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What Mayor Dan Clodfelter said about gays and the discrimination ordinance ... in 1992

Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter speaks Monday prior to public comment on a proposed non-discrimination ordinance.
Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter speaks Monday prior to public comment on a proposed non-discrimination ordinance. CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

On Monday night, after more than a hundred speakers argued, pleaded and even sang about Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance – and after each City Council member also had a say – Dan Clodfelter readied himself to speak.

It was a chance for Charlotte’s mayor to do what mayors do – tell his city what its leader believed about an important, divisive issue. Clodfelter thanked the speakers who came before him, and he reminded the people in attendance at the Government Center that the council had debated this same issue there 23 years ago. (The council failed to pass a measure then, too.)

“Earlier today, I read what I said 23 years ago, and I still stand by it,” Clodfelter said. “So I don’t need to belabor that further this evening.”

Wait, what?

At a moment when Charlotte needed to know its mayor’s vision, he punts to 23-year-old remarks that no one has handy at the moment?

Maybe he really did think the room had heard enough opinions already. Maybe, as someone running for mayor this fall, he thought it better not to say anything Monday that people might recall in November.

Still, he did say something once. And it actually was quite eloquent.

In 1992, the measure in front of the City Council was less robust than the one voted down Monday. The 1992 version would simply have protected homosexuals from discrimination in public accomodations such as businesses. There was no language about transgender people, gender identity, or bathrooms.

Minutes from the Nov. 23, 1992 meeting show that then-council member Clodfelter spoke right after then-council member Pat McCrory, who didn’t actually speak about discrimination but instead chastised the city’s Community Relations Department for wasting everyone’s time with such an issue when there were more important things to talk about.

Clodfelter began by nodding to the speakers who came before him and noting what a difficult decision this was for council members. He said that he would vote the “politically incorrect way” – which at that time meant voting to protect homosexuals from discrimination. “It is something he feels he must do,” the minutes record him saying, “and he cannot claim to speak for or instruct anyone other than himself in his decision.”

Then the minutes record him saying this:

“In America, when a business says they are a public business, that has a special meaning. Public means all of us, where ever we came from with all of our sins, flaws and failings. That is what a public accommodation ordinance is about.

“Mr. Clodfelter stated he had thought a lot about experience and when you are driven to tough decisions they go to their own experience, and he has been struck during the time he has been in Charlotte, that after knowing an individual for a period of time he learned they were gay. Every time it as happened it has caused him to stop and reflect on his encounters with that individual before he knew they were gay, his work experiences, his experiences on a community activity, and he has always had to say how would I have treated this person differently had I known they were gay. He cannot find that he should have acted differently.

“Mr. Clodfelter stated he could not argue with the moral and religious position that the opponents have taken, nor can he argue with their view of the scriptures because he is not a scholar on those things. The issue for him is not that, but rather how should he treat some of his fellows, and the scripture that guides him is the one scripture he received that really gave him pause, “therefore all things that whatsoever ye would that he should to do to you, do ye even so to them.” This is the law and the prophets and with that in mind he has to support the ordinance.”

True words, still, two decades later. His city needed to hear them again.

Peter St. Onge

(h/t to Observer editor Doug Miller for the 1992 minutes.)

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