Alex Wan, the only openly gay member of the Atlanta City Council, says that responding to a recent anti-gay diatribe from a council gadfly would have only inflamed the situation and given the speaker more of a platform to air his views.
On Monday, Wan (photo) responded to criticism that he could have done more to quiet Dave Walker, a regular commenter at City Council meetings who used his two minutes of public comment on June 6 to launch an anti-gay tirade aimed at state Rep. Rashad Taylor. The state lawmaker came out as gay during a May 27 press conference, becoming the state’s first openly gay man in the General Assembly.
Walker said Taylor’s coming out was “nothing to be proud of,” according to Atlanta Progressive News.
“I’d also like to say to the individual that since you made it a public policy statement, I feel like I can stand here and talk about, because you came out and said you were,” Walker said.
“Now this question about whether or not the State Representative was using money to buy sexual favors. The State Representative said the hardest thing for him to do first was to inform his mother of his lifestyle. Well, I’d like to say to the State Representative, Mr. Representative, you still have to explain your lifestyle. Only this time, it won’t be to your mother who caved in and agreed with you. It’s gonna be with the creator of all things,” Walker said.
“What kind of world and what kind of elected officials do we now have, when we have one who stands up and proudly say [sic] I’m a gay Representative…?” Walker said.
“That’s not the point. The point is, I’ve put it on the record, I would like to say to the gay representative, Sir, you need to repent and change your lifestyle,” Walker said.
Walker made his comments without interruption from Council members. An APN article published on Sunday by Matthew Cardinale, who is gay, took issue with Walker’s comments and the lack of response from Wan or other gay-friendly members of the Council.
Wan told Project Q Atlanta on Monday that although Walker’s comments were offensive, it is standard operating procedure for council members to let the public comment period proceed without interruption.
“We have one of the most liberal comment policies that we know of,” Wan says. “It is out of respect for citizens expressing their opinions. Sometimes we like them, sometimes we don’t. The way we are set up, we sit back and absorb that and that is the extent of it, unfortunately.”
But Wan says that he took issue with Walker’s comments in an email to Council colleagues after the meeting and warned that if a similar situation happens again, he will respond directly to the speaker.
“It is general council protocol to not comment,” Wan says. “I thought about saying something at the end of the meeting, but opted not to for a number of reasons. Dave Walker is at all of the meetings and he has been doing this for years on a variety of issues equally as offensive. I just wasn’t interested in continuing in a dialogue on this and giving him more air time than he had taken.”
Cardinale also regularly speaks at council meetings – even rapping to get his views across — and has tangled with Wan and his colleagues. In May 2010, Cardinale criticized Wan for his then-refusal to say how he voted when the council considered a proposal limiting public comment at committee meetings. Wan said APN was bullying him. Last month, Cardinale sued the city and the council over closed-door meetings.