Lack of local LGBT response questioned after hate groups rally

Leaders: We were not aware of the event

Though no LGBT community groups or their leaders were present, plenty of rainbow colors made a splash among counter-protesters at a Nov. 10 neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan rally staged at Old City Hall in Uptown Charlotte.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Local LGBT community groups and their leaders were absent on Saturday when as many as 250 counter-protesters were organized to drown out the messages of two hate groups at a rally in Uptown Charlotte.

The Detroit, Mich.-based National Socialist Movement and the Eden, N.C.-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, staged the rally, primarily intended as a protest against undocumented immigration. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the National Socialist Movement is the nation’s largest neo-Nazi hate group.

Several groups apparently took charge of organizing counter-protesters. Some allegedly came with Occupy Charlotte and other protest groups, but many were organized by the Latin American Coalition. Many of their supporters were dressed as clowns and wore clown makeup. Organizers said the costumes were meant to use humor as a way to respond to hate.

Groups were silent

Though this writer did notice several LGBT individuals at the event, it seems no local LGBT organizations or many of their leaders showed up to lend their support.

Chief counter-protest organizer and Latin American Coalition Youth Coordinator Lacey Williams, who identifies as a lesbian, said the community’s general lack of response only further promotes what she says is a long-standing racial divide in the local LGBT community.

“As an organizer who has organized in the LGBT community, it is concerning that when we see these issues in the community we don’t hop on them and say these are our issues,” Williams said. “Only if they are LGBT issues do we say that’s our issue then we go to that rally.”

Williams doesn’t think many LGBT groups in the city understand how prejudices and other issues intersect among progressive movements and causes. “I work in immigrant rights and I know lots of students who are LGBT. They are also immigrants. Immigrant rights issues affect them,” she said. “What is interesting about groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis is that they not just saying they hate people of color. They are saying, ‘All people who are different, we hate you.'”

Williams added, “It’s at the peril of our community that we alienate people of color,” and said the LGBT groups’ silence on the weekend’s rally was a “missed opportunity.”

“I’ve worked in racial justice work primarily at the youth level for five years,” she said. “Unless it has to do with an explicitly LGBT issue, I just don’t see the gay community coming out. Where was the gay community at the vigil for Trayvon Martin? We lose a lot of members of our community every year to violence from people who think being gay is wrong and this was an instance of someone who thought you are guilty if you are black. I was at the vigil and I didn’t see any prominent members of the LGBT community there.”

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Loan Tran is a young activist who spoke out on May’s Amendment One and is involved in a variety of progressive causes. Tran also serves as a youth board member at Time Out Youth, the city’s LGBT youth service and support organization. Tran was originally concerned about the rally and the impact of its hate speech.

“I felt stuck; I knew that we needed to respond and I knew that I had it in me to face these traumas face on. But I was also worried that it would be really draining,” Tran said. “Ultimately I did attend the counter protest … It was important for me to show them that I am stronger and braver than their hatred and I knew that I needed to be there to support my friends.”

Tran agrees that the lack of response from the LGBT community was concerning and thinks it represents a trend in which LGBT groups only speak out on issues that are “exclusively LGBT.”

“I have been — for a very long time — unhappy and displeased with how the LGBT community here in Charlotte being represented by white, gay, cisgender men and largely ignoring the ways in which LGBT people of color, LGBT immigrants, etc. are marginalized within the community,” Tran said. “When LGBT leaders and organizations in Charlotte don’t respond in situations like this the message that is being sent is that the racism, xenophobia, classism, ableism, etc., that LGBT people experience on top of homophobia, don’t exist and even if they do, they don’t matter.”

Tran said the silence does damage to relationships with other allies.

“If in our search to dismantle heterosexism and homophobia we do not recognize and emphasize the importance of building a community around messages of anti-oppression in general, then we are alienating a lot of people,” Tran said. “And probably most disheartening is how we alienate those within the LGBT community who are more than just gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender. We are not one-dimensional people.”

Matthew Alexander, a former Time Out Youth member and currently a volunteer, agreed with Tran.

“I think it’s hypocritical to demand equal rights but not fight for the equal treatment of others,” said Alexander, who wanted to attend the rally but was unable. “I think staying divided in this way is a good way to make sure our world never changes for the better.”

Alexander said the distance “drives a wedge” between groups. “We have already pushed away the trans community in many ways and the lesbian community has their distance,” he said. “Fighting for everyone’s rights is what gets us to equality faster. We need to be fighting for equality for every race, creed, gender, sexual orientation and class.”

A question of resources

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of the Charlotte-based national non-profit Campus Pride, was one of two leaders Williams reached out to before the counter-protest. She asked him if he could utilize his drag persona, Buff Faye, to organize other LGBT people at the event.

That outreach occurred via Facebook. Windmeyer said he didn’t see it until after the event had passed. Still, if he or another Campus Pride staff member would have known in advance, Windmeyer said he would have helped spread the word to local youth and college groups.

Windmeyer doubted whether Campus Pride would have taken a more active role in helping to organize in the counter-protest.

