CHARLOTTE — Two area LGBT youth service and advocacy groups are condemning an anti-gay slur and other comments made by Republican Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James, and demanding an immediate reprimand of his actions at the Dec. 15 commissioners meeting in which domestic partner benefits were approved for same-sex partners of county employees.
The groups’ strong statement comes as more comments from James are made public, including his assertion that police are working to “de-infest” areas where gays “congregate.”
If we were all that ‘progressive’ would we be arresting 250 homosexuals a year? Setting up sting operations to de-infest areas where they congregate? Point is, if you want to delude yourself that homosexual conduct is ‘ok’ go ahead. The law, the police and the DA however have a different view.
— Mecklenburg Commissioner Bill James
On Dec. 17, the local Time Out Youth and national, Charlotte-based Campus Pride released a joint statement condemning James’ comments following Democrat Commissioner Vilma Leake’s personal and passionate story about her son’s 1993 death to AIDS. After she spoke, James leaned over to her and asked, “Your son was a homo, really?”
“Commissioner Bill James’ remarks are nothing but intolerant and harmful to our area youth,” said Steve Bentley, executive director of Time Out Youth. “There is no reason why a young LGBTQ person should have to hear such disdain and hateful rhetoric from a public official who is elected to represent them.”
Time Out Youth, founded in the early 1990s, is a support, services and advocacy organization for LGBT youth ages 13-23.
Bentley added, “There are young people who are victims of depression and even suicide because of hateful slurs and comments like that of Commissioner James. Elected leaders are expected to be positive role models for our youth. We need to hold Commissioner James accountable for his actions.”
Campus Pride, a national organization for LGBT college students, released comments in the same statement.
“Commissioner Bill James crossed the line with his anti-LGBT remarks. Once again, he has made a desperate bid for attention in a public board meeting at the price of others,” said Campus Pride Executive Director Shane Windmeyer. “More and more, fair minded citizens believe that there’s no place for this kind of bigotry. Commissioner James needs to apologize to Commissioner Leake for his comments and we demand an immediate reprimand for his abhorrent actions at the public meeting.”
Windmeyer said the repercussions of anti-gay language toward LGBT youth “are immeasurable.” He said Mecklenburg County and Charlotte “deserve public officials who can show a modicum of respect for the office they hold and demonstrate civility for all people in public discourse.”
Bentley’s and Windmeyer’s organizations are demanding an immediate reprimand of James by the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners.
The controversy surroundings James’ comments has continued throughout the week as the GOP commissioner told media he would not apologize for his remarks. In a statement emailed to Charlotte Observer editorial staff, James said he was simply asking Leake to clarify her statements about her son, that his comments weren’t meant to be derogatory and that “homo” was a slang word he used when growing up.
“People can believe whatever they want, they can believe in the tooth fairy and legend of Atlantis,” James said. “I don’t determine what I do based on what people think. I determine it based on what I did and what I did was I asked a question and that question doesn’t deserve or require an apology.”
Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts told Q-Notes that reprimand is an option on the table, although she’s uncertain what that might look like.
“I’m not sure what real disciplinary action we could take … what I think we can do is some kind of reprimand,” she said. “I’ve got to think about the terminology to be used. We can make some kind of statement that clearly indicates this type of behavior — in terms of calling names in the public, on the microphone after a fellow commissioner has been so passionate and emotional — is inappropriate and sets a bad example and we will not tolerate it. That is the kind of thing we can do.”
Roberts added, “There are other terms — rebuke, reprimand. I’m not sure calling it something different has any different, practical effect.”
In an email to a Charlotte resident, James made the argument that homosexual behavior was still illegal, and that police are “de-infesting” areas where gays congregate.
James wrote: “Homosexual conduct is illegal in NC (even after Lawrence V Texas). We arrest 250 homosexuals each year in Mecklenburg alone for either a ‘crime against nature’ or ‘solicitation of a crime against nature’. Unlike prostitution (exchanging money), even suggesting homosexual sex is a criminal offense in NC. If we were all that ‘progressive’ would we be arresting 250 homosexuals a year? Setting up sting operations to de-infest areas where they congregate? Point is, if you want to delude yourself that homosexual conduct is ‘ok’ go ahead. The law, the police and the DA however have a different view.”
The Charlotte resident, who admits his initial email to James was a bit harsh, was shocked to see the commissioner’s response.
“I know my original e mail was harsh, but it was in no way threatening — I find his abusive, threatening, and ignorant,” the resident said in an email to Q-Notes.
Q-Notes asked James about his use of the word “de-infest” and if he saw how it might be offensive to LGBT people.
James responded: “I think that if you’re someone who is homosexual and you believe that you are born that way and have every right to engage in that behavior, I think the offensive thing, I would surmise, is not the word ‘infest’ or ‘de-infest’ but the fact that the police are actually doing the sting operations. We can parse words — what phrase should I have used? But the central question for most people is not what particular term got used but whether the action was occurring. Was I accurate in saying there are these sting operations going on and those sting operations — whatever term you want to use — target homosexual men? That is why the county took and spent significant amounts of money to rework the park to take out certain landscaping things to prevent, once the sting operations cleared them out, prevent them from re-congregating — or re-infesting if you use my original term.”
James said he is a proponent of rigorous debate, but thinks LGBT rights opponents are “dancing around the subject” of the law.
“When someone trots out Lawrence v. Texas, I trot out the arrest statistics,” he said. “I say if Lawrence v. Texas is the law of the land, why are there all these arrests? And that ends the discussion usually.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) struck down the use of “crimes against nature” laws to prosecute private sexual behavior between consenting adults, although it is still used in cases involving public sex, prostitution, child abuse and domestic violence, rape and bestiality. The “crimes against nature” law remains on the books in North Carolina and, despite the 2003 Supreme Court decision, has been incorrectly used to charge consenting adults engaging in private, sexual behavior.
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