Silent no more, LGBT community is creating a new “Charlotte Way”

Editor's Note

Last June, I took to this column to praise the death of “The Charlotte Way.” At the time, a recent forum with former Charlotte mayors had exposed some leaders’ — in particular, former mayors Richard Vinroot’s and now-Gov. Pat McCrory’s — sadness at what they perceived as the end of this iconic, local “way of doing things.”

“So, while Vinroot and McCrory are mourning the decline of the Charlotte Way, I, for one, am rejoicing at what could finally be the death of Charlotte’s Good Ol’ Boy System,” I wrote in my June 21, 2013, column (goqnotes.com/23502/). “It has had a ridiculously long time in power, but now we can all finally say good riddance to this awful relic of the Old South. … It’s time for a new way, Charlotte — one that includes and empowers all people. This time, let’s build it from the bottom up.”

For the LGBT community, especially, it seems we have taken to truly making our own new “Charlotte Way” — one in which we and our allies refuse to sit back silently in the face of anti-LGBT oppression and discrimination.

With a healthy mix of traditional diplomacy and more outspoken advocacy, LGBT Charlotteans and their allies have increased their activism and protests, organizational growth and courage, outspokenness and solidarity. The result has been a newly-reinvigorated, more influential and more civically-minded and -engaged community.

It’s as if, all of a sudden, the entire community has collectively struck out in unison chant: We’re here. We’re queer. We aren’t going anywhere. We aren’t shutting up. We won’t be silenced, forgotten or overlooked. We will have not only a seat, but also a voice at the table.

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The list of accomplishments and growing influence of the past year is long:

MeckPAC’s bold stands
With a traditionally-quiet and behind-the-scenes approach, the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, under the leadership of chair Scott Bishop, staked out new positions and spoke publicly on matters like Charlotte’s sister-city relationship with Voronezh, Russia. During the summer, Bishop went to City Council and asked the city to severe its relationship with Voronezh. It was a bold claim, and one unfulfilled given the city’s desire to maintain its global relationships, but then-Mayor Patsy Kinsey and other city officials were given no other option but to engage. In the fall, when election time came around, MeckPAC drew hard lines for candidates. “You either support our full equality or you don’t,” they practically said. The result? More candidates came out in favor of full marriage equality and both mayoral candidates were passed over for endorsement.

Most inclusive leadership ever
When former Mayor Anthony Foxx stepped down to take his new role as U.S. transportation secretary, Charlotte was handed its most LGBT-friendly leader yet. Patsy Kinsey made history as the first mayor to participate in an LGBT Pride parade in the city and the first to issue a proclamation proclaiming the event dates “Charlotte Pride Weekend.” At the same time, Council moved forward with not one, but two, openly gay or lesbian members, with Plaza Midwood businessman Billy Maddalon appointed to serve in Kinsey’s District 1 seat. When election time was over, Charlotte’s openly gay or lesbian representation didn’t falter. As Maddalon exited and Kinsey retook her District 1 seat, voters elected Al Austin, joining LaWana Mayfield as the second gay candidate popularly elected to local office.

Pride like never before
Speaking of the parade, Charlotte Pride — on whose board I’ve been proud to serve — grew leaps and bounds as it hosted the city’s first Pride parade in nearly 20 years. Charlotte has always said it’s a “world class city,” and Charlotte Pride brought it. A city can’t truly be “world class” without an LGBT Pride festival and parade, now can it?

Full equality and no less
In October, same-sex couples in Charlotte made their mark and put their corner of North Carolina on notice — full marriage equality and no less — by protesting at the local register of deeds office.

Organizational growth
Also in the fall, Time Out Youth Center moved to a new, expanded space, rounding out a year of growth that saw the addition of several new staff members. The group’s forward momentum saw it gaining influence in Charlotte and across the region, as its staff worked to organize and support young people as far out as Lincoln County.

Youth empowerment
Continuing on the youth front, students at East Mecklenburg High School — who supported a fellow transgender student’s candidacy for homecoming king — proved in February that the next generation of leaders and citizens will be among the most progressive and inclusive the city has ever seen.

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United calls for inclusion
Then, in March, the community rallied together in a rare joint statement on local St. Patrick’s Day organizers’ anti-gay policies and connections to a national anti-gay organization. More than two dozen leaders — myself and this newspaper’s publisher included — signed the statement, staking our own collective claim to full and unequivocal social inclusion in this city’s civic events.

Transgender visibility
And, most recently, the community again came together in a show of public solidarity, supporting transgender Central Piedmont Community College student Andraya Williams, who says she was harassed and discriminated against by college security officers and officials. At the forefront of the controversy is the Freedom Center for Social Justice’s LGBTQ Law Center, which represents Williams, and the locally-based national non-profit Campus Pride, which for the last year and a half had been working with CPCC faculty, staff and students on a plan to push the college toward greater inclusion.

There are other accomplishments, of course — far too many to list here. But, a review of the community’s growth and change wouldn’t be complete without noting an important evolution in our local LGBT leadership.

Leaders from a variety of organizations, like Bishop and his fellow MeckPAC committee members, have taken new and bold stands. Time Out Youth Center leadership and staff have opened their doors to more proactive advocacy by this city’s and region’s LGBT young people, something the organization once lacked. Charlotte Pride, fresh off its first year as an independent non-profit, had a vision, fulfilled it and is pushing for broader LGBT pride and empowerment. Groups like the Charlotte Business Guild, Charlotte Black Gay Pride and the newly-formed LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County are seeing an influx of a new crop of leaders unafraid to rock the boat and “step out of line” — even if ever so slightly — to ensure positive forward movement for the city.

I’m reminded of yet another editorial I once wrote. Four years ago, I bemoaned the “curiously silent” community leadership in the face of one of Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James’ most outrageous anti-gay attacks. That silence, I described at the time, was an “unwillingness to act,” an inability to “step up to the plate,” a “dropping of the ball” and a “missed opportunity.”

But, that was then, and our community and its leadership have changed dramatically for the better. No longer silently beholden to the spirit-crushing “Charlotte Way,” we are standing up, speaking out and making change like never before. Our new and very queer “way of doing things” is here to stay, and I couldn’t be more proud. : :

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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.