Curiously silent. That’s what describes the Charlotte LGBT community’s official response to Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James — the Queen City’s own modern day Jesse Helms, albeit a less politically savvy and successful one.

James had a serious bout of diarrhea of the mouth in mid-December. First, he called a fellow commissioner’s deceased son a “homo.” Then, he refused to apologize and further tore at the open wound by calling gays dangerous, sick and destructive. To cap it all off, he said police were undertaking public park sex stings in an effort to “de-infest” us.

And the outrage from Charlotte LGBT leadership was…non-existent. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Actually, I’m being just a bit disingenuous. Perhaps I’ve over-exaggerated — “nada” isn’t exactly accurate. To their credit, two LGBT organizations responded with a joint statement to media. The national, Charlotte-based Campus Pride and local Time Out Youth called for James to apologize and demanded an immediate reprimand from the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Their statement alone, however, made not a dent of difference in media coverage of the incidents. Campus Pride’s and Time Out Youth’s statement should have been echoed by every LGBT group in the city.

The official silence from Charlotte’s largest LGBT groups — like the Lesbian & Gay Community Center, Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC), the Charlotte Business Guild, PFLAG and others — represented more than a serious lack in judgment. Their unwillingness to act on, or, perhaps, their complete ignorance of, the situation was a lost opportunity to build bridges with progressive allies across racial, sexual, health, political and religious lines.

James not only offended LGBTs in his statements and slurs. He targeted an African-American commissioner. He targeted her deceased son — a gay, African-American man who died from AIDS.

Imagine if our community’s leadership had stepped up to the plate with a coalition of LGBT leaders, African-American community leaders, execs from local AIDS service organizations, LGBT-affirming religious leaders and representatives from local progressive activist groups. What if they had all spoken out together to denounce James’ harmful and bigoted remarks, offer accurate legal information opposing James’ absurd interpretation of Lawrence v. Texas and state law, and be the voice of those who all-too-often go unrecognized, oppressed and silenced?

Whether the issues to be addressed in this embarrassing situation were racism, HIV/AIDS stigmatization, religion-based bigotry or outright hatred of LGBT people, the intersections of oppression and these various communities’ struggles for liberty, equality and dignity were clear.

The truth is our community’s leadership dropped the ball and missed an all-too-rare chance to lead our current and potential allies in educating the public by responding to, rebuking and correcting James’ derogatory and incendiary rhetoric.

I have no doubt our community is moving forward with the passage of pro-equality policies at the county-level. Hopefully soon, the city will move on similar issues. Regardless, we must recognize that policy changes alone will not create a better, more equal or more just society for the LGBT citizens and youth of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Until our community’s leadership decides to take vocal and visible action on our issues and be our proud voice to the people and voters of our local communities, we will remain mired in a city and county full of unchanged minds and cold, hardened hearts. Unfortunately, LGBT youth will bear the burden of our community’s decisions and the actions of civic leaders like James. At least two of our local organizations recognize this. What could we achieve if the others took it as seriously? : :

This article was published in the Jan. 9 – Jan. 22 print edition.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

12 replies on “Charlotte leadership: Curiously silent”

  1. Well said. I beg to ask if we have a “LGBT voice.” I thought that was the role of our community center — but I realize it is run by volunteers who are doing a lot for our community. I also am not sure if we have the dedicated leadership and resources to be successful in such matters and the foresight in how we do or do not choose to respond to such issues. The ball was dropped…

  2. Its sad, but many of our LGBT brothers and sisters really dont give a damn. It’s not only the responsibility of the leadership to make a statement, but it should be the outcry of the community at large pushing the leadership into action. I fear that we are becoming a group that has become complacant and uneffected by bias or biggotry. Perhaps if we were forced to use a different restroom than the heterosexuals or forced to ride in the back of the bus some of us would get off our a$$’s and become visable. As long as we can go to the club, buy our designer threads, drink our latte and be seen by those who are movers and shakers, all is well in our world. How quickly we forget that we are a minority fighting for our acceptance and equality in this world. Maybe someone should have offered free beer to the next 100 people to stand up for their rights and speak out against injustice. perhaps that would have spurred some to action!

  3. Off the topic, but could the editor please you some damn decency and take down all the ads off the pages that demostrate sexually permiscuous gay men trying to hook up on a social website? Some companies, including the one I work for, are now considering banning access to q-notes because they consider the images on its pages ‘offensive and pornographically suggestive’. This should be common sense, Q-Notes. We know you have to advertise, but can’t you use their logo and maybe an email address rather than moving images of people in bathtubs, beds, and dancing in front of a webcam? Good God. Has your paper now really gone this route? People aren’t reading the hard copies as much, so you push your online paper. Now you make that unreadable due to porn ads. Give us a break and take these things down. Anybody with any business sense knows you just can’t do this! Poor taste, period.