“Our local work is very important to us and that here in Charlotte we have a viable organization that helps youth in the area,” Windmeyer said, “but we also serve a national focus and we have to prioritize where we are involved. Oftentimes, we prioritize where we can have a positive impact on youth. Given our resources, I don’t know if we would have spent a lot of staff resources on something that might not be a positive impact on the community, and what I mean by that is that it was not something we intentionally created to have a positive impact. It was something someone else did that we would have been responding to.”

Windmeyer said his organization’s track record on social justice issues was well-known.

“Our actions in the past as an organization and as far as our willingness to have a statement and speak out on issues that impact youth are clear,” he said. “It’s about time we have other LGBT organizations in town do the same thing. Why is it that organizational leaders in Charlotte don’t speak out more or have a more active voice in anything about LGBT issues or, more broadly, allied communities that would be supportive of us?”

Leaders: Not aware, not present

Several other leaders who responded to inquiries from qnotes said they and their groups were not aware of the rally or a plan for a counter-protest.

Tran also serves as a youth board member of Time Out Youth, the city’s LGBT youth support and service organization. Though Tran was present, the organization didn’t officially respond to the rally. Executive Director Rodney Tucker said he didn’t know if any other board members attended and said he wasn’t aware of the event until Monday.

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Roberta Dunn, vice-chair of the LGBT Community of Charlotte, told qnotes she didn’t know about the rally. She said she also had a conflicting monthly meeting with the Carolina Transgender Society, of which she is also a leader.

Scott Coleman, chair of the center, also said his group was not aware of the events. The group didn’t issue a statement before the event but told qnotes it opposes all forms of hate.

“The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, its board and its staff, oppose all forms of hate. Hate, whether in action or in word, directly opposes The Center’s mission of promoting the diversity, acceptance and visibility of the LGBT community,” Coleman said via email.

Scott Bishop, chair of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, or MeckPAC, also said neither he nor anyone else from his organization attended the event. They also did not issue a statement. “There is no reason that we did not issue a statement other than we did not issue a statement,” Bishop said via email, noting that no other group asked them to assist with the counter-protest.

Teresa Davis, president of the Charlotte Business Guild, similarly said she wasn’t aware of the rally or plans for a counter-protest. She didn’t attend.

“When I learned that a group of activists would be in Charlotte, I was unaware that they were part of the KKK or any other neo-Nazi group,” she said. ” I did not recognize the name of the organization, so I did not put two and two together.  I was not aware of any counter-protest.”

She added, “I’ve just asked Victoria Eves, my partner, who says she also did not know about it but had heard that ‘a’ KKK protest had recently been moved from North Carolina to Virginia.  One of us would have probably attended had we known about it. ”

Davis said two of her board members, whom she didn’t identify, are active with the Latin American Coalition. It is possible they participated, she said.

Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund Board of Advisors Chair Jenni Gaisbauer and Vice Chair Todd Murphy did not return requests for comment.

Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, the city’s first and only openly LGBT official, allegedly also missed the protest. She and other elected officials came under scrutiny last month when they attended events with the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Nation of Islam as a hate group. (See a timeline of those events and stories here.)

At an Oct. 13 speech, Mayfield also said Farrakhan was “doing God’s will” in a message sent to her followers on Twitter. Mayfield has since declined repeated requests by this newspaper to go on-record with a statement condemning anti-Semitism and anti-LGBT hatred.

Mayfield has yet to return an additional request for her response to the neo-Nazi and KKK rally.

Mayfield’s colleague, Councilmember John Autry, did attend the event. He sported a red clown nose in support of the Latin American Coalition’s message.

Counter-protest organizer Williams said excuses are often too easy to make. Williams is afraid the blame will be placed on her for not reaching out. “But the [LGBT] community can also reach back,” she said.

“People will always use the defense of ‘I didn’t know,'” she said. “You have to search it out. You have to look for it. You have to have a lens that says, ‘Is this racial injustice?’ There’s not anything special about me when I can see injustice is happening in the community. It’s not that I’m extra extra tapped into it.”

Williams said it is time for LGBT leaders to “have a conversation in our community about intersectionality, about who is at the table, whose issues we are elevating above other people’s issues and are we a community that is inclusive?”

“Those are important conversations we need to be having,” she said.

[Ed. Note — This writer was briefly employed by Campus Pride during his hiatus from the newspaper this past spring. He has also assisted Campus Pride with a web-based project left uncompleted when his tenure with the organization ended. During the same time, this writer served a brief term as a volunteer with the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee’s steering committee.]

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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.

4 Replies to “Lack of local LGBT response questioned after hate groups rally”

  1. First, I have the utmost respect for all of the LGBTQ leaders mentioned in the above article as well as for Matt comer. All of you have done tremendous things for the LGBT community and have had a positiove effect in other areas of the political spectrum as well.

    I have to wonder if this article and the charges leveled would not have been better served in some sort of LGBT roundtable discussion or event in which these issues could be addressed.

    I am not against making issues public and many times shining a light on potential problems can be a catalyst for change. Here, I fear the end result will be the opposite. I hope hurt feelings, misscommunication and competing interests don’t lead to an even more fractured LGBT community.

