous and livable city for all citizens through quality economic development.” If the amendment holds any potential harm for economic development and growth, then this is a question of concern for the city and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council.

So, above and beyond the fact that it is utterly false to say that Charlotte “has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh,” it is also false to say that Charlotte, inherently, has no interest in the potential approval on May 8 of this anti-LGBT, anti-family, anti-personal freedom and anti-business constitutional amendment. The interest is wide and varied, far beyond the simple impact on the personal lives of LGBT Charlotteans. The amendment could affect local government and its employees, local law enforcement, the health and well-being of local families and children and the economic well-being of our entire city, region and state.

This amendment is, without a doubt, a major question of concern for this city and its people and, therefore, deserves attention from our city council. Like Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham and Greensboro, the Charlotte City Council should consider and pass a resolution opposing the amendment and its potential harms to our fair city and this great state.

I encourage you to click over to the previous post on this subject, scroll to the bottom and find the contact information for Charlotte City Council. Send them an email or call them, asking them to take up a resolution opposing this amendment.

LaWana Mayfield

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Charlotte City Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield (D-District 3) said the council will not consider a resolution opposing North Carolina’s anti-LGBT amendment, in response to an audience member’s question posed during a film screening and panel discussion hosted by Campus Pride on Thursday night at Petra’s, an LGBT-friendly bar in Plaza-Midwood.

[Disclosure: I am the communications and programs director for Campus Pride. The following post is made as a voting citizen and resident of Charlotte and does not reflect the official views or positions of Campus Pride.]

Other cities and towns in the state — including Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro — have already passed resolutions opposing the amendment; some did so before the amendment gained legislative approval last September. In the fall, Mecklenburg County Commissioner and then-Chairman Jennifer Roberts joined city and county leaders across the state in a joint letter opposing the amendment.

This week, the Greensboro City Council passed such a statement 7-1, the sole dissenting vote being a far-right Republican. Even Greensboro’s Republican Mayor Robbie Perkins came out in opposition to the amendment.

Yet, Charlotte’s mayor and other city council leaders have yet to take an official, outspoken and forceful position on the amendment.

The somewhat edited exchange between the audience member, Mayfield and me, below:

Audience member: LaWana, what is the city council going to do about Amendment One? Are they going to debate. Are they going to pass a resolution to oppose it? Have you spoken to anyone about this?

LaWana Mayfield: Yes, we have had conversations about it. No, the city council is not going to take a stance on it one way or another, and the reason is, historically, Charlotte City Council has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh. That’s just, historically, where the city council has never taken a stance one way or another when it comes to whatever piece of legislation may come out of Raleigh; they’ve never taken a stance on it. Yes, we are having conversations right now and as council we have been meeting with members of the community regarding a study of domestic partner benefits for the city since it was extended to county employees; that was done two years ago. As far as taking a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh, it has never been the policy of the Charlotte City Council to make a statement one way or another. We really focus on what’s happening in the City of Charlotte. We do not step outside of our realm too often. If it’s going to benefit the city, that’s our focus. But, we are having conversations with folks to find out what the staff and what the community is asking for and we’re taking that to heart when we’re having our conversations and sending it to staff to get the balance on whether we are ready to move forward with this, what is going to be, if any, the financial implications, can we afford, is there something we can make accessible to all employees and what it’s going to look like. It has not been presented to council as a body yet. It is still in committee. Once it comes out of committee, then it will be presented to council.

Matt Comer: I personally implore you here publicly to talk to your colleagues more about coming out against the amendment. Greensboro, this week, came out to oppose the amendment. It might have been something that came out of Raleigh, but it is something that will affect Charlotte. It will affect all the LGBT people who live in Charlotte — people who are represented by the people on city council and who will be affected by the amendment. I think the council should debate this issue.

