Charlotte candidates are friendly, but need education

Editor's Note

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: September 3, 2011 in Editor's Note

In the past few years, and especially after the election of incumbent Democratic Mayor Anthony Foxx, Charlotte has seen substantial changes in the way LGBT citizens and residents are treated and recognized by city government.

First, the chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department held an open forum at The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte. He was soon followed thereafter by Mayor Foxx. Both forums were historic achievements in the civic life of the city and its LGBT community, representing the first time both the police chief and mayor had openly and publicly met with our community to discuss issues important to us and our families.

In addition, we’ve seen — for the first time — official inclusion of “sexual orientation” in city policy. Though there is a long way to go (preferably inclusion of both “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in an ordinance), City Manager Curt Walton’s change to the city’s current employment policies was a welcome sight.

This progress is quite astonishing given that this city was, until relatively recently, a place in which LGBT people were officially ignored and where all but a rare handful of brave elected officials dared to be seen publicly with LGBT people. Fourteen-year veteran Mayor Pat McCrory couldn’t even bring himself to undertake as simple and routine a task as writing a welcome letter to LGBT community events like the annual Human Rights Campaign Carolina Gala or annual Pride activities.

Charlotte is moving forward, though the journey continues to look like a long one. Our slow march toward equality is caused by none other than ignorance and a lack of education and a need for broader conversations and dialogue on issues important to LGBT citizens and residents.

This education problem became overwhelmingly apparent when our staff set out to collect responses to a four-question candidate questionnaire sent to each of the individuals running for Charlotte City Council and for mayor. Candidates’ answers and participation were used to form the basis of our primary election endorsements; we’ll use the same responses to inform our decision for the general election. The primary is scheduled for Sept. 13; the general election will be held on Nov. 8.

Of 29 council candidates and two mayoral candidates, only 12 returned their surveys and neither Foxx nor Stone participated.

Several candidates’ answers to our questions were shockingly absent of the understanding we had hoped they might have about our issues. Some seemed not to recognize the importance of an on-the-record vote of the council on an issue like an equal employment ordinance (as opposed to a policy) and one candidate in particular told us she thought federal and state laws already forbade discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

But, it was candidates’ answers to the fourth question in the questionnaire that intrigued us the most. Candidates were asked their position on several potential items that could be added to the city’s legislative agenda, the council’s list of prerogatives and priorities they’d like to see state and national lawmakers address either on the city’s behalf or for the betterment of city policy. We asked about public accommodations and public housing law changes, opposition to the state’s 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a statute that bans marriage rights for same-sex couples, and opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships and, potentially, other types of both legal and private relationship statuses for same-sex couples.

Many candidates had answers that were overwhelmingly positive to these legislative agenda items. Among those, however, who were opposed to these proposals, there was a common theme: “These are not local government issues and therefore not appropriate items for the City’s legislative agenda,” wrote one incumbent Democratic candidate. The reality is quite different and we disagree wholeheartedly with candidates who believe these are not important issues for the city.

Though the city has no power to change public accommodations and housing ordinances absent permission from the General Assembly, it has every right to make such a request with the city’s and county’s state legislative delegation who could, on behalf of the city, seek to change state law or provide exceptions or exemptions through a local bill for the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Similarly, requests that the delegation and other lawmakers work to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and oppose a proposed, anti-LGBT constitutional amendment are both fair game; both the law and the proposed amendment affect Charlotte citizens and residents and have an effect or potential effect on the city’s ability to operate as a truly world-class city where all of its residents are treated equally under law and fully included in civic and public life.

Our endorsements for the primary election appear on page four in our Sept. 3 print issue and online here. On Oct. 15, we’ll publish endorsements for the general election. In the meantime, we hope constituents will reach out to those candidates and incumbent council members who could benefit from more conversation and discussion on these issues. Education will be the key to permanent and lasting changes for our local LGBT community. : :

more: Read each of the candidates’ full responses online at goqnotes.com/clt11/.

[Ed. Note — The print version of this article notes that general election endorsements will be released on Oct. 1. This is incorrect. We will release general election endorsements on Oct. 15. We regret the error.]