This year’s city elections are shaping up to be quite an interesting race for the city’s LGBT constituents. Charlotte’s first and only openly gay or lesbian elected official, City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, is up for her first re-election after public stumbles last spring on the anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment. That, combined with her praise for an anti-gay hate group leader last fall, left some of her fellow LGBT Charlotteans disenchanted with her leadership.
But, it’s quite possible Mayfield’s re-election bid will come during a local election season in which matters of LGBT equality are a virtual non-issue. On April 5, two-term Mayor Anthony Foxx announced he would not seek a third term. The field for mayor is quickly filling in. The first to announce was Republican and LGBT-friendly former City Councilmember Edwin Peacock. In a city that traditionally shuns any public and official discussion of LGBT people and equality, could it really be possible that both major candidates for mayor, regardless of party, might hold LGBT-friendly views?
Boy, how times have changed! But, what’s not changed are the views and positions of our elected leaders. Simply put, they have fallen behind their constituents.
Foxx stands as the quintessential example. No doubt, he’s been supportive of a wide range of LGBT-inclusive changes. He supported former City Manager Curt Walton’s decision to change personnel policies to protect LGBT city workers. He supported Walton’s addition of domestic partner benefits to the city’s budget last June. Foxx also made several important outreach efforts to LGBT citizens. He was the first sitting mayor to address LGBT community members at a public forum. He wrote regular letters of welcome to LGBT events. He spoke publicly at the 2011 Charlotte Pride festival.
Foxx seems almost saintly when compared with his predecessor and current Gov. Pat McCrory, who routinely answered LGBT residents’ concerns and questions with blank stares and a cold shoulder. But, Foxx hasn’t been perfect. Though he’s laid the groundwork for inclusive change, Foxx never could quite bring himself to be a true leader on behalf of his LGBT constituents.
Foxx told qnotes in an interview immediately after his 2009 election that he wanted to “see the City Council move on the non-discrimination issue very early in the next term.” That never happened. No vote was ever held. No public discussion or consideration was ever calendared.
When asked early after its introduction where he stood on the state’s 2012 anti-LGBT constitutional amendment, Foxx refused to take a personal position for or against the measure, though he later did so in the comfort and presence of 1,300 friendly supporters at the 2012 Human Rights Campaign North Carolina Gala.
As late as April, Foxx and his office backed away from issues of LGBT equality again when his spokesperson simply said, “No comment,” when asked where the mayor stood on marriage equality.
Foxx’s lack of progressive and visionary leadership on LGBT issues infected the rest of City Council. Even after private polling showed a majority of Charlotte citizens — both Republicans and Democrats — supported a range of LGBT-inclusive measures, no Council member, including longtime ally Patsy Kinsey, was willing to raise their hand in support.
No one advocated for a City Council resolution opposing the constitutional amendment. Even the openly gay Mayfield stood up to defend the quiet status quo, telling LGBT citizens it wasn’t an issue that affected the city. She also said City Council “has never taken a stance on anything that comes out of Raleigh,” a patently false statement in light of the city’s regular adoption of a legislative agenda outlining in-depth the city’s public policy positions on a variety of topics ranging from public safety and criminal justice to infrastructure, taxing and budgeting needs. (It’s worth noting Mayfield once told qnotes she would support LGBT-inclusive provisions, including a statement on the amendment, in the city’s regular legislative agenda.)
But, now, the die has been cast. With support for LGBT equality rapidly on the upswing, candidates for public office can no longer remain silent nor equivocate on the issues. They can no longer publicly deny our existence and human dignity by keeping discussion of our rights hidden silently out of sight and excluded from the People’s Business.
As voters, we must enforce these expectations. Groups like Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) must also uphold strict standards for the citizens who seek to represent us. If a candidate — gay, straight, Republican or Democrat — refuses to support further LGBT-inclusive changes in city ordinances, they get no endorsement. If a candidate refuses to recognize our inherent, fundamental and basic human right to marriage, they get no endorsement. If a candidate waffles on important issues like LGBT-inclusive health care, criminal justice issues, immigration issues or other topics important to the lives of LGBT citizens and residents, they get no endorsement.
In an election season where two major candidates for mayor could very well be friendly to our community, no one will have an excuse to say they are, at the least, better than the other. All must be held to the same standard and none have rational reasons to remain quiet when faced with the needs of their LGBT constituents. Now is the time to choose leaders who can build on Foxx’s and other Council members’ progress and correct their missteps. : :