QC ‘leaders’ take note: This is what political courage looks like

In our May 29 print issue, I took Charlotte’s city leadership (if you can call it “leadership”) to task for their lack of political courage on tackling LGBT issues.

In my Editor’s Note column, I wrote:

At the [Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund] luncheon, [Charlotte Mayor Anthony] Foxx addressed the city’s recent policy changes.

“I look back at the history of this discussion of a policy change that says discriminating against people based on sexual orientation is wrong and I have to say that we had more courage to help propel our city manager to make that policy change because of changes that had happened earlier,” Foxx said. “A few years earlier, the county commission was embroiled in a heated debate about saying sexual orientation-based discrimination is wrong. They made the right decision and their decision created the courage for the city to do the same.”

Really? Mecklenburg County officials made their change in 2005, and they did so publicly, holding a vote on the matter in a commissioners’ meeting. They did the same again in 2009, when they held a public vote on extending benefits to domestic partners of county employees. Are we to believe that it took five years for city council members to build up the courage to walk over to their city manager’s office and request a change behind closed doors?

I’m calling bullshit.

For years, members of the largely Democratic Charlotte City Council have promised the LGBT community an inclusive non-discrimination policy and domestic partner benefits. For years, those same elected officials said they’d be more than willing to help make the change, but that it just wasn’t feasible because Republican Mayor Pat McCrory would simply veto it. We bought their empty promises time and time again. We handed them our money and our votes time and time again. What has our blind support gotten us? An incomplete, impermanent policy that can be changed at any moment by any current or future city manager.

Where were those elected officials, who said they were our friends, once McCrory was gone? When there was no more obstacle standing in their way, why didn’t they have the “courage” to bring up the matter at a council meeting, and create a more permanent, inclusive change? After all, they’d been so supportive for years and years before.

If Queen City elected officials want to see what real political courage is, they need look no further than Spartanburg, S.C. Mayor Junie White. This month, he issued a proclamation announcing June as LGBT Pride Month. Upstate Pride will be held June 19. The mayor immediately faced a deluge of hate-filled, bigoted criticism from a good chunk of the city council and is taking heat from the city’s conservative, anti-gay majority.

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While White’s actions might not be as grand as LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies or ordinances or domestic partner benefits, his courage on behalf of LGBT equality is a move that could threaten his political career. (Let’s also not forget that the Upstate was also the scene of a violent, anti-gay murder just a few years ago.) That career is something he’s willing to put on the line for what he believes is right and just. Despite possible backlash from angry, anti-gay voters, White isn’t shying away from the proclamation. In fact, he’s very much publicly standing by it.

In a guest column at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal yesterday, White wrote:

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Well, the time for just accepting the way things are is over. We have laws that protect against racial discrimination, and it’s time to protect those of different sexual orientations. No one should be discriminated against for whom they love, for wanting to walk down the street holding hands, or for sharing things a free American should have the right to share.

[…]

I believe that in time, just like with the right of American women to vote, and the right of people of any race to marry people of another race, most people will come to agree that all people should be afforded the same right to love and marry whom they please, work where they please, and enjoy these rights without worry.

All the LGBT folks want to do is have a march, to be recognized in their struggle to have the same rights as all other Americans. As mayor of the city of Spartanburg, I am proud that their organization came forward to ask for the proclamation, because they believe in our city, that Spartanburg is a place where all persons can speak up without fear.

White’s column is phenomenal. He should be thanked immensely for having the courage to speak out, using his bully pulpit as mayor to defend the LGBT community and their rights inside his city.

Spartanburg Mayor Junie White has earned his title of elected leader.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.