2013 Person of the Year: Charlotte Councilmember Patsy Kinsey

2013 Year in Review

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: December 20, 2013 in News

Then-Mayor Patsy Kinsey rides in the Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade on Aug. 25 in Uptown Charlotte. Photo Credit: Bobby Cochran.

Then-Mayor Patsy Kinsey rides in the Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade on Aug. 25 in Uptown Charlotte. Photo Credit: Bobby Cochran.

2013 was a banner year for LGBT equality, nationally and locally. In Charlotte, leaders like City Councilmember and former Mayor Patsy Kinsey helped make that progress possible.

In July, Kinsey was chosen by her peers to fulfill former Mayor Anthony Foxx’s unexpired term, after he left the city to become President Barack Obama’s transportation secretary. But, even before she led as mayor, Kinsey was showing the city — in word and deed — what it meant to be an inclusive leader for all Charlotteans.

Kinsey had already spoken several times with LGBT groups — from several National Transgender Day of Remembrance events to private constituent meetings discussing the needs of LGBT city workers and citizens.

Her predecessor, Anthony Foxx, had similarly made several significant efforts to extend welcome to LGBT citizens, but it was Kinsey who took that inclusion to an ultimate level.

In a first for the city, Kinsey issued a mayoral proclamation for Charlotte Pride and rode at the front of the Bank of America Charlotte Pride Parade. When her car got to the end of the parade route, she drove back to Independence Square and sat as an honorary member of the judges’ panel and later spoke from the festival’s stage. She also spoke out against anti-LGBT violence in Charlotte’s Russian sister city, going so far as to request a meeting with local activists, the city’s sister-city committee, representatives from the international Human Rights Watch and the U.S. State Department.

“Inclusion is just natural to me,” Kinsey told qnotes. “I don’t think much about it. I tell people when they ask about why I am so active with the LGBT community or the immigrant community, I long ago just adopted the belief that we’re all God’s children.”

It’s that personally-driven commitment to inclusion and equality that shaped Kinsey’s time in office — all the way up until her last week in office. In her departing remarks during a “State of the City” address, Kinsey took that commitment even further, turning “the Charlotte Way” on its head and transforming it from an Old South, good ol’ boys system into a way of local life with deeper, more significant meaning.

“Ensuring that all of Charlotte’s residents feel at home in our City is the Charlotte Way,” Kinsey said in her speech, interpreting her own legacy as tied to the inclusion of Charlotte’s LGBT and immigrant communities, and later adding, “I hope we will strive to follow the Charlotte Way. To favor collaboration over division; inclusion over exclusion; partnership over separation.”

Such a focus on inclusion was not always the Charlotte Way.

Years ago, Kinsey remembered, Council maybe had only three votes to push forward any LGBT-inclusive measures. At times, Kinsey had to explain why she and other friendly Council members weren’t pushing for change.

“Because we don’t have the votes,” she’d tell constituents. “There’s no point in ruining it all. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the votes before we take it to Council.”

As late as 2008, it seemed LGBT inclusion would remain a tough hill to climb. Yet, Kinsey said something changed. Progress began moving quickly and going far. That, she said, was the direct result of the LGBT community itself.

“The LGBT community got involved and they started coming and meeting with people,” Kinsey said. “They would meet with me and I would encourage them. … I think that’s really what made the big difference. LGBT community members came and sat down not only with Council members but with management.”

In just three short years, the city was transformed — an extraordinary result of Kinsey’s support and the community’s action, including the historic campaign and election of Councilmember LaWana Mayfield.

In 2009, the last year now-Gov. Pat McCrory was mayor, the city remained without any LGBT elected representation and it had no written protections or benefits for LGBT city employees. By 2011, Charlotte had gained Mayfield, the city’s first openly gay or lesbian elected official, and former City Manager Curt Walton had added sexual orientation to the city’s non-discrimination policy. In 2012, domestic partner benefits were adopted and Walton again extended non-discrimination protections for transgender workers. And, as Kinsey stepped up to become mayor, Charlotte received yet another openly gay Council member.

Those changes, Kinsey said, have made the city stronger.

“I think it’s a much more diverse community now,” she said. “Just look at the City Council and the difference on that. In some ways, it may be a little more difficult to get things done, because you have more diverse opinions and views, but in other ways we need that diversity, and we do get it done and we get it done the right way.”