Today, citizens in Charlotte head to the polls to choose a new mayor and new city council members. Earlier in the election, I’d noted that I wouldn’t reveal how I’d vote. This morning, I felt a strong urge to speak out.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve voted for a Republican. In 2004, I cast a ballot for Richard Burr, a fellow Winston-Salem native. That same year, I voted for a Republican candidate for sheriff, a family acquaintance. In 2009, I voted for Edwin Peacock in his at-large race for Charlotte City Council. [Edit (Nov. 5, 2013, 2:51 p.m.): Last year, I also voted for Wayne Powers, a Republican candidate for Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Apologies that I forgot about this vote.]

Today, I’ll cast votes again for Republican candidates, Edwin Peacock included.

Say what, my friends and acquaintances may scream. I know, I can hardly believe it either. It’s a cliche phrase, but it truly fits the current situation: I’m not leaving my party; my party left me.

I’ve been torn over this local election for months. But, I’ve finally made my decision. It comes after several days of news regarding Democratic mayoral candidate Patrick Cannon’s misleading statements regarding his involvement in closed-door council discussions on the Carolina Panthers and council’s decision to give the company $87.5 million in business incentives.

Cannon, who owns parking services company E-Z Parking and has admitted his own conflict of interest with the Panthers, recently said he “never” attended a closed-door session discussing the Panthers incentives, adding that “a mayor should know that kind of thing.”

Fact checks from local media reveal Cannon did, in fact, attend three of the four closed-door meetings on the topic. (See coverage from The Charlotte Observer and WFAE for more.)

So, apparently, Cannon either doesn’t know what he himself did or he willfully chose to mislead the public.

Either way, I cannot vote for Cannon. Not only has he defended the use of public money by spending it on a private and profitable billion-dollar company, but he has also defended the council’s closed-door sessions and, what’s more, misled the public about his involvement in them.

The Panthers incentives debate has been important to me. I’ve spoken out against the decision several times (see: “In Charlotte, the rich get richer behind closed doors” and “Misplaced Council priorities in Panthers plan”). I’m against corporate welfare, when such public money should be rightfully used to support citizens. Private businesses run by millionaires who employ millionaires can find their own money. There’s no need to fleece taxpayers when such companies are easily making profits. And, besides, taxpayer money was never designed to benefit the profit-making enterprises of private corporations; the money is designed to support government, citizens and residents.

Further, I have been disappointed with current council leadership, Cannon included, who thought it was appropriate to meet in the comforting secrecy of closed-door sessions to discuss the giveaway of millions of dollars in public money to a private corporation. Such an ask — originally set at $125 million, and to be funded by a raise in local prepared food and beverage taxes — should have been made in public. It never was, and council decided long before it ever publicly addressed the issue that such a giveaway would happen.

So, today, I will cast my vote for Republican Edwin Peacock. And, here’s why, in his own words, from my interview with him at QNotes:

On business incentives:
“Chiquita, I voted no. Panthers, I would have said no. Carowinds, I would have said no. I’m pretty much across the board no. That doesn’t mean I’m against incentives. What I am for is the business investment grant program. That’s the program that we’ve had since 1998 that has worked very well for Electrolux, Rooms To Go, MetLife, Husqvarna. They’ve all used that program and it had specific criteria.”

On why he was against the incentives:
“It’s corporate welfare. I’m against giving folks money that don’t need money and haven’t made a case as to why we should have that. We have incentives so that we can compete against South Carolina and Tennessee, which don’t have state income taxes, and Virginia. We’re competing in that environment. I’m not saying to our chamber or regional partnership that incentives are bad. I’m not at all. But you’ve really got to step back and be an independent voice as a council member and, more importantly, as mayor to say, ‘We want your business, but we’re not so desperate we’re going to just break from rank and file and start giving money.'”

