ANTI-GAY FUNDING CUT IN CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
Source: CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, April 2, 1997; article by Phuong Ly.
Title: "700 pack debate on arts. Some plead to end county funding, but most
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
Supporters carried Bibles and signs: "Sodomy is not a Family Value,"
"God Abhors Your Sin" and "Support Hoyle's Resolution," referring to
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
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
which the Charlotte Repertory Theatre performed last spring. It also would
include "Six Degrees of Separation," which the theater company opens April
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.
||One woman sang "America the Beautiful."
||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.
||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
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
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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