Update (Jan. 26 2015): After insult, candidates hug and ‘cut the drama’
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A candidate for the chairmanship of North Carolina Democratic Party is under fire today after insulting a fellow candidate who is transgender at a candidate forum in Gastonia on Tuesday.
Former state House Rep. Patsy Keever, who is currently the party’s first vice chair, attended the forum with three other candidates, including Janice Covington Allison, the first transgender candidate to run for the state party chair position.
During the event, Keever referred to Allison as “a man.” The comment came during Allison’s 10-minute address to the forum. The comments were captured on an audio recording,
As Allison spoke, she recounted the several ways she attempted to run as a state delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
“I ran as a senior citizen… I ran as a disabled vet… I ran as a woman… I ran as LGBT,” Allison told the forum. “And what did I leave out? There’s one more.”
“A man,” Keever said in the background.
“Huh? A what?!” Allison responded, as crosstalk and laughter ensued. “There ain’t no man left in here, honey.”
Allison said she was hurt by the comment — an oft-used insult against transgender women, stereotypically portraying them as a “man in a dress.”
“I was shocked when I heard what she said,” Allison said in a written statement to qnotes. “I would compare it to someone using a bigoted slur against me. I am a proud transgender woman and for me to be violated in this way at a public forum by a leader of the party was completely out of line.”
Allison added, “I believe Democrats are better than this and I feel as the first vice chair she must do better to represent our values as Democrats.”
Allison had also asked Keever for an apology.
Keever, who disputed the exact nature of the comment, told qnotes she delivered that apology personally on Wednesday morning.
“I have talked to her and she’s accepted my apology,” Keever said. “She was very understanding and she suggested that I apologize to the transgender community, which I certainly will on her Facebook page as soon as I get to Raleigh; I’m in the car driving right now.”
Allison confirmed Keever’s apology, but stressed the need for a wider apology to the entire community.
“I told her it’s fine and I accept your apology, but the apology is not just for me,” Allison said. “My whole community is up in arms. You need to write a statement and apologize to them.”
‘This is prejudice’
Others who heard the comments also interpreted them as an insult.
Ron Sanyal, another state party chair candidate, told qnotes he was surprised by Keever’s comment and has also called upon Keever to make a public apology.
“I was totally shocked,” Sanyal said. “The audience was shocked. That was conduct unbecoming of a candidate. We have to ensure respect and we have to be sensitive. We are trying to, as Democrats, to be open minded, not be sarcastic. I think that was a disrespect for [Allison].”
Sanyal said Keever’s comments were “not a slip of the tongue.”
“This is prejudice,” he said.
Keever insisted she never intended to offend Allison or throw an insult.
“She said there are five ways to run and she’d named four of them and I said, ‘man,'” Keever said. “As I look back at it — she was trying to remember all the different ways she had run and I just said ‘man,’ a one-word question. It was not meant in anyway to offend her or anybody else.”
Though party delegate selection rules call for an equal division of male and female delegates, the party’s affirmative action and inclusion plans, which open positions to women, LGBT persons and other minorities, do not have a position devoted solely to men.
Keever later posted an apology on Allison’s Facebook campaign page.
“I appreciated my time talking with LGBT leaders like yourself and Ryan Butler today, and for the opportunity to be better educated about this important community in our diverse family,” Keever wrote.
LGBT leaders support Keever, not Allison
Other LGBT leaders in the state have either endorsed or supported Keever, who they note has been supportive of LGBT issues in the past.
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, has privately supported Keever.
“Trans North Carolinians deserve full respect and equality in all forums and settings in our state, and Equality NC will always fought for that,” Sgro said in a written statement. “Especially within a party that espouses equality and looks to make change on our behalf, this is disappointing. Not respecting a person’s gender identity is inexcusable, whether it is intentional or due to ignorance, and this is a teachable moment for our allies.”
When reached for comment on Wednesday, Sgro said Keever has a history of pro-LGBT support and he looks forward to working with her to further LGBT inclusion and education.
“I have known Patsy Keever personally and professionally for nearly eight years, and she is a good and fair-minded person who has long been an advocate for the LGBT community,” Sgro said. “While I imagine she did not mean disrespect, the comment is nonetheless emblematic of how much work we have left to fight for trans rights. I take it as a personal challenge to work with Patsy and other friends and allies to better understand and advocate for trans rights.”
Robert Kellogg, president of the Gaston County LGBT Democrats and vice president of the state LGBT caucus, said Keever’s words were “unfortunate,” but stopped short of withdrawing his endorsement.
Ryan Butler, president of the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina, said “no transgender person should ever be discriminated against, intentionally or otherwise,” in a written statement. He also said he’d spoken to Keever and will connect her with more transgender advocates.
“She explained to me that she unacceptably referred to another candidate who was attending the forum using an incorrect gender pronoun,” Butler said.
Butler, who has also personally endorsed Keever, is not withdrawing his endorsement.
“I have known Patsy for more than 5 years,” said Butler, who is married to Sgro. “As many people already know, I have already personally endorsed Patsy Keever for Chair and I remain as committed to that endorsement as I was when I first made it. I’m enthusiastic about her commitment to work together on LGBT issues.”
Neither Equality NC nor the LGBT Democrats of North Carolina have previously supported Allison’s historic first-time candidacy or otherwise publicly noted it.
Butler added on Wednesday, “Our caucus needs to do more work to educate the members of our own party on transgender issues. I believe having a transgender candidate for Chair is one great way to help do that and I applaud Janice for running.”
In a follow-up phone call after this article’s publication, Butler told qnotes that the statewide LGBT caucus has not endorsed any candidate and has a policy to remain neutral in party elections. Butler added that the caucus had previously planned to gather candidates’ views on LGBT issues, compile them into a voter guide and publish them for members of the caucus.
[Ed. Note (Jan. 21, 8:05 p.m.) — The original version of this article indicated that Chris Sgro had endorsed Patsy Keever. This is not accurate. Though Sgro has privately supported Keever, he has not publicly endorsed her. We have clarified this portion of the story to better reflect Sgro’s position. We regret the error.]