“Charlotte is not a friendly place for LGBT people.”
That’s what I wrote two years ago in a commentary in The Advocate explaining Charlotte’s political culture and the state of LGBT equality here. The Queen City had just been chosen to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention, despite the city’s lack of any pro-LGBT and inclusive record. There were no LGBT-inclusive employment policies, no domestic partner benefits, no openly gay or lesbian officials.
Today, much has changed in an astonishingly quick time. Now, the city has LGBT-inclusive employment policies and domestic partner benefits. Councilmember LaWana Mayfield became the city’s first openly gay or lesbian elected official when she won election in November 2011.
On July 22, Charlotte took another brilliant step forward. City Council voted 7-3 to appoint openly gay Plaza Midwood businessman Billy Maddalon to fill now-Mayor Patsy Kinsey’s vacant District 1 seat.
Maddalon becomes the city’s first openly gay man on City Council and he joins Mayfield in representing the LGBT community to our broader community and in the larger civic space.
In two short years, Charlotte has managed to pull itself up and into the modern era. LGBT inclusion is at a high point. Yet, we shouldn’t be tempted to think our work is over.
Charlotte City Council has yet to vote on any single LGBT-inclusive measure, so we’re still stuck without a true voting record from which to judge our representatives. The last time City Council considered an LGBT-inclusive measure was when it soundly defeated an inclusive public accommodations ordinance in November 1992.
We must have a solid, up-or-down vote from the dais. Our elected officials must use the one privilege they’ve been given — their representative votes — to effect change on behalf of their LGBT citizens. Hiding their stands and managing such changes through the city manager smacks of ineffectiveness. Why should the LGBT community continue to endorse you, donate money to your campaigns and vote for you if you can’t vote for us?
Many other items are left undone, the city’s Commercial Non-Discrimination Ordinance chief among them. The city is spending millions upon millions of dollars each year with local and regional businesses. Many, if not most, of these businesses do not include employment protections for LGBT people. The city must bring their ordinance in line with their own standards and stop sending taxpayer monies to companies that can’t commit to treating all their employees fairly and equally.
Mayfield’s and Maddalon’s service on City Council is historic. Our city policies have been radically transformed in an LGBT-inclusive way. But, members of City Council must now themselves show their commitment to equality. Now is the time to move forward with further inclusive ordinance changes in a public, transparent way. If incumbents on Council plan to seek our vote this November, it’s high past time they show us theirs. : :