On council closed-door sessions (emphasis added):
“On the Panthers, this is the difference between myself and my opponent. Abe Lincoln said, ‘With public sentiment you can accomplish anything; without it, you can accomplish nothing.’ Who was not consulted in the Panthers decision? The public. They had a public hearing in the end which was after the decision was largely made. They went into not one, but two meetings in closed session. … I wouldn’t have gone into closed session because it’s an existing business here that wasn’t going to leave over night as much as the threats were put out there. And, secondly, they were asking for public money. That’s why they went into closed session, it was to take that and go to the legislature and ask for that one percent food and beverage tax. The state said, ‘We aren’t giving you that.’ They send it back and what the end result is, they’ve gone after a very public-purpose facility — the convention center — and they’ve practically robbed Peter to pay Paul. You’ve got the money from the convention center at $87.5 million and you’ve now transferred it to a private corporation for TVs, skyboxes and escalators. Where’s the public discussion? It’s unbelievable to me that we would just all of a sudden herald ourselves and say for $87.5 million we now have six years of comfort. Six years? That’s like that; that’s a blink of an eye. What’s the next date your readers need to know about? August 2014. They want more money to be tethered here longer. I’m not anti-Panthers. I’m pro-Panthers. I recognize what they want and I understand that they’ve had a good sentiment and obviously our communities are enormously thankful, but where was the public discussion about this? Could they have paid for it themselves? Could they have borrowed it from the name of the bank on their stadium? Could they have used the G4 financing from the NFL? Could they have used, as other states have, the potential to use our lottery to play lottery games to raise money? Was there ever any discussion about adding a fee to the seats and the PSL owners? No. And, then what about the sixth option? A novel option — what about consulting the public? In a public vote? A referendum like Miami-Dade did. That’s six options and then what about the final one: No. I’ve got six things that I would say as mayor. You need to have that discussion and if I was with Jerry Richardson — I’m not against Jerry Richardson — I’d say I’m against corporate welfare to give you the public’s money for a private corporation. There’s nothing more egregious in that situation. That’s so far removed and different than Carowinds and Chiquita, because Chiquita was coming here. Carowinds is similar, because they are already here, but they were looking to expand. I just think that this just reeks of bad, bad decisions. It breaks a lot of rules we just pride ourselves on in North Carolina, especially our open meeting laws.

For the same reasons I on which I base my decision in the mayoral race, I will not vote today for any incumbent council member. In my district race, I’ll vote for Democrat Al Austin. In at-large races, I will vote for Democrat Vi Alexander Lyles and Republicans Vanessa Faura, Ken Harris, and Dennis Peterson.

I realize that I may have disagreements with some candidates about where they stand on how to use the public’s money. Some are against the street car or the Capital Improvement Plan. I favor both. We can have a debate on how best to use that public money, but, public money can’t be used for the public if it is landing in the hands of private corporations. At the very least, I’m confident these Republican candidates will save public money for the public’s use. Admittedly, I don’t know where Austin and Lyles stand on the Panthers issue; I’ve not seen them address it directly and quite a bit of time searching and looking at candidate profiles didn’t help. But, I’m confident they will have learned from their predecessors’ mistakes in discussing such a controversial proposal in secrecy and without transparency for voters.

The most important role of elected representatives should be to represent and serve their constituents. And, at least on this issue of Carolina Panthers incentives, incumbents have not proven they can truly represent their citizens and residents. Closed-door meetings discussing millions of dollars in public charity to private corporations are inexcusable, especially when such proposals may result in raising taxes to pay for such lavish, unnecessary corporate giveaways.

This decision has been a difficult one for me. I’m a proud Democrat and believe very strongly in the principles my party espouses. I only wish my local Democratic candidates had the same loyalty to those principles.

Photo Credit (top): DigiDreamGrafix.com, via Flickr. Licensed CC.

A counter-protester holds a sign near anti-gay protesters at Charlotte Pride, Aug. 24, 2013, Uptown Charlotte. Photo Credit: Matthew Cummings/StillOut Photography Club.

Three weeks ago, Dr. Michael Brown, a leading anti-LGBT activist and religious leader in Charlotte brought 40 of his ministry schools’ students and other friends to Charlotte Pride, the city’s annual LGBT Pride festival and parade, on whose board of directors I sit. While at the event, Brown’s students and others circulated the festival area, speaking to attendees and asking attendees to complete a survey entitled, “Are You Open Minded?”

