GOP's Bill James balks at letter on 'Don't Ask' repeal
Originally published: Dec. 27, 2010, 3:24 p.m.
Updated: Dec. 28, 2010, 3:40 p.m.
CHARLOTTE — Anti-gay, Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James on Monday said gays are “sexual predators” in an email to his colleagues on the board.
James’ remarks were made in response to County Commissioner Chair Jennifer Roberts’ request to send a letter thanking some members of the Charlotte-area congressional delegation for their “yes” votes on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) repeal this month. Roberts was to send the letter to U.S. Reps. Larry Kissell and Mel Watt and U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan. President Barack Obama last week signed the repeal act into law.
“Homosexuals are sexual predators,” James wrote in one email from a string of several between county board members, Roberts and County Manager Harry Jones, and provided by James to qnotes. “Allowing homosexuals to serve in the US military with the endorsement of the Mecklenburg County Commission ignores a host of serious problems related to maintaining US military readiness and effectiveness not the least of which is the current Democrat plan to allow homosexuals (male and female) to share showers with those they are attracted to.”
James added, “The US Government would not allow Hetero men and women to share showers and other personal facilities yet the leading homosexual in Congress (Barney Frank) thinks it is OK for homosexuals to do so allowing enlisted men and women to fall prey to higher ranking or more powerful homosexuals who ogle them (or worse).”
Other county commissioners also objected to sending the letter, according to other emails also received by James. In one, Republican Vice Chair Jim Pendergraph says he is against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and relates a story of his encounter with a gay servicemember following his enlistmen in 1969.
“I don’t think the timing is right for this,” Pendergraph wrote, “and as a 19 year old enlistee from Steele Creek in the U.S. Army in 1969, the first homosexual I ever encountered was in basic training. He was the company clerk. It was a bad scene and this individual exerted his authority on young impressionable recruits.”
Pendergraph added, “Whatever you send, don’t put my name on it. I don’t see this as anything to be proud of.”
This month’s DADT repeal came after a months-long Pentagon report found there would be minimal unit cohesion or disruption problems resulting from an orderly policy repeal and implementation. Of the thousands of servicemembers surveyed during the Pentagon’s report, 70 percent said DADT repeal would have no or very little impact on troop morale or readiness.
Roberts, a Democrat, also specifically asked Republicans on the board about their thoughts on the letter, as DADT was not an issue on the county’s legislative agenda. Roberts especially sought to thank Burr, the only Republican senator in the Southeast to vote for repeal and the first such senator ever to vote positively on pro-LGBT legislation.
James said he would not congratulate Burr: “I suspect Richard Burr will pay a high electoral price for his actions but whether it boots him from office next time is unknown,” James wrote. “I know I won’t be supporting him even if he does have an R after his name.”
Fellow GOP Commissioner Karen Bentley also objected to the letter and voiced her opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, saying she was “highly disappointed” by Republican Burr’s affirmative vote on the issue on Dec. 18.
Burr won’t face another election until 2016.
Commissioner Harold Cogdell, Jr., a Democrat, also opposed the letter though he did so because matter was not an item on the county’s legislative agenda.
James also said he’d undertaken his own communication to the new Republican leaders of North Carolinas state legislature. He says he’s asked them to take up a variety of anti-gay social cause, like banning gay adoptions, prohibiting domestic partner benefits and placing on the ballot an anti-LGBT, anti-family marriage amendment to the state constitution.
James’ anti-gay comments following the Christmas holiday are not the first time the public official has spoken out strongly on LGBT issues. He often uses derogatory language or slurs to describe LGBT people in debates or communication with fellow public officials and constituents. During debate last December on domestic partner benefits for county employees, James leaned over to his Democratic colleague, Vilma Leake, and called her son a “homo.” Leake’s son died from AIDS in the 1990s.
James has been in office for nearly two decades and was one of the “Gang of Five” who voted to strip public arts funding in the 1990s during the county’s “Angels in America” controversy.
The Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committe (MeckPAC) released a statement condemning James’ remarks on Tuesday. The full statement is reprinted below:
MeckPAC Statement on County Commissioner Bill James’ recent homophobic statements:
MeckPAC commends Commissioner Roberts on her initiative to thank local members of Congress who voted yes on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” MeckPAC also commends those members themselves, which include Reps. Larry Kissel and Mel Watt, and Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan. Ending that discriminatory policy was long overdue and is a major step toward equality for LGBT Americans.
Unfortunately, County Commissioner Bill James made comments in an email regarding DADT that homosexuals are “sexual predators.” These remarks are shocking, though not surprising considering his past rhetoric. Near the same time last year, Commissioner James called fellow Commissioner Vilma Leake’s deceased son a “homo.” Commissioner James has also said that black Americans live in a “moral sewer.” Such statements continue to be well over the line of decency and civility, and should be called out as the ignorant bigotry they are.
These personal attacks against fellow American citizens are unacceptable, and Commissioner James should be held accountable for his remarks as a leader. Other County Commissioners should ensure James’ comments are not allowed to appear as the voice of the overall board. It’s time for the Board to take a stand publicly against such speech. The community needs to hear loudly where each board member stands. LGBT and questioning youth — many of whom have been victims of bully suicides encouraged by Commissioner James’ attitude — should know there’s nothing wrong with them and they should not feel ashamed of who they are. LGBT people are of course not sexual predators or anything of the sort, despite the mythology that preaches otherwise.