In order to make progress, Charlotte gays must stop lying down with dogs

Commentary: Editor Matt Comer issues challenge to Charlotte LGBTs and WBTV's Maureen O'Boyle

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: May 24, 2011 in Editorial

At its current pace, Charlotte’s LGBT community is slated to make zero progress on issues of local equality and inclusion. The lack of clear and visionary leadership has resulted in a local community that has as many legal rights and recognition from city government as it did when local LGBT organizing first began nearly half a century ago.

At the crux of the problem is Charlotte gay leadership’s repeated tendency to lie down with dogs. Everyone knows how that goes — someone eventually gets fleas. Leadership, or at least a great bulk of it, within the community’s various organizations, boards and committees have made their beds with less than desirable elected, civic and media leaders. There’s more fleas going round today than ever before, it seems.

We’ve allowed our community to get beaten up or forgotten. Like an abused and neglected spouse, we keep coming back for more after the utterance of a few pretty words and niceties. Meanwhile, we go on to live our lives with shame, heads hung low under the weight of our own self-imposed worthlessness.

The effects of such low self-esteem are readily apparent. Take, for instance, past community leaders’ fear of anti-gay protesters in the face of city officials who did nothing to protect LGBT citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and assembly. Our community shuddered and cowered. Instead of fighting, we ran and held what is supposed to be a public statement of pride and political determination on private property — the virtual closet of civic engagement.

Such disengagement from civic space and participation has had its effect on our electoral power. Look no further than the continued endorsement by the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) of city council incumbents who have taken no — that’d be nada, zip and zilch for those needing clarification — concrete steps to institute LGBT-inclusive policies and ordinances.

Though City Manager Curt Walton made a slight change in employment policies last year, the policy revision remains so problematic it might as well not even exist. Walton’s policy is both incomplete (it left out gender identity) and impermanent. It can be changed at any time by any city manager current or future without any direct oversight or approval from city council members, who are ultimately responsible to voters.

Despite this lack of action from elected city leaders, MeckPAC has endorsed several incumbents each time their name has been listed on a ballot. What exactly have we gotten for this near-decade run of blind support? Pretty words — in the form of Mayor Anthony Foxx’s October 2010 letter of welcome to Pride Charlotte and those spoken at forums, fundraisers and other community meetings — are no replacement for real and lasting change.

And, once again, our community will subject itself to complacency toward and — dare I say it — complicity with a status quo that keeps us politically and civically invisible in this city.

On Wednesday, The Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund will host their 2011 The Happening. Keynoting the event will be Mitchell Gold, a philanthropist and outspoken advocate for LGBT civil, social and religious equality. Unlike some in our local community, Gold has never been afraid to mince words. Calling out anti-LGBT bigotry and prejudice at every turn, Gold has never given bigots and their sympathizers a free pass. He speaks it like it is — a concept so foreign to local leadership that his speech Wednesday might need translating.

Emceeing the event will be WBTV anchorwoman Maureen O’Boyle, whose employer has allowed one of its top news reporters to sensationalize our community and its issues without apology or retraction. Despite what they might tell you, WBTV has proven they aren’t on our side; their work has become more akin to tabloidism than any fair or traditional form of journalism.

The Fund and its Happening aren’t strangers to fleas. They dealt with a bout of infection last year, when they hosted Mayor Foxx as keynote speaker. His speech about political courage was as much hubris as falsity. After all, no city official, much less Foxx, has shown real political courage when it comes to LGBT issues. Perhaps it is fitting Foxx shares his last name with a certain U.S. House member representing North Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District. Their outward appearance and tone might be different, but the effect of their actions or lack thereof are exactly the same.

O’Boyle might very well be a true friend and ally of our community. Her appearance at The Happening — which she voluntarily and happily accepted, I’m told — offers her a unique opportunity and powerful challenge. She should come out against her employer’s damaging and sensationalistic reporting and place herself firmly in support of fair, equitable and honest journalism that aims to report facts and protect the vulnerable. A true ally would stand up against bullies attacking a friend. O’Boyle has that opportunity this week. Unfortunately for her, the bully signs her paycheck. Such a moment should surely serve as a poignant gut check for O’Boyle and our community.

Many people dream for a local LGBT community that is both culturally vibrant and politically dynamic. Such a community can be a reality for Charlotte’s LGBT citizens, but only if we have enough courage and fortitude to take real stands and hold local civic, social and media leaders accountable. There’s only one way to effectively end our continued self-abasement — stop voluntarily laying down with dogs.