It's not Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James' opposition to domestic partner benefits that caused discussion.
Two weeks ago, James caused a stir with an e-mail that some in the gay community found offensive in its language and tone. James, however, isn't apologetic for what he wrote and defends everything he says and the reason for sending the e-mail in the first place. In the e-mail, James uses language that some may find offensive as he calls homosexuals criminals and transgender people "trannies."
"To me the word 'trannie' is no more a slur than calling the Chicago Cubs the 'cubbies.' It is just an abbreviation of the full term," he wrote in an e-mail to Creative Loafing.
Negative attitudes surrounding gay issues have been commonplace for James since he's been on the Board of County Commissioners. But why? Is it homophobia or is James simply doing what the people who vote for him want? According to GayCharlotte.com, the Web site for the Lesbian and Gay Community Center, "psychologists believe negative attitudes toward gay people as a group are prejudices that are not grounded in actual experiences but are based on stereotypes and prejudice."
Washington D.C. therapist Jim Weinstein wrote about homophobia on 4therapy.com, saying that "the evidence that homophobia is a culturally based aversion, rather than a 'natural' one, is extensive."
Charlotte is the buckle of the Bible Belt, and anytime there is political or cultural discussion of homosexuality, it reverts to name-calling. While Charlotte is lucky not to have its own Westboro Baptist Church -- the Kansas-based church that protests around the country carrying signs decrying that all homosexuals are going to hell -- James came close in his latest e-mail. James' e-mail accuses bisexuals, who could seek coverage under the domestic partner benefits that were discussed recently, of having multiple partners. "So, we are involved in this farce. An attempt to claim that two men (or two women) are 'domestic partners' but aren't engaged in what they (and everyone knows) is marital sex that is banned by N.C. law. It is the absurdity of the Democrats' position and their refusal to support homosexual rights in the legislature for fear of political fallout that is at the core of this double minded dance," he said in his e-mail.
And it seems that since James took office, he's been at war with the gay and lesbian community. He was one of the five commissioners who voted to cut funding for the arts after the Charlotte Repertory Theatre presented Angels in America in 1996.
Philip Hargett, chairman of MeckPac, a gay and lesbian political action committee, said, "It's sad that someone has to create such divisiveness when we really need to be looking at things we have in common so that we can overcome bigger issues that we have in the county, the city and the world. It's sad that an elected official can take something that's supposed to be about fairness for all and make it into a divisive issue. It seems to be that [for] Bill James, this is one of his favorite issues to grandstand about. I don't know exactly why that is."
James said the law defines "what unity we follow."
"Homosexuals and liberals want to claim divisiveness if the truth is spoken. If they changed the law and made homosexuality legal they would have a point. Their problem is that they don't like the law. Lacking the votes to change it, the[y] look for politicians who are mostly emotion[al} to do what they know is not legally supported," he wrote. "Someone who drinks too much is an alcoholic. Someone who wants to have sex for money is a prostitute. Someone who wants to have sex with kids is a pedophile. Someone who wants to have sex with others of the same sex is a homosexual. The last three are criminal acts. Homosexuals and liberals are trying to 'game' the system by claiming their 'right' to engage in 'perversity' while calling it 'diversity.' Not on my watch."
Hargett said if James wasn't pushing his own agenda, the issue of domestic partner benefits wouldn't be big news, but one of many things that the Board of County Commissioners would be focusing on.
"The last election cycle proved that people want to get beyond these petty issues that divide us. People want to move on and people who are gay or lesbian who will benefit from this policy have to be in partnered relationships. The insurance process that they will have to go through will prove that they are valid for these benefits. These are hard-working county employees just like the non-gay county employees. Why they should receive [fewer] benefits for their hard work than anybody else is not fair," he said.
Hargett said James seems to want to focus on the legality of what people do inside the privacy of their homes. This, some experts say, is what clouds the issues that deal with sexuality.
"Because certain behaviors may be personally distasteful does not mean that they should be universally banned or even condemned," Weinstein writes.
Charlotte psychological associate Roslyn Miller Walker said when people are resistant to dealing with homosexuals, there are some psychological factors that play into their reactions. "It could be the belief system they were raised with or a negative experience that they had with someone in the group they are reacting to. I think any kind of strong reaction could be a defense mechanism," she said. Walker went on to say that the person may not want to get to know people in that group and their strong reaction is a means to protect themselves.
Hargett said he believes that gays and lesbians have a responsibility to show people that they are just like any other neighbor in the community. Rather than going tit for tat with James, Hargett said the gay and lesbian community simply wants "reasoned dialogue that moves this to fairness."