On June 14, Mayor Terry Bellamy officially proclaimed June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month in Asheville. The month was already half over when the proclamation was made; authors Mel White and Wayne Besen had already inveighed against that ravening wolf at our door, Exodus International, with its “Reality of Grace” conference targeting the LGBT community. Local activists Mary Counce and Angel Chandler had already been arrested and released for decrying a proposed amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. Had the mayor not acted when she did, the great freight train of history would have passed her by.
But what’s important — historic, even — is that the mayor did act, albeit belatedly. To be sure, she didn’t offer Besen and White the key to the city or post bail for Chandler and Counce. As I write, there are a number of LGBT events the mayor could still attend but presumably won't: the Cantaria concert, Blue Ridge Pride's games in Carrier Park and the launch of the Campaign for Southern Equality. As the mayor made histrionically clear back in February, she does not wholeheartedly support LGBT rights; history will recall that she cast the lone vote opposing the city's full-equality resolution.
Enacted Feb. 22 — the same day state Sen. Jim Forrester filed the aforementioned constitutional amendment — this historic resolution added an LGBT nondiscrimination clause to the city’s employment policy, publicly endorsed same-sex marriage and paved the way for an anti-bullying ordinance and a domestic-partner registry for same-sex couples. In her tearful display, the mayor bewailed that if the resolution passed, she might be accused of bullying for biblically condemning marriage equality.
In her private capacity, of course, the mayor has a First Amendment right to say whatever she wants, however effusively. As a public servant, though, she’s obligated to serve the public. As she so eloquently put it last February, the notion that she doesn't represent the entirety of Asheville's population is "a lie from the pit of hell."
Scarcely a month earlier, that same slogan appeared on placards in the streets of Kampala, describing the “homosexual agenda.” American evangelicals, acting as a front for American industrialists, have been working in Uganda for many years and are the driving force behind that nation's proposed "kill the gays" bill. Like Mayor Bellamy, these redoubtable crusaders doubtless revere their First Amendment right to bully the LGBT community. But their actions led to the death, by bludgeoning, of gay-rights activist David Kato Kisule just a few weeks before Asheville's historic vote.
Kampala isn't Asheville; it’s alarmist, perhaps even "a lie from the pit of hell," to intimate that such violence could happen here. Certainly it’s mere coincidence that the mayor's colorful expression belongs to both her own lexicon and that of American religious extremists operating in Africa. If she believes that LGBT people should be treated as second-class citizens, she’s entitled to her opinion. But without facts to back it up, her contention won’t pass constitutional muster and, on that basis, must not be allowed to become public policy.
If the city of Asheville is to stand by its full-equality resolution, it should send that message to Raleigh. Forrester's amendment does not meet the acid test on which the republic was founded; indeed, it reeks of the worst excesses of oppressive government. In issuing the LGBT History Month proclamation, Mayor Bellamy has taken a brave step — and, in many quarters, not a popular one — to stand on the side of what’s constitutionally right, even if it conflicts with her personal convictions.
LGBT history is as old as history itself: Hammurabi, Sappho and Heliogabalus are all stars in our firmament. Much of that history is marred by ignorance, intolerance and violence, but it’s also inspiring and offers hope: a testament to the triumph of the human will. The LGBT History Month proclamation calls upon the citizens of Asheville “to reflect upon LGBT history and celebrate a culture where all citizens are respected.” Perhaps Mayor Bellamy has done just that.
— Asheville resident James Dye is a local historian and contributor to Lambda Legal's Impact magazine.