I took offense to Brown’s outreach efforts this year, calling his tactics dishonest, underhanded and deceitful. I even appeared on Brown’s radio show on Sept. 3 to discuss my disagreements with his survey and tactics. I discuss more about that experience in my latest editorial in the current issue of QNotes, hitting newsstands and online today. In the editorial, I call Brown’s outreach efforts this year a “spectacular failure.” You can read more about why in the editorial.

Here, though, I’ll run through and answer the several questions Dr. Brown’s students posed to Charlotte Pride attendees. Brown and I had meant to answer a few of these questions together on his radio show. Unfortunately, we ran out of time. Here though, I hope I’ll be able to offer a more balanced view and some more informed answers and insight I thought was missing from Brown’s Aug. 26 radio discussion of the survey results.

First, all the questions (src):

  1. 1. Do you agree with the statement “I have the right to marry the one I love”?
    Yes No
    If so, are there any exceptions? (Polyamory? Polygamy? Consensual adult incest [opposite sex? same-sex?]? Age of consent for marriage?)
    Yes No
  2. If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, should religious exemptions be allowed for those who do not want to participate?
    Yes No
    If so, does that apply to churches? Businesses? Individuals?
    If not, what should the penalty be (for churches, businesses, individuals)?
  3. If someone is not happy with their gender, should they be allowed to pursue a change of gender?
    Yes No
    If they are not happy with their sexual orientation, should they be allowed to pursue a change of their sexual orientation?
    Yes No
    If so, should they have to wait until they reach a certain age?
  4. If you could snap your fingers and change your sexual orientation or gender, would you?
    Yes No
  5. Is it bigoted to believe that homosexual practice is sin?
    Yes No
  6. Is it bigoted to say there is only one way to God?
    Yes No
  7. How would you characterize yourself?
    Male Female Other
    Gay Straight Bi Trans Other

And my answers:

Do you agree with the statement “I have the right to marry the one I love”?

Yes.

If so, are there any exceptions? (Polyamory? Polygamy? Consensual adult incest [opposite sex? same-sex?]? Age of consent for marriage?) 

Yes. All people should be able to marry the person they love, but there are common-sense restrictions, mostly protecting possible victims from abuse. Such is the case with age of consent laws and laws forbidding incest. Family law, however, should also recognize that not all families are the same; families with multiple unmarried parenting partners deserve the same or similar protections for their and their children’s well-being that couples receive. Such families may, indeed, be polyamorous, but many others are commonplace, including single parents who depend upon relatives or friends for co-parenting. Marriage alone should not be the gateway through which we determine who is entitled to the legal and social means to protect their families and the interests of their children.

If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, should religious exemptions be allowed for those who do not want to participate?

A simple “yes”-or-“no” option to this question is misleading and doesn’t provide for a full context needed for an answer. Brown’s survey provided follow-up questions where this context can be explored. See below.

 If so, does that apply to churches? Businesses? Individuals?

CHURCHES: Religious exemptions regarding marriage and any other religious sacrament or rite are already woven into the fabric of U.S. law. This nation, unlike others (as is the case in England), has no established church body entangled with government, and, as such, no government agency or official can force a minister or person of faith to conduct any marriage. Any pastor or officiant has the right to refuse to perform, conduct or participate in a marriage ceremony. In fact, many pastors require couples to meet certain criteria (e.g., faith requirements, church membership, couples/pastoral counseling, etc.) before they will agree to perform the ceremony.

