CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Local LGBT community groups and their leaders were absent on Saturday when as many as 250 counter-protesters were organized to drown out the messages of two hate groups at a rally in Uptown Charlotte.
The Detroit, Mich.-based National Socialist Movement and the Eden, N.C.-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, staged the rally, primarily intended as a protest against undocumented immigration. The Southern Poverty Law Center says the National Socialist Movement is the nation’s largest neo-Nazi hate group.
Several groups apparently took charge of organizing counter-protesters. Some allegedly came with Occupy Charlotte and other protest groups, but many were organized by the Latin American Coalition. Many of their supporters were dressed as clowns and wore clown makeup. Organizers said the costumes were meant to use humor as a way to respond to hate.
Groups were silent
Though this writer did notice several LGBT individuals at the event, it seems no local LGBT organizations or many of their leaders showed up to lend their support.
Chief counter-protest organizer and Latin American Coalition Youth Coordinator Lacey Williams, who identifies as a lesbian, said the community’s general lack of response only further promotes what she says is a long-standing racial divide in the local LGBT community.
“As an organizer who has organized in the LGBT community, it is concerning that when we see these issues in the community we don’t hop on them and say these are our issues,” Williams said. “Only if they are LGBT issues do we say that’s our issue then we go to that rally.”
Williams doesn’t think many LGBT groups in the city understand how prejudices and other issues intersect among progressive movements and causes. “I work in immigrant rights and I know lots of students who are LGBT. They are also immigrants. Immigrant rights issues affect them,” she said. “What is interesting about groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis is that they not just saying they hate people of color. They are saying, ‘All people who are different, we hate you.'”
Williams added, “It’s at the peril of our community that we alienate people of color,” and said the LGBT groups’ silence on the weekend’s rally was a “missed opportunity.”
“I’ve worked in racial justice work primarily at the youth level for five years,” she said. “Unless it has to do with an explicitly LGBT issue, I just don’t see the gay community coming out. Where was the gay community at the vigil for Trayvon Martin? We lose a lot of members of our community every year to violence from people who think being gay is wrong and this was an instance of someone who thought you are guilty if you are black. I was at the vigil and I didn’t see any prominent members of the LGBT community there.”
Loan Tran is a young activist who spoke out on May’s Amendment One and is involved in a variety of progressive causes. Tran also serves as a youth board member at Time Out Youth, the city’s LGBT youth service and support organization. Tran was originally concerned about the rally and the impact of its hate speech.
“I felt stuck; I knew that we needed to respond and I knew that I had it in me to face these traumas face on. But I was also worried that it would be really draining,” Tran said. “Ultimately I did attend the counter protest … It was important for me to show them that I am stronger and braver than their hatred and I knew that I needed to be there to support my friends.”
Tran agrees that the lack of response from the LGBT community was concerning and thinks it represents a trend in which LGBT groups only speak out on issues that are “exclusively LGBT.”
“I have been — for a very long time — unhappy and displeased with how the LGBT community here in Charlotte being represented by white, gay, cisgender men and largely ignoring the ways in which LGBT people of color, LGBT immigrants, etc. are marginalized within the community,” Tran said. “When LGBT leaders and organizations in Charlotte don’t respond in situations like this the message that is being sent is that the racism, xenophobia, classism, ableism, etc., that LGBT people experience on top of homophobia, don’t exist and even if they do, they don’t matter.”
Tran said the silence does damage to relationships with other allies.
“If in our search to dismantle heterosexism and homophobia we do not recognize and emphasize the importance of building a community around messages of anti-oppression in general, then we are alienating a lot of people,” Tran said. “And probably most disheartening is how we alienate those within the LGBT community who are more than just gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender. We are not one-dimensional people.”
Matthew Alexander, a former Time Out Youth member and currently a volunteer, agreed with Tran.
“I think it’s hypocritical to demand equal rights but not fight for the equal treatment of others,” said Alexander, who wanted to attend the rally but was unable. “I think staying divided in this way is a good way to make sure our world never changes for the better.”
Alexander said the distance “drives a wedge” between groups. “We have already pushed away the trans community in many ways and the lesbian community has their distance,” he said. “Fighting for everyone’s rights is what gets us to equality faster. We need to be fighting for equality for every race, creed, gender, sexual orientation and class.”
A question of resources
Shane Windmeyer, executive director of the Charlotte-based national non-profit Campus Pride, was one of two leaders Williams reached out to before the counter-protest. She asked him if he could utilize his drag persona, Buff Faye, to organize other LGBT people at the event.
That outreach occurred via Facebook. Windmeyer said he didn’t see it until after the event had passed. Still, if he or another Campus Pride staff member would have known in advance, Windmeyer said he would have helped spread the word to local youth and college groups.
Windmeyer doubted whether Campus Pride would have taken a more active role in helping to organize in the counter-protest.
“Our local work is very important to us and that here in Charlotte we have a viable organization that helps youth in the area,” Windmeyer said, “but we also serve a national focus and we have to prioritize where we are involved. Oftentimes, we prioritize where we can have a positive impact on youth. Given our resources, I don’t know if we would have spent a lot of staff resources on something that might not be a positive impact on the community, and what I mean by that is that it was not something we intentionally created to have a positive impact. It was something someone else did that we would have been responding to.”
Windmeyer said his organization’s track record on social justice issues was well-known.
“Our actions in the past as an organization and as far as our willingness to have a statement and speak out on issues that impact youth are clear,” he said. “It’s about time we have other LGBT organizations in town do the same thing. Why is it that organizational leaders in Charlotte don’t speak out more or have a more active voice in anything about LGBT issues or, more broadly, allied communities that would be supportive of us?”
Leaders: Not aware, not present
Several other leaders who responded to inquiries from qnotes said they and their groups were not aware of the rally or a plan for a counter-protest.
Tran also serves as a youth board member of Time Out Youth, the city’s LGBT youth support and service organization. Though Tran was present, the organization didn’t officially respond to the rally. Executive Director Rodney Tucker said he didn’t know if any other board members attended and said he wasn’t aware of the event until Monday.
Roberta Dunn, vice-chair of the LGBT Community of Charlotte, told qnotes she didn’t know about the rally. She said she also had a conflicting monthly meeting with the Carolina Transgender Society, of which she is also a leader.
Scott Coleman, chair of the center, also said his group was not aware of the events. The group didn’t issue a statement before the event but told qnotes it opposes all forms of hate.
“The LGBT Community Center of Charlotte, its board and its staff, oppose all forms of hate. Hate, whether in action or in word, directly opposes The Center’s mission of promoting the diversity, acceptance and visibility of the LGBT community,” Coleman said via email.
Scott Bishop, chair of the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee, or MeckPAC, also said neither he nor anyone else from his organization attended the event. They also did not issue a statement. “There is no reason that we did not issue a statement other than we did not issue a statement,” Bishop said via email, noting that no other group asked them to assist with the counter-protest.
Teresa Davis, president of the Charlotte Business Guild, similarly said she wasn’t aware of the rally or plans for a counter-protest. She didn’t attend.
“When I learned that a group of activists would be in Charlotte, I was unaware that they were part of the KKK or any other neo-Nazi group,” she said. ” I did not recognize the name of the organization, so I did not put two and two together. I was not aware of any counter-protest.”
She added, “I’ve just asked Victoria Eves, my partner, who says she also did not know about it but had heard that ‘a’ KKK protest had recently been moved from North Carolina to Virginia. One of us would have probably attended had we known about it. “
Davis said two of her board members, whom she didn’t identify, are active with the Latin American Coalition. It is possible they participated, she said.
Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund Board of Advisors Chair Jenni Gaisbauer and Vice Chair Todd Murphy did not return requests for comment.
Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield, the city’s first and only openly LGBT official, allegedly also missed the protest. She and other elected officials came under scrutiny last month when they attended events with the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Nation of Islam as a hate group. (See a timeline of those events and stories here.)
At an Oct. 13 speech, Mayfield also said Farrakhan was “doing God’s will” in a message sent to her followers on Twitter. Mayfield has since declined repeated requests by this newspaper to go on-record with a statement condemning anti-Semitism and anti-LGBT hatred.
Mayfield has yet to return an additional request for her response to the neo-Nazi and KKK rally.
Mayfield’s colleague, Councilmember John Autry, did attend the event. He sported a red clown nose in support of the Latin American Coalition’s message.
Counter-protest organizer Williams said excuses are often too easy to make. Williams is afraid the blame will be placed on her for not reaching out. “But the [LGBT] community can also reach back,” she said.
“People will always use the defense of ‘I didn’t know,'” she said. “You have to search it out. You have to look for it. You have to have a lens that says, ‘Is this racial injustice?’ There’s not anything special about me when I can see injustice is happening in the community. It’s not that I’m extra extra tapped into it.”
Williams said it is time for LGBT leaders to “have a conversation in our community about intersectionality, about who is at the table, whose issues we are elevating above other people’s issues and are we a community that is inclusive?”
“Those are important conversations we need to be having,” she said.
[Ed. Note — This writer was briefly employed by Campus Pride during his hiatus from the newspaper this past spring. He has also assisted Campus Pride with a web-based project left uncompleted when his tenure with the organization ended. During the same time, this writer served a brief term as a volunteer with the Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee’s steering committee.]