Mecklenburg commissioners decline to act on Pride proclamation over procedural issue

Mecklenburg County commissioners failed to pass a proclamation in support of Pride Month on Tuesday after a clash over procedural questions.

Board Chairman George Dunlap and Commissioner Elaine Powell voted against a motion to add the proclamation to the board’s Tuesday agenda after a tense debate. The motion required unanimous approval, so the proclamation wasn’t added by commissioners.

Proclamations typically pass unanimously and without debate, recognizing causes, awareness of illnesses or social issues and holidays. And commissioners passed Pride Month proclamations in previous years.

Commissioner Pat Cotham, who made the motion to add the proclamation at Tuesday’s meeting, said she tried to get it on the agenda Friday but was denied.

Dunlap said everyone on the board supports the LGBTQ+ community, but that Cotham failed to follow a rule that requires agenda items to be filed with the County Clerk’s Office at least 11 days before a meeting.

“Their failure to know and follow the rules does not fall on me,” he said.

Multiple members of Charlotte’s LGBTQ+ community expressed disappointment with the commission’s decision during the meeting’s public comment period.

“At a time when some elected officials call LGBTQ people filth, we need allies more than ever. We are afraid,” said Cameron Pruette, deputy director of The Freedom Center for Social Justice.

Tensions flare over adding Pride proclamation to agenda

Dunlap said during Tuesday’s debate he was “well aware” of other commissioners emailing about him and the situation without reaching out to him directly.

“It is not only the chair’s responsibility to know and understand the rules,” he said. “It is each member of this board’s responsibility to know and understand the rules.”

Cotham rejected the notion that she was late in trying to get the proclamation added to Tuesday’s agenda. She said for the decade-plus she’s been on the board, commissioners have been allowed to file items with the clerk as late as the Friday before a meeting.

“We have more than 100,000 residents in our county who are LGBTQ. They need to know that we have their backs and we honor them,” she said.

Powell said commissioners aren’t divided about whether to support the LGBTQ+ community. She said she would vote with Dunlap because she felt he was being unfairly “villainized.”

“He’s just trying to follow the process,” she said.

Vice Chairman Mark Jerrell said his vote in favor of adding the proclamation to the agenda was about the importance of recognizing Pride, not disrespecting anyone on the board.

“None of us feel good about where we are,” he said of the situation.

Commissioner Vilma Leake criticized others on the board for focusing on a procedural issue in connection with an important issue in the community.

“If you believe in the right thing, do the right thing,” said the District 2 representative, who noted her late son, who was gay, faced bullying throughout his life and died during the AIDS epidemic.

LGBTQ+ advocates: We’re ‘tired of being politicized’

Pruette told commissioners he was disappointed with their decision, especially in a time where hate crimes and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation are on the rise.

“My community cannot wait,” he said. “We cannot yield because of the status quo. We ask to be recognized, we demand to be recognized and we stand with everyone else who needs to be heard. These voices are being silenced.”

Bethany Corrigan, a board member of the Carolinas LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce, said they were “tired of being politicized.”

“My community will not see your rules as superseding our existence,” Corrigan said.

The board’s decision “sends a message to your community,” they added.

“The message will be that Pride Month was not important to you, and that this historical erasure was a well-worth sacrifice to your rules and precedent and procedures,” they said.

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