BUSINESSES: For the most part, statutory and case law on business discrimination is largely settled. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Specifically, the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides all people the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Elsewhere, the act states that all people are “entitled to be free, at any establishment or place, from discrimination or segregation of any kind on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin…” In many states, these laws have been extended beyond public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.) to apply to all businesses operating in the public and to protect other characteristics like sexual orientation or gender identity. In one particular New Mexico case, a photographer lost a lawsuit after she refused to photograph a same-sex couple’s wedding. Salon’s Mark Joseph Stern writes: “Legally, this ruling was correct; the photographer offered her skills solely as a business service, not as a form of personal expression. It’s the equivalent of a taxi refusing to pick up a gay couple, or a restaurant refusing to serve a gay family.” Courts have ruled that constitutional interests of fair treatment and equal access outweighs an individual right to discrimination. The reasons for such laws are clear: (1) Arbitrary discrimination, or discrimination for the sake of discrimination alone, does not represent a legitimate business interest, and (2) Government has a legitimate interest in proscribing arbitrary discrimination in the offering of goods and services, primarily in protection of free commerce and trade and the protection of individuals who may be adversely affected by mass discrimination. Can you imagine what the U.S. would look like today if private businesses had been able to continue refusing services to people of color? The same “religious liberty” arguments being used by opponents of LGBT equality today are eerily similar to many arguments used by racist business owners in the past. As the racist arguments of times past sound ridiculously hateful, silly and arbitrary today, so, too, will arguments in favor of anti-LGBT discrimination sound as equally hateful, silly and arbitrary in the years and decades to come.

[As an aside: Brown has asked if laws prohibiting discrimination by businesses would apply to a gay business owner who is asked to provide a service for an organization espousing beliefs with which she disagrees. The simple answer is yes. However, all business owners are free to refuse service for a variety of reasons which are not unlawful or arbitrary. Among those circumstances, one stands out: Businesses are free to refuse service when a customer may harass or intimidate employees or other customers. So, should a gay owner of a T-shirt business refuse service to a church which seeks to have T-shirts printed with the text of John 3:16? Most likely, no. But, should the gay owner be allowed to refuse service when the Scripture in question is calling for their death, such as Leviticus 20:13? Most definitely, yes.]

[Second aside: Many of the most recent cases regarding anti-gay business discrimination centers around marriage equality. Businesses have included wedding photographers, flower shops and bakeries. Each have claimed their religious belief that same-sex marriage is sinful prevents them from providing the service. I find such arguments from “Christian” business owners hypocritical unless they can also prove they have queried each and every past customer on their sexual practices and beliefs; for example, has the business owner provided a cake, photography or flowers for a couple who are not virgins and who have had sex before marriage, or have they provided services for a couple which intends to engage in an open, non-monogamous relationship after marrying? The only difference between these scenarios and the gay couple’s scenario is that the business owner is aware of the gay couple’s sexual orientation; the business owner may not have been aware of another couple’s actions, which they may believe to be “sin,” but they have still, even unwittingly, participated in a “celebration” of it. You might say that one can’t “unwittingly” or unintentionally be a hypocrite, and I’d agree. But, the fact that a business owner holds on to such cherished beliefs — so cherished that it prevents them from providing services to an entire class of people — and, yet, does nothing to see that such beliefs are not applied equally and fairly to all of their customers, is, without a doubt, hypocritical.]

INDIVIDUALS: Individuals are free to associate with whomever they wish. No law can force an individual to visit a particular retail establishment, stay at a particular hotel or eat at a particular restaurant. Similarly, no law can force an individual to join an organization. Constitutional rights to freedom of association and expression apply. This particular “individual harm” argument is a red herring.

If not, what should the penalty be (for churches, businesses, individuals)?

CHURCHES: Exemptions for religious institutions are already represented in most law. Next.

BUSINESSES: Most public accommodations and commercial non-discrimination laws and ordinances apply civil penalties to unlawful discriminatory practices. Civil penalties should be fair and equitable, as a faithful reliance on justice requires; it’s cliche, but it’s true: “The punishment should fit the crime.”

INDIVIDUALS: No issue here. Individuals are free to associate with whomever they wish. Next.

If someone is not happy with their gender, should they be allowed to pursue a change of gender? If they are not happy with their sexual orientation, should they be allowed to pursue a change of their sexual orientation?

Again, simple “yes”-or-“no” option for this pair of questions doesn’t give it full justice. But, simply and quickly, yes. See more below.

