Charlotte, on the cusp of change?

Editor's Note

After years of little-to-no progress on LGBT issues in the Queen City, I’m starting to think we might be seeing the very early light of a bright spot in Charlotte. Or, at the least, that’s what I hope I’ve observed as small pieces toward progress fall into place here and there across the city.

Members of Flip Benham's Operation Save America, pictured above in red, harassed 2005 Charlotte Pride attendees in Marshall Park. Since then, Pride festivities in Charlotte have been held on private property.

For the most part, nothing has recently changed in any of our political, religious or social circles. Bill James is still attracting attention with his anti-gay rhetoric. County and city Democrats, who refuse to stand up to James or undertake real initiatives for change, continue to have no spine.

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Surprisingly, however, what has begun to transform is the apparent level at which local LGBT community members are willing to speak out and take action in more visible and engaging ways. Those who worked — especially advocate Roberta Dunn — to make both behind-the-scenes and public inroads with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) kick-started what I hope will be a sustained trend toward real civic and social equality for LGBT Charlotteans. So far, I’ve seen nothing but positive signs that just such a trend really is occurring.

Following CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe’s forum at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center last fall, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx took up an invitation to speak and answer questions from community members. New leadership at the center has been more engaged and open to community feedback. Just this month, the Pride Charlotte organizing committee — on which I hold a seat — announced that their annual festival would move to S. Tryon St., right into the heart of Uptown.

Charlotte’s LGBT community is coming out loud, proud and strong. Though it isn’t the first time we’ve done so, we’re reclaiming now after years of silent (and, I’d say, willful) subjugation our rightful place in the public square. Five years ago, Fred Phelps wannabe Flip Benham claimed a Crusades-like victory over Charlotte’s gays.

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“Charlotte Pride is back in the closet,” he told the city council in March 2006. “And it’s back in the closet because the church of Jesus Christ came out of the closet. And because you, city council, helped us to do that very thing.”

Creative Loafing reported at the time, “He still claims victory, even if Pride takes place somewhere other than its usual spot in Marshall Park. ‘Whatever they do in the closet, that’s up to them,’ said Benham. ‘They’re foul. It’s awful. It brings death.’”

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And, for the most part, Benham has basked in his victory each year Pride organizers chose to confine themselves to private property. We gave into his game. He wanted LGBT people out of the public square and he got his wish. Willfully, we chose to withdraw from the public sphere and civic debate.

But this year, the Charlotte LGBT community’s virtual closet will be opened again. Try as he might, and we know he will, Benham won’t be able to push us back. This is the year, my friends, when Charlotte’s queers rise up and say: We demand equality. We demand it now. We’ve waited long enough and we will no longer continue to reward or support politicians and other civic or religious leaders who fail to deliver on their promises and work to ensure all their constituents are equally protected by the full weight of law, policy and practice.

 

Corrections

Our March 5 article, “’Game on’ in Tar Heel marriage fight,” erroneously stated that the Michigan Supreme Court had overturned domestic violence statutes. This was inaccurate.

Our article at goqnotes.com/10292/ has been updated to read: “The possible consequences aren’t hypothetical. Some states, like Michigan, have already rolled back domestic partner benefits as a result of similar constitutional revisions. Domestic violence statutes that protect unmarried or cohabitating partners have also come under attack in states like Utah and Ohio.”

We regret the error. : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.