Charlotte and North Carolina have a long history of embarrassing individuals that have captured national attention. While politics of the 21st century have seemingly brought out the worst in so many people, we had a fair share of bad guys in years past.
All of them had careers or public exposure prior to the advent of the internet and social media, so they frequently started out relying on the spectacle of protest and public confrontation, in the hopes that local media might consider coverage of their lunatic fringe efforts. With mass communication of the time limited, a spot on a local news program or publication captured the attention of the city, the state and on some rare occasions, an entire nation,
Among the earliest anti-LGBTQ bad guys was Henderson Belk, the crackpot Belk brother (of Belk department store fame) who decided it was his mission back in the late ‘70s to prevent anyone from enjoying alcohol of any sort at any establishment around town. Doing so, Belk confirmed, would lead Charlotte down a path like San Francisco or Sodom and Gomorrah, along with the extra added bonus of eternal damnation, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, all guaranteed to follow. His efforts failed, along with businesses that he owned locally. An author, auto dealership owner and former regional Belk Department Store Manager, he passed away as only a faint memory of religious zealotry at the age of 88 in 2011.
Reverend Joseph Chambers was a mouthy Minister from Paw Creek Church of God (later Paw Creek Ministries) who decided it was his personal mission to prevent the Miss Gay USA pageant from being held in Charlotte’s Ovens Auditorium in 1982. He took to print and the streets in protest, but the pageant went on as planned despite hymn-singing protestors harassing patrons at the entrance of Ovens Auditorium. Although he reportedly continues to refer to the LGBTQ community as “sodomites,” Chambers has dialed down his anti-LGBTQ rhetoric as he has grown older. Now 86, it is unlikely he is capable of actions like the disruptive debacles of his past. Despite his advanced age, he continues to hold the title of president and founder of Paw Creek Christian Academy and serves on the executive committee of the Mecklenburg County Republican party.
In the late 1990s, Bill James was the Mecklenburg County Commissioner who caused a nationwide scandal when he and other members of the commission voted to cut funding to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Arts Council following a staging of Jared Kushner’s Broadway success “Angels in America.” But James didn’t stop there. Over the next 20 years he regularly attacked the LGBTQ community in print and on radio, successfully convincing the county at the time it was in our best interest to pass a resolution stating that Mecklenburg County supported marriage to be recognized only as a union between one man and one woman.
While the city and county today offer extensive protections for the lesbian and gay community, that resolution by the Mecklenburg County Commission remains unrescinded. James lost his zeal and podium for attacking queers at every opportunity and his battle to hold on to his seat to a progressive Democrat in 2018. Now 65, he lists himself as retired on his Linked In account.
For much of the first two decades of the 2000s we had the unpleasant experience of Flip Benham, one of the founding members of Operation Save America. Benham came to North Carolina at the behest of a wealthy Concord benefactor, who had high hopes for Benham’s evangelical prowess and manipulation skills to set the Piedmont region and the rest of North Carolina on the path to godliness and theocracy. Benham protested abortion clinics and numerous LGBTQ Pride events in Charlotte and around the state. He is 74 now, and largely stays out of the spotlight, although his two sons prop him up on social media every now and then.
Lastly, we have former Charlotte mayor and North Carolina’s one-term Governor Pat McCrory. McCrory started out okay, even issuing a welcoming proclamation for a Pride celebration in Charlotte. Once he was attacked by Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James for his “error in judgment,” McCrory never took another positive position on behalf of the LGBTQ community again. As Charlotte mayor he attempted to shut down a pride event unsuccessfully in 2006; and then later (in 2016) as governor passed the infamous House Bill Two, also known as the “bathroom bill,” which required all transgender individuals to use restrooms that corresponded with their gender designation at birth. In what turned out to be a giant embarrassment for the state and a clear attempt to rally the evangelical voter base to elect him a second time to the Governor’s mansion, McCrory stymied House Bill two in favor of something called “a cooling off period,” which prevented all county, city and town governments from passing any policies to protect LGBTQ people until 2020. The move backfired on McCrory and resulted in a loss of the governorship and a failed attempt for a senate seat earlier this year. He has since announced his retirement from politics and will turn 66 in October of this year.