GENDER: Yes. The experiences of transgender and other gender-variant people are well-established medical, scientific and psychological phenomena. Book closed.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Yes, which, at first glance, may seem radical to some in the LGBT community. Though I do not personally believe sexual orientation is changeable (and most all legitimate medical, scientific and psychological literature agrees), I see no valid, legal reason to prohibit an individual from seeking to live life the way they see fit. It’s a complicated answer, I recognize. It also includes a great many questions on the veracity of claims made by “ex-gay” “therapists,” the efficacy of such “therapies” and the many ethical questions involved, especially among the many “ex-gay” therapists and groups which have been found to engage in unorthodox and potentially harmful therapeutic techniques, have failed to fully inform their clients of the body of medical and psychological research, literature and expectations on the topic, practice personal, religious intimidation and, at times, have been found to engage in sexual exploitation and abuse (here’s a good example).

If so, should they have to wait until they reach a certain age?

Again, “yes”-or-“no” won’t cut it. See below.

GENDER: Call me a radical if you wish, but I happen to believe that children are far smarter and have far more insight into their own personhood than adults often give them credit. This recent story about a young boy who personally enjoys more feminine clothing, toys and other items is a perfect example of a young person who knows his gender as he perceives it now but who is allowed by his parents to exhibit a perfectly healthy and, what should be, perfectly normal affinity for items not traditionally interpreted as “masculine.” Parents of children with gender-identity issues should consult with their physicians and with psychologists to determine the best course of action for their young people. I, for one, am not a medical expert, and, so, I won’t pretend to be. But, I’d imagine it’d be most healthy that gender affirmation surgery be considered in a young person’s later adolescent years, following puberty.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION: As “ex-gay” “therapies” have been shown repeatedly to be potentially harmful and abusive to young people, and as the medical, scientific and psychological literature is clear that sexual orientation is a mostly-immutable characteristic, such “therapies” should not be open to minors. No parent should be allowed to forcefully change their child’s sexual orientation; these are decisions for an individual to make. I support laws that prohibit the use of “ex-gay” and “reparative” “therapies” on minors.

If you could snap your fingers and change your sexual orientation or gender, would you?

Absolutely not. I am who I am today because of the unique life experiences I have encountered, many of which would not have been without my identifying as gay. There was a time when I might have answered yes, especially when I was younger and subjected to near-daily and sometimes brutal verbal and physical harassment. It’s shameful that our culture bullies young people into hating who they are.

Is it bigoted to believe that homosexual practice is sin?

Very simply, yes.

Is it bigoted to say there is only one way to God?

Bigoted? Depends, I guess, on how you apply it. I believe I have chosen a path — the one, true path for me — that leads me to reconciliation with God. It should come as no surprise to any rational person that another’s journey toward and understanding of God may differ wildly from mine or any other person’s. Is that bigoted? No, I don’t think so. But, if you’re one who thinks you can speak for God and eternally condemn, carte blanche, an entire group of people simply because you personally disagree with them, yeah, that’s a little bit bigoted. If you use such a condemnatory personal belief to legislate against entire groups of people, well, yeah, that’s extremely bigoted, and nothing short of theocracy.

How would you characterize yourself?

Gay. Male.

Update (March 15, 2012, 5:25 p.m.): The Durham City Council voted unanimously, 6-0, today to oppose Amendment One. Charlotte, on the other hand, remains silent. The details from Protect NC…

Just like the video above states, the momentum against Amendment One, the proposed anti-LGBT, anti-family, anti-children, anti-business amendment to the North Carolina Constitution is growing. With each passing day, more and more North Carolinians — elected officials, business leaders and voters — are standing up against the amendment and the harms it will cause to the citizens and residents of the Tar Heel State.

Such was the case this week when the Town of Chapel Hill passed a resolution opposing the amendment, following in the footsteps of Greensboro and other municipalities. And, believe or not, Bank of America has spoken out, too…

Charlotte City Council

Activists in Charlotte have already spoken out and asked the Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to take similar steps and pass resolutions speaking out against Amendment One. Conversations are happening behind the scenes, but real action and real political courage have yet to take a firm hold in Charlotte.

