Q&A: Charlotte’s new mayor-elect on LGBT equality

Anthony Foxx committed to amending non-discrimination policies, other LGBT-inclusive changes

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: November 28, 2009 in Cover Stories

Mayor-elect Anthony Foxx.
Photo Credit: Henk Jonker, henkjonkerphoto.com.

In November, Charlotte voters ushered in a new era of local government, electing the city’s first Democratic mayor in 22 years and an historic 8-3 Democratic majority on city council. A number of city council candidates, as well as Mayor-elect Anthony Foxx, have expressed their support of the LGBT community and have said they’ll seek to make LGBT-inclusive changes at the city level.

Q-Notes spoke with Foxx via telephone just two weeks after his election victory, discussing the general state of Charlotte, his top priorities upon taking office in December and his plans for supporting the LGBT community.

So, now you’re the new mayor elect. How’s that feel after campaigning for it and working toward it for so long?
It feels good. Obviously it is a challenging time for the city and for the country, but that’s precisely that kind of time when you need leaders who have a proven resiliency and new ideas on how to tackle old problems and the courage to follow through. I’m looking forward to serving.

You’ve had a couple weeks since the election to reflect on your campaign. Looking back, what are you particularly proud of, and in meeting constituents what did you most learn about the needs of Charlotte and her citizens?
I’m proud of the positive campaign that we ran. I thought it was important for our city in a time like this to really have a good debate on the issues, but not on personalities. I think we accomplished that. In terms of what I learned from citizens, I learned what I suspected, which was that not only is the community changing, but the community has changed. The leadership that we’ve had in place has governed under an outmoded leadership style and what I’ll endeavor to do is be a lot more inclusive, a lot more focused on acknowledging the changes that have occurred in the demographics of our city and pushing to make Charlotte a place that’s known as an even more welcoming place than it has been in the past.

You’re the first Democratic mayor here in 22 years. The last, of course, was Mayor Harvey Gantt. Do you think the voters’ decision to elect you is an indicator that the city is starting to turn bluer, more solidly Democratic?
You know, maybe. That may be true. It’s really hard to say. Clearly this was an off-year election. The mayor’s office was probably the biggest race on the ballot. In those years you see a dramatic drop off in turnout and I was actually surprised by the extent to which turnout was low this time. It was lower than it has ever been in the other two times I’ve run. Maybe that has to do with the economy or has to do with people being worn out from 2008. I’ve seen an analysis that says 49 percent of the voters were Democratic, which roughly tracks the percentages [of registered voters] in the city. We’ve had a run of Republicans who’ve been able to attract Democratic support and independent support. This time, I think some of that independent group and some of those Democrats who had supported Pat McCrory chose to support me this time. I think it is an indication of the kind of campaign we ran. In local races I think you tend to see people voting more for individuals than the party. I think that was true this time as well.

LGBT folks are citizens too, so other than specifically LGBT issues, what will be some of the topics on the top of your priority list upon taking office in December?
Priority number one is getting the city back to work. We’ve got an unemployment level that is the highest in the state here in our county. If you track the numbers of people who are also underemployed, it even goes higher than that. There is a lot of work to do in terms of the short term trying to back-fill jobs in sectors hit hard and longer term identifying sectors with long-term potential and working with our community colleges and school system to orient ourselves to the jobs of the future. There is a lot of work ahead of us on that.

In addition to that, one critical need that I see for our community overall is for leadership to be a lot more communicative about the problems we face and the solutions available to deal with those problems, whether that be the economy, transportation issues or housing. I’ll be working hard to find new ways to communicate with the public because I think the more we can inform residents of Charlotte about where we are, where we are trying to get, I think the more supportive they will be for the solutions we end up moving forward.

On LGBT issues now — I asked you to read at least one of my opinion columns here in Q-Notes, I think, that reflected a lot of the frustration LGBT citizens have here. A lot of us work for companies that are very progressive. We are protected by corporate policies, but LGBT citizens who are employees of the city aren’t protected. One of things we’ve needed for a long time is an inclusive non-discrimination policy from the city. A lot of people would like to see domestic partner benefits extended as well. When do you see the city council taking up these issues?
I’d like to see the City Council move on the non-discrimination issue very early in the next term and I’d like to see us do that in a bipartisan way. I know there are members of City Council within both parties who have expressed support for including sexual orientation in the non-discrimination ordinance. Given that, I’d like to see action on that very early.

On the benefits issue, there’s the complicating issue of the economy and city revenues that’s got to be considered there. I would and have expressed support for doing what the county has done, which is to move forward with a full cost analysis of extending domestic partner benefits. I think that is the right step because it helps us know the costs and by the time we get into budget deliberations we’ll be able to know what the financial impact of doing that is. I think you have the political or the philosophical issue of whether it is a good idea or not. I have expressed a willingness to move forward in the way I just described. I think there will be support on the council to do that. There is also the fiscal issue there, too. We’ll have to feel our way through it. We have the police department asking for more officers and all kinds of things pulling at us. We’ll work really, really hard to figure out how to get the things done we want to get done. But, it is on the list and I believe that understanding the impact of it is the first step but not the last one.

You mention you’re fully committed to including sexual orientation in the non-discrimination ordinance, but do you think you or the City Council might also be committed to including gender-identity or gender-expression so that folks whose outward gender appearance is not used against them in employment decisions?
I’d have to dig a little more into the human resources aspects of that to understand the extent to which it isn’t covered by sexual orientation. In my own workplace, for example, which does have a sexual orientation component of their non-discrimination [policy], I have seen an additional card out there. I’m willing to look at it, sure.

It isn’t a bad or a good thing, just a fact: In Charlotte there are lots of people who have religious convictions that say homosexuality is wrong. Do you see it as your job as mayor to help end some of that prejudice and stigma, or, like Barack Obama, are you going to be everybody’s mayor and sit everyone down at a table and come to consensus?
I think it is important to be sensitive to all the voices in our community and that means being sensitive to the voices that believe Charlotte is behind the curve and hasn’t been as aggressive as we should be on embracing the LGBT community. Then there are the voices that think we’ve done too much. I represent all of those people and part of the role that I play is to, on the one hand, not infusing more emotion and rhetoric either way into the decisions we face as a community and trying to make dispassionate, practical but good choices for our community going forward. I know, I’m not off the turnip truck, I know there are some people who will never agree with me on just about anything. I think that is just about a very, very small minority. Most people are willing to listen. I look forward to earning the respect of a wide swath of our community in terms of moving forward not only on this issue but also on others.

What are your initial thoughts about appointing openly gay and lesbian people to whatever positions you might be able to appoint or hire for, and secondly, your thoughts on creating a special mayoral task force, committee or commission on LGBT equality in Charlotte?
The former is not only something I will do, it is something I’ve done. We’ve appointed a number of LGBT folks to committees not because they are LGBT, but because they bring a wealth of experience to the table. I think that’s a sign of progress in our city. As mayor, I will end up appointing about a third of our city’s committees and I am committed to making sure appointments reflect and serve LGBT individuals.

In terms of a task force, there are about three of four I want to get started off the bat. I think maybe a more incremental step will be to have some dialogue with some of the established folks in the LGBT community and starting from there.

Ed. Note: Foxx will be sworn in at the City Council swearing-in ceremony on Dec. 7 at the Council’s organizational meeting.