LaWana Mayfield: This is what I’d suggest, and this is for everyone in this room take this back to your friends and families: When the community shows up, they do give us the authority as council representatives to fight whatever fight that is. When you email, when you call, when you show that there’s an interest, then it’s not just me as the gay member on council saying this is something I’m going to fight for gay rights. Then it is, as a member of council, I’m listening to my constituency, I’m listening to my community, and it’s not just me, its the rest of my council who is also having to listen to their constituencies because these are the residents in their districts…saying this is an issue of importance and we want you to take the time to truly address it. Then it becomes not just me, one person, saying this is something we need to work on. It becomes the community, and then speaking with my fellow council members I can say this is something we need to work on. As a community I need you to step up, because I need you to give me the ammunition that I need in order for me to… [inaudible].

The community has been speaking out about this issue. We’ve done so for a long time. Back in July 2009, Durham resident Joshua Weaver traveled to Charlotte to support citizens here in requesting the Charlotte City Council adopt a pro-equality resolution similar to one approved by Chapel Hill and Carrboro and later approved by Durham. As you might imagine, the request in Charlotte went nowhere.

Mayfield has asked that the community get involved and voice their opinions (yet again) to Charlotte City Council. I hope you’ll join me in speaking out publicly on this issue and in contacting the members of city council.

You can find out what city council district you live in via the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections’ website. When you find out, match up your information to the district representative list and contact information listed at the bottom of this post and send an email to your district representative, the mayor and at-large council members.

When you email or call your council members, be sure to mention how you feel about the amendment and the city council’s as-of-yet public vote to pass an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance and domestic partner benefits.

A sample script:

Dear Councilmember [MEMBER NAME],

My name is [YOUR NAME], and I live at [YOUR ADDRESS]. I’m writing today to ask you to support passing a resolution opposing North Carolina’s proposed anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment. The amendment is the most draconian version of similar amendments passed elsewhere and will write discrimination into our constitution, affecting the rights of LGBT citizens and others. The amendment’s language is so broad and vague that it could impact both gay and straight unmarried couples’ rights and even domestic violence statutes. Please pass a resolution opposing this discriminatory measure.

I also ask that you consider taking up a public vote on the matter of discrimination in city government. Our city employees deserve to know that they will be judged by their work and character alone, not simply by who they are. Please stand up for our city employees and send a sign to other LGBT citizens that anti-LGBT discrimination is wrong.

Finally, I also ask that you consider passing domestic partner benefits for city employees and their same-sex partners. These benefits are already available to heterosexual couples. LGBT employees deserve to know that their families will be as well taken care of as their straight colleagues’ families. Healthy homes and stable families make our city stronger.

Thank you,

[YOUR NAME]
[YOUR ADDRESS]
[YOUR PHONE AND EMAIL ADDRESS]

Charlotte City Council members

Mayor Anthony Foxx (D)
mayor@charlottenc.gov
704-336-2241

Patrick D. Cannon, Mayor Pro-Tem, At-Large (D)
MayorProTemCannon@gmail.com
704-336-7400

Claire Green Fallon, At-Large (D)
cfallon@charlottenc.gov
704-336-6105

David L. Howard, At-Large (D)
info@davidhowardclt.com
704-336-4099

Beth Pickering, At-Large (D)
bpickering@charlottenc.gov
704-336-5285

Patsy Kinsey, District 1 (D)
pkinsey@charlottenc.gov
704-336-3432, 704-376-5367

James Mitchell Jr., District 2 (D)
JamesDistrict2@aol.com
704-394-3332

LaWana Mayfield, District 3 (D)
councilwomanmayfield@gmail.com
704-890-5449

Michael D. Barnes, District 4 (D)
barnesdistrict4@aol.com
704-509-6141

John Autry. District 5 (D)
jautry@charlottenc.gov
704-336-2777

Andy Dulin, District 6 (R)
adulin1@carolina.rr.com
704-968-8776

Warren Cooksey, District 7 (R)
warren@warrencooksey.com
704-347-0420