Now, more pressure is being brought to bear as citizens ask

Mecklenburg County Commission

their elected representatives in Charlotte to, finally, take a stand that should have been taken a long, long time ago.

John Michael Watkins is a Charlotte native, a resident of Chapel Hill and a student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s taken to the premier progressive grassroots action site, Change.org, to encourage Charlotte’s city council and Mecklenburg County’s board of commissioners to take a stand against Amendment One.

I’ve signed the petitions asking Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to pass resolutions opposing Amendment One, and I encourage you to do the same. When citizens speak out, their elected representatives will listen. Click the links below to be taken to the two different petitions, affix your name and signature and ask Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to take a stand for what is right and what is just. If speaking out against Amendment One is good enough for Bank of America — one of Charlotte’s largest employers and most significant, national namesakes — then it is should be good enough for our elected representatives…

http://www.change.org/petitions/charlotte-city-council-pass-a-resolution-opposing-nc-amendment-one

http://www.change.org/petitions/mecklenburg-county-commission-pass-a-resolution-opposing-nc-amendment-one

In addition to signing the petitions, you might be interested in sending a personal note to your elected representatives. Their contact information is below, and be sure to check out this past post for a sample letter you can adapt when contacting them. As noted in that sample letter, be sure you ask the Charlotte City Council to also consider a public vote on an LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination ordinance, a measure that has yet to be taken up by the council despite repeated requests from citizens, city employees and activists over the years.

Charlotte City Council

Mayor Anthony R. Foxx
mayor@charlottenc.gov
704-336-2241

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

Council Member Claire Green Fallon, At-Large
cfallon@charlottenc.gov
704-336-6105

Council Member David Howard, At-Large
info@davidhowardclt.com
704-336-4099

Council Member Beth Pickering, At-Large
bpickering@charlottenc.gov
704-336-5285

Council Member Patsy B. Kinsey, District 1
pkinsey@charlottenc.gov
704-336-3432 or 704-376-5367

Council Member James E. Mitchell, Jr., District 2
JamesDistrict2@aol.com
704-336-3424

Council Member LaWana Mayfield, District 3
councilwomanmayfield@gmail.com
704-336-3435

Council Member Michael D. Barnes, District 4
barnesdistrict4@aol.com
704-509-6141

Council Member John N. Autry, District 5
jautry@charlottenc.gov
704-336-2777

Council Member Andy Dulin, District 6
adulin1@carolina.rr.com
704-968-8776

Council Member Warren Cooksey, District 7
warren@warrencooksey.com
704-347-0420

Mecklenburg County Commission

Harold Cogdell, Jr., Chairman
Harold.cogdell@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov

Jim Pendergraph, Vice Chairman
jim.pendergraph@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-2472

Jennifer Roberts, At-Large
jennifer.roberts@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-2574

Karen Bentley, District 1
karen.bentley@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-432-3997

Vilma Leake, District 2
vilma.leake@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-2088

George Dunlap, District 3
george.dunlap@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-4419

Dumont Clark, District 4
dumontclarke@mvalaw.com
704-331-1051

Neil Cooksey, District 5
neil.cooksey@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov
704-336-5400

Bill James, District 6
Wjames@carolina.rr.com
704-336-2573

Peter St. Onge

The Charlotte Observer last week noted their slate of 36 different awards and honors from the N.C. Press Association. Among them was columnist Peter St. Onge, who was honored with awards for three columns on LGBT issues — two in the serious columns category and one in the lighter columns category.

The first serious column honor included one on his gay brother and his impending marriage in New York. A snippet:

This week, N.C. legislators dug in harder on keeping the wedding day away from gays, approving a constitutional amendment outlawing homosexual marriage that will go before voters next May. Our state already has a law against gay marriage, of course, but a consititutional amendment is harder to change than a simple law. Gay marriage opponents know it’s their best chance at defending an institution they believe is under attack.

That’s a word – attack – that sneaks often into this gay marriage debate. And also this word: agenda. It’s how those who fear homosexuality separate gays from the rest of us, by painting them as “others,” as an occupying force that wants to diminish the things we hold important.

