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Source: CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, April 2, 1997; article by Phuong Ly.
Title: "700 pack debate on arts. Some plead to end county funding, but most disagree."

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After nearly six highly charged hours, Mecklenburg County commissioners voted early today to cut county money to groups that offer "exposure to perverted forms of sexuality."

Many in the audience chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" and called commissioners "bigots" and "fascists" after they voted 5-4 to eliminate county funding for the Arts & Science Council, which now receives $2.5 million to distribute to arts groups. Commissioners will now consider requests from arts groups on a case by case basis.

Commissioner Tom Bush, a Republican, cast the deciding vote, saying "you have to do what you have to do what you know is right for Charlotte....We as a public have a definite interest in the arts," Bush said. "On the other hand, do we give money to the arts ... and say spend it as you desire? Do we not have a duty to be a steward of the public's money?

Commmissioner Parks Helms, who voted against the resolution, said he was "too sad to be passionate because my heart is broken." "This is a sad day in this community, if you can't see it, you have missed the most terrible, terrible thing that has happened in this community in many many years," said Helms before the vote. "Please watch us and please forgive us for what we are about to do."

Bush, George Higgins, Joel Carter, Bill James and Hoyle Martin, who first raised the issue, voted in the favor of the resolution. Helms, Becky Carney, Darrel Williams and Lloyd Scher voted against it.

About 700 people packed the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, but most left before the vote. The people who jammed the standing-room-only meeting looked like a cross-section of Charlotte: young people with nose rings and retirees with Bibles; artists in jeans and corporate executives in business suits; heterosexuals with their families and gays with their partners.

"I am totally against funding things I'm opposed to," said Virginia McGinn, 64, a retired dietitian. "Homosexuals can do whatever they want, but I don't want to pay for them. I believe in the Bible, and the Bible is against homosexuality."

Supporters carried Bibles and signs: "Sodomy is not a Family Value," "God Abhors Your Sin" and "Support Hoyle's Resolution," referring to Martin. Arts advocates responded with "Hoyle's Hatred is not a Family Value," "God Likes Art," and "Celebrate Diversity."

"I cannot believe they're trying to legislate hate," said Elizabeth Barwick, 23, a Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services employee. "They're trying to legislate their moral values on everyone else."

Commissioners cut off citizen comments on the issue after four hours and then debated among themselves.

Williams called the vote "the most damaging piece of legislation we could ever vote on in this community . . . To use the gay community as a scapegoat to cut arts funding is wrong."

Scher, his voice breaking, compared the resolution to Hitler's edicts. "This is divisive, this is hatred, this is history repeating itself." But Martin said he wasn't denying free speech. "This resolution is about the board of county commissioners have a sense of responsibility about how, where and when to spend county money," he said. "It's about the courage of the commissioners to establish priorities."

Critics have called the resolution a mean-spirited attack on homosexuals. Republican commissioner Tom Bush has called it a "flawed" proposal that could lead to government censorship of the arts. Bush drafted the latest version of the plan, which took out Martin's explicit references to homosexuals. He has said that opposing Martin's plan would be condoning homosexuality.

Under the resolution, commissioners would vote on annual funding requests from dozens of arts organizations. The resolution would deny county money to art agencies that "promote, advocate or endorse behaviors, lifestyles and values that seek to undermine and deviate from the value and societal role of the traditional American family."

For some commissioners, including Martin and Republicans Carter and Bill James, that includes works depicting gays and lesbians such as the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes," which the Charlotte Repertory Theatre performed last spring. It also would include "Six Degrees of Separation," which the theater company opens April 9.

Tuesday night, officials had to open five extra rooms with large-screen TV hookups to handle the overflow crowd. About 70 citizens -- about 50 of them against the resolution -- were scheduled to speak.
bullet One woman sang "America the Beautiful."
bullet One of the most powerful speakers was NationsBank executive Joe Martin, who recently rallied the community to strive for diversity by setting a day a week aside to have lunch with a person of a different race. "What you've said is that the Constitution won't let us arrest these people, so let's go outside the law and burn crosses on the lawns of their supporters," he said. The speech drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
bullet Hoyle Martin's wife, Mary, drew a laugh from the crowd, including her husband, when she talked about 500 people who have called their home during the past few days. "Someone said to me, `Hoyle Martin is in bed with the Republicans.' I said, `Hoyle Martin sleeps with me every night.'" She said her husband always stood up for what he believed in, and didn't bow to the winds of pressure from anyone, including her. "What is right is not always popular," she said.

In the lobby, Arts & Science Council officials passed out yellow "ASC Supporter" stickers. Members of Operation Standard, a pro-family values group in Greenville, S.C., gave out anti-homosexuality pamphlets. Greenville County lost portions of the Olympic torch relay last year after adopting an anti-gay ordinance.

Wes Foy of northeast Charlotte, who had never attended a government meeting, said Martin's resolution should cut all government funding to the arts. "Let the gay community fund what they want to fund, and people who are not in that community fund what they want to fund," said Foy, 35, an electrician.

Harry Reeder, senior minister at Christ Covenant Presbyterian, said if government had to fund art, it should be "good and virtuous" works like the symphony and Discovery Place. "It's crucial to understand that the support of art doesn't require the support of a homosexual agenda," he said.

But opponents of the resolution say that the proposal amounts to censorship and could give Charlotte a reputation as an intolerant city. An Observer poll last week found that 85 percent of county residents believe a panel of arts experts -- and not politicians -- should decide how arts money is divided. "Let me use my common sense to decide what to see," said Terry O'Connell, 35, a clothing designer. "I'm a Christian, and I don't need Hoyle Martin to tell me what's right or wrong."

Said Arlaine Rockey Celentano, 35, an attorney: "It's going to give Charlotte a bad name. I thought we had gone beyond this."

As people filed out after the vote, Scher, who is Jewish, could be overheard calling a proposal supporter a "neo-Nazi." Asked to confirm he'd called her that, he said, "They (resolution supporters) are all neo-Nazis."

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