Cheat sheet: Preparing for the mayor’s forum

Editor's Note

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: November 27, 2010 in Editor's Note

The date of Mayor Anthony Foxx’s forum at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center has been changed from Dec. 9 to Dec. 8. The forum will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

On Dec. 8, the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte will hold a special, open forum with Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx. The event, like the recent forum with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe, is historic and marks the first time a sitting Queen City mayor has held such a public, town hall-type event with the city’s LGBT community.

That, in and of itself, deserves praise and marks progress. But, like Foxx’s letter to Pride Charlotte in October, such progress is merely symbolic. It falls far short of the real, concrete policy progress we need to see coming from the dais. Words alone cannot be the only measure of this city’s movement toward full legal and civil inclusion for LGBT people. Action always speaks louder than words and action is what this city is missing.

When Mayor Foxx comes to his forum, I hope this community’s leaders and citizens will take it upon themselves to ask Foxx hard questions and reserve their pats on the back until after pressing issues are taken care of and promises delivered.

Let this column be your cheat sheet and come prepared to meet with Mayor Foxx. There are several substantive policy issues still unaddressed by this city’s leadership, among them:

Employment non-discrimination

In a November 2009 Q&A with qnotes following his election as mayor, Foxx said, “I’d like to see the City Council move on the non-discrimination issue very early in the next term and I’d like to see us do that in a bipartisan way. I know there are members of City Council within both parties who have expressed support for including sexual orientation in the non-discrimination ordinance. Given that, I’d like to see action on that very early.”

Such city council action — also promised repeatedly for years by many incumbent council members — has yet to happen. In March, City Manager Curt Walton amended city non-discrimination policies to include “sexual orientation.” His move, however positive, is impermanent. The policy, as it stands now, can be changed or amended by any city manager current or future.

Additionally, the policy is incomplete, as it excludes protections on the basis of gender identity or expression. In fact, such gender expression protections were specifically rejected by city staff, namely City Attorney Mac McCarley. In a memo, he advised Walton not to add “gender identity” to the policy.

McCarley has also publicly defended the city’s “right” to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. After a lawsuit was filed in February 2009 by city worker Anne Marie Clukey, McCarley told The Charlotte Observer, “Transgendered individuals do not have any rights under the federal employment discrimination laws.”

As it stands, anti-LGBT employment discrimination by the city is not only legal, it has already alleged to have occurred. Such past, current or future injustices can only be correctly remedied by a public, on-the-record vote of the city council for a fully-inclusive ordinance — not merely a policy — prohibiting employment discrimination.

City contracts, housing & public accommodations

As with city government itself, all businesses contracting to provide services to or for the city should also be held to a higher standard. Currently, companies contracting to do business with the city have to sign a “Non-Discrimination Certification” that prohibits any discrimination toward any “sub consultant, vendor, supplier or commercial customer on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, national origin, disability or other unlawful form of discrimination.” These contracts and the city’s Commercial Non-Discrimination Ordinance should be amended — by a public, on-the-record vote of the council — to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression.”

And, if such a change isn’t possible — as cities don’t have “home rule” in this state — the city council, by a public, on-the-record vote, should decide to add such a change to their legislative agenda. The same applies to amendments to non-discrimination policies and ordinances affecting housing and public accommodations. While such additions to the city’s legislative agenda don’t create real policy change, it is, at the least, a visible, on-the-record sign that this city’s elected leaders stand by all their citizens regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Domestic partner benefits

In 2009, Mecklenburg County joined a growing list of local North Carolina governments extending health and other benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees. After the county’s decision — which was, by the way, made through a public, on-the-record vote of the county board of commissioners — the debate over domestic partner benefits shifted to the city.

Mayor Foxx addressed this issue of domestic partner benefits in his November 2009 Q&A with qnotes. He stated, “I have expressed a willingness to move forward in the way I just described. I think there will be support on the council to do that.” Further explaining, Foxx said the council needed to investigate the costs of such a move and that “understanding the impact of it is the first step but not the last one.” Yet, that is all we’ve heard about the benefits issue. There has been no movement, at least in public knowledge, to investigate its costs and the mayor and council members have not addressed when or how they plan on moving forward with such changes.

Political courage

In May 2010, Mayor Foxx spoke at the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund’s third annual luncheon. There, he proclaimed:

“I look back at the history of this discussion of a policy change that says discriminating against people based on sexual orientation is wrong and I have to say that we had more courage to help propel our city manager to make that policy change because of changes that had happened earlier,” Foxx said. “A few years earlier, the county commission was embroiled in a heated debate about saying sexual orientation-based discrimination is wrong. They made the right decision and their decision created the courage for the city to do the same.”

Yet, any evidence of real political courage is difficult to come by in this city. Despite Foxx’s words to the contrary, he and other city council members have shown zero political courage and instead have relied upon backroom, behind-the-scenes dealings by the city manager to make (only a little) progressive change.

The mayor and city council need to do more than come to our meetings, hold public forums and speak niceties to our community. They need to back up their words with concrete action. When they do so, they will have proven they have real political courage. Until then, they’ll continue to give credence to the culture of prejudicial, homophobic silence that pervades this city and its political atmosphere.

Our own community’s leaders aren’t blameless in this culture. For nearly a decade, LGBT political insiders and activists, especially with the Mecklenburg Gay & Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC), have taken these elected officials’ words at face value and continued to endorse these candidates year-after-year despite a lack of results. I’m aware of only one instance when MeckPAC refused to endorse a previously endorsed candidate. They should be more willing to hold these elected officials and candidates accountable and that includes releasing the full questionnaires filled out by candidates when they seek MeckPAC’s endorsement. If LGBT voters are to make truly-informed decisions at the ballot box, we must have access to the on-the-record questions and answers of candidates.

Naysayers — even some among the LGBT community — argue that anti-LGBT employment discrimination and other LGBT-related civic matters affect only a small percentage of city workers and citizens so passing LGBT-inclusive policies and ordinances shouldn’t be a priority.

I disagree.

City-county bureaucrats can’t even bring themselves to say something as relatively simple as, “No, we don’t discriminate against LGBT people” (see “Why ‘what ifs’ are important, and why CATS needs to clarify their policy,” goqnotes.com/8508). That’s indicative of a problem and an inherent inability of city or county government to be forthright in their otherwise promised “guarantees” of equality and inclusion. I happen to believe that inclusion and equality are among this nation’s best virtues. Such ideals should be embodied in both law and practice.

Charlotte likes to fancy itself the “Queen City.” Unlike a real monarch, however, Charlotte rarely leads on any issue, particularly when it comes to social equity. Until such a time as Charlotte and its leaders are willing to move forward on issues of inclusion and equality, the city will remain nothing more than a small Southern hamlet with delusions of grandeur. : :