Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx pledged his commitment to inclusion to a standing room-only crowd tonight at the Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte.
About 75 people attended the event, an historic milestone in a city that lacks a positive track record on issues of LGBT equality. Foxx is the first sitting Charlotte mayor to hold an open, town hall-type event with the city’s LGBT community. Rodney Monroe, chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, held a similar event at the center on Oct. 12.
Foxx spoke briefly about general city-wide issues like education, the recent library crisis and transportation growth, followed by over an hour of questions and answers from the audience. A good portion of those questions centered on the extension of domestic partner benefits to city employees and an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance.
The city has yet to extend benefits to same-sex partners of city employees, despite Mecklenburg County commissioners approval of similar benefits for county employees last year. This March, City Manager Curt Walton extended policy-based non-discrimination protections to employees on the basis of sexual orientation.
That wasn’t enough for some audience members. Joshua Carpenter Costner, a Charlotte resident and grassroots activist with Queer Rising QC, asked the mayor why the council never voted on a fully-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance that protected employees on the basis of both gender identity and sexual orientation.
Foxx said legal opinions from the City Attorney Mac McCarley had called into question the city council’s ability to undertake such an initiative. Foxx also said the likelihood of non-discrimination policy changes under the current manager or future managers was “very low” in response to questions about the perceived impermanence of the current policy.
In response to qnotes‘ question regarding Charlotte’s record of LGBT inclusion when compared to other cities and the lack of on-the-record votes on the issues from city leaders, Foxx said he wasn’t at the meeting “to be scored,” and that regardless of whether the council voted on a policy or didn’t, the city manager still “did the right thing.”
Phil Hargett, a former chair of the Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) told audience members that he thought Foxx was supportive of LGBT issues, but that “city council members have hidden behind” the opinion of attorney McCarley for years.
On domestic partner benefits, Foxx said a vote by city council to undertake a study on the issue could come soon. A study would first investigate the financial cost of such a benefits extension, a factor he said council would consider “even in the best of times.”
Carpenter told the mayor that the issue wasn’t financial, but rather one of civil rights. “Progress isn’t free,” he said.
A similar benefits study undertaken in 2009 by county leaders found domestic partner coverage would cost anywhere between $400,000 and $1.2 million dollars, but could be as low as $40,000 depending on how many employees signed up for the coverage.
Foxx, who has lobbied hard for Charlotte’s bid to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention, said he’d also seen discussions in the media and on blogs regarding Charlotte’s lack of LGBT progress and how that might impact the city’s finalist hopes to host the global attention-grabbing event.
“Think about imagining two years from now, having 300 heads of state here, the president here, members of the Cabinet here and having the world focused on Charlotte,” Foxx said. “The convention is an aspirational moment for the county and for Charlotte. It is an opportunity to pull together and to focus on the city we want Charlotte to be.”
He added, “The convention isn’t about where our country or where Charlotte is but where we want it to be.”
At the close of the forum, Foxx recognized the tension and frustration some LGBT community members feel over any lack of progress.
“I’ve been to seven town hall-type events through this year and this is my last of the year,” he said. “I didn’t come expecting pats on the back or not to answer tough questions and that’s okay. The point is, I’m here.”
Lesbian & Gay Community Center chair John Stotler and other members of the group’s board of trustees ended the evening by presenting the mayor with a plaque honoring his visit and his commitment and vision for equality.
info: See qnotes‘ live Twitter coverage documenting the event below: