After a tumultuous election cycle, pro-LGBTQ+ mayoral incumbent Barbara Blain-Bellamy of Conway, South Carolina, defeated former Horry County Board of Education Chairman Ken Richardson November 7.
“What Conway has said is that they’re a community of love and inclusion and acceptance,” Blain-Bellamy told the Charleston-based Post and Courier, later adding, “love trumps hate.”
Blain-Bellamy became the first mayor of Conway to issue a proclamation declaring LGBTQ+ Pride Month in June, and the backlash quickly resulted in evangelical leaders in the community quickly condemning the mayor’s actions.
Conway is located in one of the fastest growing counties in South Carolina, and with that, topics such as annexation, flooding and economic development have become important discussions among city leadership.
Richardson, however, made the Pride proclamation the central issue of his campaign. Richardson said he was asked to run by “hundreds of people,” who were upset at the mayor for her supporting LGBTQ+ residents, as well as for giving a key to the city to then presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
“Eight years ago, when I sat around the table with my grandchildren, we were talking about Transformers,” Richardson said during an October debate with Blain-Bellamy. “The problem we’ve got today is kids are sitting around talking about transgenders. And I’m going to tell you it’s tough. I fought for years to keep this out of our schools. I got a phone call three weeks ago from a grandmother who picked up her 7-year-old granddaughter from school. And she told me the whole way home the conversation was about LGBTQ. Now I don’t have a bit of problem with Barbara feeling any way she wants to about this, but when you’re the mayor of Conway, you’re the mayor of Conway.”
Proclamations don’t change city policies or ordinances — they are meant to recognize a person or group, often for an accomplishment or milestone. Blain-Bellamy said she expected some pushback from issuing the proclamation, but she never expected the magnitude of backlash she received from the local spiritual community.
“I expected some pushback,” Blain-Bellamy said. “I knew the issue itself was controversial. I didn’t expect that full congregations and 41 pastors would take such offense at something that seemed, to me, exactly the right thing to do.”
The 71-year-old mayor said she plans to continue to issue Pride month proclamations, as well as continue to advocate for all of Conway’s residents.
“I don’t see why I wouldn’t do it again and again,” she said. “I did what I believed in. And the day that I stop being able to do what I stand for is the day that I’m no good for the city.”