    Sometimes the best course of action is to use diplomacy rather than the media to display such personal and intense issues within the LGBT community. Sometimes you can win the battle but lose the war.

    Just my thoughts and I hope they do not hurt any feelings. I am proud of what these folks do and continue to do in our communities. Keep up the good work.

  2. Question or thought…I’m calling it a thought. Do any of these so called leaders within our LGBT community not read Qnotes? If not, why? Would it not better serve them and their organizations to at least stay abreast of what is happening in our community. One word…morons. I wanted to put another word in front of morons that starts with an F but I am a southern gentleman. I’m just saying… Come on now community…step it up and act like this is Charlotte and not Bugtussel. Does anyone other than Matt and QNotes have a back bone???

  3. To clarify, this is the message that Lacey Williams sent to Buff Faye (Shane Windmeyer) and another drag queen: “So, we are putting together a protest of the neo-nazi group National Socialist Movement for November 10. Would you both be able to help organize some LGBT folks to go and protest? The theme is Send in the Clowns. Folks will dress up as clowns and hold signs that play off of white power, white supremacy. a good example is lady clowns in wedding dresses with signs that say “Wife Power.” If would be awesome if we could get some drag queen clowns. Let me know if you can help! Thanks, Lacey”

    It is important to note that Lacey was asking Buff Faye for “drag queen clowns” and she never wrote Campus Pride or myself as the Executive Director of Campus Pride. Also, she sent this to Facebook where I seldom have the luxury of reading all my messages and sadly I did not see this one until after she criticized me for not responding to it on Matt Comer’s Facebook page. When asked if she had contacted Campus Pride via email or myself by phone, Lacey responded she did not have that information. FYI: Our phone number and contact form is online at http://www.CampusPride.org.

    Lacey Williams is a great leader in our community and I commend her for her leadership in doing the successful counter-protest. But I sincerely question her outreach to LGBT organizations. There was no follow up by Lacey and the message was sent to drag queens asking about “drag queen clowns.” The Facebook message was not directed to organizations or its leaders and because she said there was no response to her one message that somehow means she can pass judgement on those individuals/organizations. Also I shared with Matt Comer that Campus Pride has for two years sent an email to the Latin American Coalition asking for their support of our Stop The Hate training on bias and hate crime prevention (the training looks at intersections of identities impacted by hate crimes and we train on how to build effective coalitions to respond to hate groups). There has not been any response to date from LAC. Campus Pride did not pass judgement on the LAC; instead we continue sending invitations and ask LAC to support the training. This year we will be sure to follow up with Lacey about the Stop The Hate training and other potential collaborations.

    Lacey and I do agree on this point. I do think there is need for dialogue on the lack of leadership and voice in our LGBT community from organizations. I not only find that this lack of voice/leadership happens on intersections of race, socioeconomic, religion/faith, gender identity, ability — but also even happens on LGBT specific topics, concerns, news items. I think a lot of this lack of leadership/voice stems from lack of training of volunteer leadership on broader social justice issues beyond LGBT-centric viewpoints and the lack of professional staffing of our local LGBT and ally organizations.

    Campus Pride and myself have shared our voice on countless occasions locally — and nationally standing against oppression, hate in all forms — including racial injustice. You can easily search Qnotes or Google to find how we put our values to action and practice in the local Charlotte community and in our national work. I “own” my cisgender, white privilege and use that power to give others voice and to speak up for others (in my various roles in the Charlotte community). As a social justice advocate you must own your privilege and realize how you can impact/change things. I have taken an unpopular stance in many instances — most readers of Qnotes know this. I will do so again.

    But those who know me also know that I just don’t complain for the sake of criticism — I also take action and seek to educate others. For instance, I have had conversations about the fact that young adults in the Charlotte community are not represented in our LGBT and ally organizations and the leadership. I could blame LGBT and ally organizations for not creating meaningful leadership opps for LGBT and ally young adults and leave it at that. But instead, Campus Pride is working on a community forum/panel on this topic. This is the first step toward Campus Pride helping the community understand the importance of young adults in leadership of their organization and to receive more visibility for this concern. The next step would be to offer trainings to local volunteers on best practices and proven methods to engaging young adults in the LGBT movement and broader social justice issues.

    I would encourage Lacey to get LAC and other broad social justice organizations to have a similar forum to understand the concern and then possibly subsequent trainings to change the current problem in the future. Campus Pride would love to support her in such positive actions and efforts. I would also recommend for local LGBT and ally organizations the upcoming Creating Change Conference by the Task Force this year which is hosted nearby in Atlanta, GA. The conference has a day-long racial justice institute as well as many workshops on LGBT issues as it relates to the intersections of identity — http://creatingchange.org

    Be the change you wish to see in the world…

    Shane Windmeyer
    Campus Pride
    http://www.CampusPride.org

  4. Thank you for writing this article. A conversation on intersectionality and how our community is represented is necessary.

    The LGBT news is as good of a place as any to begin the discussion.

    This is not solely a leadership problem, but a community one. White, Cisgendered queer people need to think long and hard about who and what we are fighting for before calling our movement an inclusive fight for equality.

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