Blacks and gays. If it isn’t one group, it’s the other. All of Charlotte’s — indeed, the nation’s — problems can be placed directly at the feet of African-Americans and LGBT people. That’s the impression you’d get if all you ever heard was a recounting of current events, news and commentary as interpreted by Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James.
In December, James made headlines for leaning over to Commissioner Vilma Leake, after she told an emotional story of her gay son and his death, and asked, “You’re son was a homo, really?”
In mid-March, James’ loose lips again created headlines. This go ‘round, James accused all black people of being promiscuous — the cause of higher STD rates recently reported in African-American communities by the Centers for Disease Control. James’ most recent insult toward blacks isn’t a strange one to LGBT people. For years, we’ve also been the target of similar claims by people like James and right-wing, so-called religious leaders. Years ago, James took to his email list and recounted, in detail, graphic sexual acts he claimed were performed by a majority of gay people.
In conversations with gay friends and community leaders, I’ve gotten the impression that most don’t take James seriously and that he should be ignored lest he be given the “attention he wants.”
James’ malicious and seemingly never-ending vendetta against blacks and gays runs the gamut from ridiculous to outrageous. Sometimes its laughable, the lengths to which he’ll go to steal the spotlight. Other times, his language is outright offensive and inappropriate for any person, much less an elected official.
Should he be ignored? Should we take him seriously?
I don’t know what discussions are taking place among leaders in the African-American community, but I do know the conversations among LGBT leaders. While many sit back and continue to give James a pass, his language is causing harm whether or not we can immediately recognize or measure it.
And, obviously, a great deal of people in Mecklenburg County are taking James seriously — specifically, those voters in District 6 who re-elect him time and time again. James, first elected to the county commission in 1996 and who has never had a serious challenger, must be representing his constituents’ “concerns” (read: biases and prejudices), and therein lies the real problem.
This issue of James’ anti-gay and racist rhetoric isn’t about James, per se. The issue is one of respect, honest and fair representation, integrity and equality. The issue is also one of immense community importance.
When James makes the news with his anti-gay slurs and a conservative mother or father with similar opinions cheers him on, what happens in the mind of a scared, lonely and closeted 13- or 14-year-old LGBT youth? How must it feel to be bombarded by public officials, faith communities and your parents? And, why doesn’t this youth see or hear any words of affirmation or compassion from someone like him? When our community is silent, we leave LGBT youth vulnerable to the prejudices of people like James.
Mecklenburg County’s African-American and LGBT communities, among others, have put up with James’ negative leadership for far too long. Enough is enough. The LGBT community must start speaking out, and we should work hand-in-hand with likeminded African-American leaders who have been dealt the same offensive hands by James.
Together, our two communities could send a loud, strong and clear message:
Racism, homophobia and heterosexism have no place in public discourse, reaffirms longstanding prejudices, reinforces active racial and anti-gay discrimination. It will not be tolerated. We expect better of our leaders.
The time for race-baiting and gay-hating has come and gone — a long time ago. Bill James must go. : :
This article appears in the March 20-April 2 print edition.