St. Onge was also honored for his serious column on the Mecklenburg County Commission’s inadequate response to Commissioner Bill James’ “sexual predator” comments. The kicker:

What did politeness accomplish Tuesday night? We got a thoughtfully worded resolution that opposed, in principle, speech that could hurt others. We also saw several members of Charlotte’s gay community speak eloquently on the issue and remind everyone, with their presence, that there’s pain at the other end of the arrows people fling.

Lastly, St. Onge’s lighter column on Wells Fargo’s rainbow lights show on its Uptown Duke Energy Building on National Coming Out Day in October 2010 also received a nod. In it, St. Onge recounted Wells Fargo’s fumbling over questions about who requested and decided to “light the Southern city’s evening sky with a 48-story stamp of approval for a gay and lesbian event.”

Congratulations, Peter! And, thank you. Charlotte is much better place because of your outspokenness and word wizardry.

Today, MeckPAC, the Mecklenburg Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Political Action Committee, of which I am a member, released the following statement. It is, in part, a response to comments made this morning by Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James, as reported by The Charlotte Observer.

Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County Commission need to take stand against constitutional amendment
Local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy group encourages elected officials to pass resolutions opposing Amendment One

Charlotte City Council

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — MeckPAC, the Mecklenburg Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Political Action Committee, is calling on the Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to take a strong stand against discrimination by passing resolutions opposing Amendment One, the anti-LGBT, anti-family and anti-business constitutional amendment slated for the May 8, 2012, primary ballot.

Mecklenburg County Commission

Amendment One would require that the state recognize opposite-sex marriage as the “only domestic legal union” in the state. Legal professionals and scholars have said the vague and overly-broad language of the amendment would ban marriage, civil unions and domestic partnership benefits for both unmarried same-sex couples and unmarried opposite-sex couples.

The amendment would also ban domestic partner benefits currently offered to public employees by local governments like Mecklenburg County. It is vitally important for the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to defend their LGBT employees who depend on county domestic partner benefits in order to provide healthcare and other needs for their families and children. The amendment would also prevent governments like Charlotte, which has been debating domestic partner benefits, from extending such measures to employees in the future.

Several local elected leaders have spoken out personally against the amendment, including Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx. Speaking at the Human Rights Campaign Carolina Gala on Saturday, Feb. 25, Foxx said: “When I go into the ballot box in May … I’m going to be voting against Amendment One.” Last fall, Mecklenburg County Commissioner and then-Chairman Jennifer Roberts signed on to a letter with six other municipal government leaders from across the state urging legislators not to place the amendment on the ballot, noting that the amendment would “threaten important protections for contributing North Carolina citizens, and will significantly harm the future of our state.”

On June 1, 2004, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in support of the then-proposed anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. At the time, local LGBT leaders called on the county to reverse its decision and David Moore, then-editor of QNotes, Charlotte’s local LGBT community newspaper, called the resolution a “shameful, embarrassing blot on the face of the Queen City” showing “contempt and prejudice sanctioned by the government.”

The 2004 resolution has never been reversed and remains just as shameful and embarrassing today as it did eight years ago.

MeckPAC calls on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners to reverse their 2004 position and, with the City of Charlotte, join with leaders like Mayor Foxx and Commissioner Roberts in passing a resolution opposing Amendment One and its many potential harms to North Carolina families and children, residents, citizens and businesses.

Similar resolutions and official statements opposing the anti-LGBT Amendment One have already been approved by the elected bodies of Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro and Raleigh.

# # #

My contribution to Charlotte’s Creative Loafing‘s “City Forum” guest commentary series, “Queen City? She’s no reigning monarch when it comes to LGBT equality,” is on the streets now with the paper’s Feb. 15 print edition.

A snippet:

Despite the overwhelming amount of progress, there remains much yet to be done. Small, relatively uncontroversial changes to city policies and ordinances should be discussed further by our Council. Our city’s employees deserve to know that their persons and work will be judged by their character and its quality, not simply by who they are. Domestic-partner benefits are important, too. Healthy homes and families will only strengthen our city.

Be sure to pick up a print edition on your next trip out and read the full commentary there and click over to read the full piece at clclt.com…

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.

