End the embarrassment, get with the game

Editor's Note

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: October 17, 2009 in Editor's Note, Opinion

Bessemer City: 5,119. Boone: 13,843. Carrboro: 16,782. Charlotte: 687,456.

Population isn’t the only fact or figure separating these three small towns from the largest city between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Unlike Charlotte, these three quaint hamlets have taken a step forward in fulfilling the American promise of equality and now protect their public employees on the basis of sexual orientation. Two of them also offer protections for transgender workers.

The Queen City, on the other hand, offers LGBT citizens and public employees nothing.

Q-Notes’ cover story this issue asks a simple question: “On LGBT equality, when will Charlotte get with the game?”

The Queen City lags behind other cities and towns in this state and others of comparable size and stature nationally. It offers no employment protections for LGBT workers, no domestic partner benefits and has no openly gay-elected officials. Similarly, Mecklenburg County — despite small attempts at moving forward — also lags behind. The abysmal state of LGBT equality in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County is a statewide and national embarrassment — an epic fail on the part of progressive city leaders who say the right things, but rarely take the right action.

I was faced with the blunt reality of these facts when I participated in Chapel Hill’s International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association Familiarization Tour during NC Pride Fest weekend in September. The difference between Charlotte and how the LGBT community was not only celebrated, but fully integrated into the life of the Town of Chapel Hill, was obvious.

I’ve lived in North Carolina my entire life and I’ve visited all of its largest cities. I’d been to Chapel Hill numerous times, but the IGLTA Fam Tour was the first time I’d experienced the town as an adult and outside of the university bubble. While there, I felt completely comfortable, warmly embraced and unconditionally welcomed and accepted. In Charlotte, I work for a gay-owned company and most of my time is spent traveling in LGBT political or social circles. Yet, the warm feeling I had in Chapel Hill is found rarely in the Queen City. Even in my primarily LGBT-involved life, a sense of coldness, rejection and conservative, anti-gay moralism invades my time in Charlotte.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the facts:

• On our first day in Chapel Hill, our group was welcomed by Chapel Hill’s mayor. Two days later, the mayor of Hillsborough personally welcomed us to his town. Can you ever imagine Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory participating in anything remotely related to LGBT people? He can’t even bring himself to sign a simple welcome letter to the HRC Carolinas Gala or to Pride Charlotte. He’s certainly never appeared at either event.

• In Durham, only a handful of protesters have ever been present for the NC Pride Fest and Parade. In Charlotte, dozens, if not hundreds, of anti-gay protesters routinely interrupt the event every year. The police and city officials are either unwilling or unable to keep order and the LGBT community is forced to hold what should be a public display of Pride on private property, partially enclosed and invisible to passers-by and the surrounding community.

• In Durham, a resolution supporting marriage for all couples, regardless of gender, passed unanimously. Ditto for Chapel Hill. Ditto again for Carrboro. In Charlotte, our leaders can’t even bring themselves to pencil in discussion of simple issues like employment protections on a city council agenda. And, God knows, even if they dared do so, a contingent of radical, anti-gay voices would drown out the meeting with their bigoted vitriol.

• Carrboro elected a gay mayor in the 1990s. Chapel Hill has an openly gay town councilman (who is now running for, and will likely win, the mayor’s seat). Carrboro has an openly lesbian alderwoman. Orange County has a gay man on its county commission. And, for the three openly gay or lesbian candidates who have run in Charlotte since the 1980s, one as recent as this year? Defeat.

Every large and mid-size Queen City corporation — and even some smaller ones — have protections for their LGBT employees. Many offer domestic partner benefits. Some support our community with large financial gifts. Where the hell are our city and county governments?

Some Charlotte city leaders have suggested progress has been stalled under the threat of McCrory’s veto power. They say things will be different if Democrat Anthony Foxx is elected in November. That’s good information to have. Now we can demand: If Foxx is elected, Charlotte’s LGBT community expects action, not lip-service, no more than two months after Foxx becomes mayor.

The time for complacency in the Queen City is over. An election is on the horizon and we have a unique opportunity to make our voices heard. Voter turnout will be small, so an increased LGBT and LGBT-supportive voter turnout will spell victory for electing pro-equality candidates. For more than a decade, Charlotte’s LGBT community has sat on the sidelines, patiently waiting their turn as politicians say all the right things but never do the right things. It is time to change the paradigm and time to act.

Charlotte — with almost three-quarters of a million residents and almost 135 times the size of the smallest North Carolina city offering LGB protections — seems more like a backward, Southern village than the “world class” metropolis it fancies itself to be. It is time to end the embarrassment and time to fully embrace all citizens in the life and times of our city and county. Charlotte and Mecklenburg County leaders need to get with the game.