  4. To Danny (@11:47 a.m.)…

    QNotes’ editor and editorial staff do not control, administer or supervise advertising content.

    Individuals with concerns about advertising content can address their comments to Jim Yarbrough, Publisher, via email to or via letter to PO Box 221841, Charlotte, NC 28227.

    We’ll also be sure to share your comment with advertising and publishing staff. We value your feedback.

    QNotes staff

  5. The community center went downhill the day it moved off of Central Avenue where it was in a prominent and visible location. Since the Center is hidden so is its voice. And then there are people involved in it that could care less about the community and are only out there to serve their own interests. The community needs another Dan Kirsch to help bring this community out again.

  6. Lot’s of comments from folks here about what they think other organizations and entities should be and do. I’d like to invite anyone of you to run for his District 6 seat if you want to make a change. He continues to run unopposed yet you keep complaining.
    I’ve lived in Charlotte since 1996 and have heard ignorant statements from Mr. James time and time again. Now he’s just boring. His stupidity is more than evident at this point. Sometimes we give life and power to people like Mr. James just by acknowledging his ludicrous words. I agree that he owes and apology to Velma. He owes us all an apology just for existing this long without any personal growth but to call others to task for what YOU perceive as inaction shows you’re uninformed about others roles, what they do and what they provide for the community.

    As for the statement from JB about Dan Kirsh, Charlotte and the Center are better off without him. JB’s statement shows again how ill or miss informed people can be.

    Matt, Shane, out&proud or JB, I’ll be looking for anyone of your names opposing Mr. James in the next district 6 election. Good luck.

  7. Why Reality. What a great idea. So are you going to enter the race also? Or are you just adding your hot air to the conversation?

  8. Sorry reality check. Cant run for office in charlotte as I reside outside the county limits. It is however every citizens right to voice their opinion and certainly more so if they are active voters. I for the record am very active on my local political scene and feel no guilt or reservation speaking out. Perhaps like JB pointed out you should also consider being a part of the solution. I can help get you in touch with local, county or state leaders if you want to try your hand at politics. Let me know and I will introduce you to the right person. Glad to see you exercising your right to express your opinion as well. That is after all what democracy is all about.

  9. In deffense of Matt, as a leader in the local press as well as the LGBT community, Matt has demonstrated a clear and decisive drive to point out human rights violations as well as anti-LGBT offenses. Not everyone can run for office, some have to be the checks and balances, which is what Matt as a member of the local press has done. I dont know what reality check has done for the local LGBT community or to try and effect change, nor will I judge. I can say from first hand experience working with and seeing matt in action that Charlotte and North Carolina as a whole is better off for having such a hard working and active LGBT advocate. Keep up the good work Matt.

  10. Danny (who opposes the ads online). These ads occurs in every possible way across the entire scope of online sites…with the possible exception of church sites. No one is naked. I get the feeling it is the homo part that bothers you. The Advocate has similar ads as does every major gay publication. Why? REVENUE. It is s simple as that. Don’t look at the site at work if it bothers your boss so much. Try some therapy and figure out why this irritates you so. It’s just a fact of life. Without funding these sites would not exist.

  11. I don’t know how I missed this piece and the subsequent comments, but I think it’s one of the most worthwhile local discussions to have right now.

    I agree with Matt’s piece and point. Where was the leadership? And I don’t think it is fair to assume that people must run for office or put themselves in the public spotlight in order to ask that question.

    Calling it pointless bitching also misses the issue.

    I don’t know where our leaders voice was though many I know feel it never existed in the first place – at least in recent memory.

    We have a community center that for right or wrong is focused fairly exclusively on the cultural/social aspects of the community which precludes it from being in the public arena much.

    We have organizations that for right or wrong are either focused fairly exclusively on micro issues ranging from music, business networking or faith issues which precludes them from feeling it is their place to speak publicly on Issues beyond their organization’s scope.

    We also have representative national/state orgs are more focused on issues beyond Charlotte outside of engagement, memberships, fundraising and networking – but whose very structure as not Charlotte-based prevents them from being a leading voice on local issues

    In summary, what we don’t have is a Charlotte area organization that is dedicated to being a public voice focused on local issues political or not.

    I don’t know if that is anyone’s fault so much as there has never been enough desire or appetite to do so. It would be wonderful if this debate raises the awareness of the need.

Comments are closed.