The Christian Action League, perhaps among one of the most far-right, anti-LGBT hate groups in North Carolina, posted yesterday an extraordinary insight into their religiously-bigoted efforts to write discrimination into our state constitution and further increase the hate-filled, divisive politics that has become the brand of modern-day right-wing ideologues.

The Rev. Rocky Carpenter, pastor of Harmony Community Church in Peachland, N.C., has started up a weekly prayer effort to guide Tar Heel bigots in their quest to constitutionalize discrimination against LGBT people in North Carolina. “Harmony,” it seems, is a state of being to which queer folk don’t get access.

From the Christian Action League:

“At the first Vote FOR Marriage NC meeting I went to, Tami Fitzgerald (Vote FOR Marriage NC chairwoman) asked for a prayer leader. God quickened my heart, and after praying for a week, I called her to let her know that I was the man to lead the prayer effort,” said the Rev. Carpenter. He said his beautiful wife of 27 years, four children and two grandchildren were also among the reasons he stepped up to the plate.

“We must preserve marriage God’s way,” he added. “God is calling his elect to boldly and lovingly stand for the preservation of marriage according to his word in this great state of North Carolina!”

He said to be victorious in this battle, Christians should “pray without ceasing” and “enlist as many as possible to pray.”

For that reason he is calling on pastors and their congregations to use their e-mail and social networking sites to spread the word about the importance of defending traditional marriage and the need to call on God for his help. He said it will take pastors to lead the charge, but that all believers should be joining in prayer since James 5:16 promises that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

The Rev. Carpenter is also designating Friday of each week as the Vote FOR Marriage NC corporate prayer day since the sixth day of the week corresponds to the sixth day of creation when, according to Gen. 1:26-28, God created man and woman.

According to the anti-gay activist group, Carpenter is asking folks to pray for three outcomes (again from Christian Action League):

  • “Pray for the salvation of our gay and lesbian neighbors (Isaiah 59:1,2),” he wrote, reminding recipients of the message that homosexuals are not the enemy (Ephesians 6:12).
  • He also asked for prayer for Vote FOR Marriage coalition leaders (1 Tim. 2:1,2), for workers (Matthew 9:37, 38), and for financial provision (2 Cor. 9:7).
  • Most of all, he challenged marriage supporters to pray that “God would be glorified in this effort! (Rev. 4:11)”

I hereby propose an alternative to Carpenter’s prayer Fridays: On Fridays through May 8, I hope you’ll join me for “Freaky Fanatic Friday” tweets, highlighting some of the insane and horrendously bigoted comments being made by anti-gay activists in North Carolina.

Some examples:

  •  Gay “have to wear a diaper or a butt plug just to be able to contain their bowels.” Patrick L. Wooden, Upper Room Church of God in Christ, Raleigh, N.C.
  • “I know of a case where in a hospital a homosexual male had a cellphone lodged in his anus and as they were operating on him the phone went off, the phone started ringing!” Patrick L. Wooden.
  • Gay sex “will most certainly mean the extinction of the human race.” Patrick L. Wooden.
  • Gay people are a “darkened, twisted, immense depository of depravity.” Rev. Ron Baity, Berean Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Loving, committed same-sex couples are “greatest threat to marriage and morality in this country.” N.C. Family Policy Council.
  • On the amendment: “It’s also to put a big letter of shame on the behavior. We don’t want them here. We don’t want them marrying. If you’re going to do it in San Francisco, it’s your own business.” Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James.
  • “The public in my opinion knows the difference between perversity and diversity.” Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James.
  • Homosexuality is “caused by something radically wrong with the human heart!” Rev. Mark Creech, Christian Action League.
  • Homosexuality is “unnatural,” “biologically destructive,” caused by “abuse or acquired taste.” N.C. Family Policy Council.
  • Durham lesbian blogger Pam Spaulding needs “man [to] rock her world, in the name of the Lord.” Patrick L. Wooden.

(Sources: Right-Wing Watch, New Civil Rights Movement, Good As You, Pam’s House Blend, News & Observer, )

 

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