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.
At the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund’s “Happening” luncheon on May 13, keynote speaker Mayor Anthony Foxx recounted the history of LGBT-inclusive movement in the Queen City and said actions by the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners “created the courage for the city to do the same.”
I wrote: “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?”
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.
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 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 on June 3, White wrote: “[T]he 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.”
White continued: “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.
On May 29, I also wrote I found it curious that we often call elected officials “leaders,” especially when elected officials rarely, if ever, actually lead on issues of civil or social equality. Unlike so many others, Spartanburg Mayor Junie White has earned his title of elected leader.
Queen City elected officials, as well as other local and state lawmakers, should take note: This is what real political courage looks like. : :