Gay Atlanta City Council candidate apologizes for anti-trans comments

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A gay man expected to formally announce his campaign for Atlanta City Council this week is apologizing for remarks he made three years ago when he said transgender people and drag queens were on the fringe of society and hurt the gay equality movement.

Charlie Stadtlander, a former Republican and leader of Log Cabin Republicans groups in Missouri and Atlanta, also said on Monday that his description of a drag show while a student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis as pornographic came at a time when he was lobbying for two gay rights measures from within a conservative GOP and was concerned the show might impact those efforts.

Stadtlander also said comments attributed to him as expressing disgust with consensual sex between two men were not his and part of a satirical piece that he disavows.

Stadtlander, who is scheduled to formally announce his city council campaign on Wednesday, is a former state legislative candidate who was embroiled in controversy in 2005 and 2006 while a college student in Missouri over his remarks criticizing the drag show, his leadership of Log Cabin Republicans and a scholarship he received from Pride organizers in St. Louis.

“My views have changed,” Stadtlander said Monday during a telephone interview with Project Q Atlanta. “At the time, I did not know very many transgender people. I was a gay rights lobbyist within the conservative party in Missouri. We all make mistakes. I probably said some things that were ill informed positions.”

“That was then — it was four years ago. Times have changed. My views have changed. I want to be very clear that I do not support discrimination against transgender people. I think it is horrible that transgender people are discriminated against, that gay and lesbian people are discriminated against. I fully support any measures, policies, laws or protections for transgender people. I do not think that anybody should be discriminated against and it is a travesty that any transgender people are discriminated against,” Stadtlander continued.

imageStadtlander, 28, announced his intentions to run for the District 6 seat on the Atlanta City Council in a Jan. 2 Southern Voice article, which touched on his volunteer efforts with YouthPride and co-creation of the Purple Party, which was billed as a bi-partisan effort to raise funds for the Human Rights Campaign. He also criticized the record of Anne Fauver (photo), the lesbian incumbent who plans to seek a third term.

“Although I’ve been here two years, I moved here after college,” Stadtlander said. “I’ve fallen in love with Atlanta and I’ve watched under Anne Fauver’s tenure our city has fallen into a financial crisis.”

The potential race between Fauver and Stadtlander sets up a gay versus gay campaign that mirrors Fauver’s re-election campaign in 2005. In that effort, Fauver narrowly defeated Steve Brodie, a gay Midtown resident who is considering running again this year.

Stadtlander, an elementary school teacher in DeKalb County since June 2007, also serves on the board of the Atlanta Executive Network and last year was vice president of the Log Cabin Republicans in Atlanta. His Facebook page lists prior jobs as a legal policy analyst in the Office of the Attorney General in Washington, D.C., a consultant with AT&T from December 2001 to June 2006 and a lobbyist for the Associated Students of the University of Missouri from January 2005 to May 2005.

The Facebook page also shows that he graduated from the University of Missouri St. Louis in 2006 after studying public policy and administration, policy legal analysis and political science. Additionally, the page indicates he’s scheduled to receive a master’s in public administration with a concentration in public health from Georgia State University in 2009.

Drag show controversy

It was as a college student that Stadtlander criticized a campus drag in October 2005 as a “recent gay and lesbian pornographic performance.” In a press release from the Log Cabin group he headed, Stadtlander called for an investigation by the school and the Missouri Legislature. He said the performance allowed “exploitative sexual behavior to take place on campus” and called organizers of the event “misguided.”

To allow any type of sexual performance, heterosexual or homosexual, while in the presence of minor children as well as University faculty, staff, police, and Administration officials, is a blatant misuse of Missouri taxpayer dollars and violates every idea of decency and tolerance.

Additionally, for the University of Missouri-St. Louis to underwrite the cost of the location, utilities, staff, and insurance liability for such an event is deplorable, especially in the wake of skyrocketing tuition and fees for students in the state of Missouri.

“As an unsuspecting patron, as well as a University of Missouri-St. Louis student, I am extremely disappointed in the judgment and subsequent non-action by University of Missouri-St. Louis officials who were present during an event which can only be described as pornography,” said Charles Stadtlander, President and Chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans of Greater St. Louis and University of Missouri student.

“I have never been so offended, mortified, and angered at anything the University of Missouri has done in my nearly three years of attendance. It is with great regret and humility that I respectfully ask the citizens of Missouri to not judge the entire gay and lesbian community by the misguided actions of a few.”

In a guest column in a campus newspaper a year after the drag show, Stadtlander continued his criticism and complained that drag shows harm the gay rights movement.

It would be a simple task to banter with the liberal and often times irresponsible gay rights movement, as to why events such as drag shows greatly harm the gay and lesbian community and set our cause back immensely.

In the interest of clarity however, it is prudent to explain the rationale behind my alleged “assault” on the freedom of speech at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and the harmful effects on gay rights that UMSL’s Department of Student Life has perpetuated by sanctioning an event such as the above referenced.

To label last October’s “show” as anything other than sexual and appalling is false. As an attendant at last year’s drag show, I was amazed at the indecency and crudeness allowed to take place on the University campus with funding from student fees and underwriting by Missouri taxpayer dollars.

To be clear, this event was not at all comparable to such acts as comedy shows or Homecoming dances, but was instead at a level of vulgarity one would expect to witness in a nudity club or an “adult’s only” movie theater.

Male performers not only displayed hormone induced bare breasts, but featured undergarments revealing private areas. Performers caressed themselves and touched audience members in a sexual manner that would certainly result in citations by law enforcement in most municipalities.

Simulated sex acts were performed on students with the star performer even directing an audience member onto stage where he/she verbalized and physically demonstrated oral sex on the student. The event culminated with a lap dance by a top-nude performer as the audience member placed money in the dancer’s G-String.

The commentary also included a stinging rebuke of transgender people and drag queens.

The negative effects of events such as this drag show reach far beyond UMSL. Transsexuality, including transgender people and drag queens, represent a fringe part of society that has nothing to do with being gay or lesbian and is not representative of our community as a whole.

By giving this radical and unrelated group a launching ground for freak behavior associated with gays and lesbians is detrimental. The gay community must recognize that either fair or unfair, we are the ones fighting for equal rights. In this role, we must always put forth an image of responsibility, diversity, and normalcy.

Being gay or lesbian is not a choice, but we do have the choice as to how we present ourselves and for the message we deliver to a society which is desperately trying to accept us, but keeps getting pushed back by the very people who are seeking equality.

The president of PRIZM, a campus gay group, said Stadtlander “attacked drag queens and transgender individuals” in his statements about the show and criticized him for not speaking with the group over his concerns about the event.

In hindsight, a mistake

On Monday, Stadtlander said his comments in 2005 and 2006 reflected the political environment of the times in conservative Missouri. He was lobbying in favor of efforts to add sexual orientation to the university’s non-discrimination policies and legislation that addressed anti-gay bullying and said he feared that the drag show and ensuing media coverage would damage those pro-gay measures. He said he was also concerned that the show was too explicit for some members of the audience, which included young children.

“I was deeply concerned that the legislature was about to take punitive actions against gays and lesbians,” Stadtlander said. “I was very scared because of what happened that the Republicans in the state of Missouri were about to start proactively hurting gays and lesbians. I was trying to do what I thought was best at the time to prevent the gay and lesbian movement from being hurt.”

But in hindsight, Stadtlander said lashing out against transgender people and drag queens was a mistake. He said Monday that he does not believe that transgender people and drag queens are a fringe part of society.

“I made a mistake when I said that. I do not believe that. At the time, I was ignorant of the whole transgender aspect of our community. It was hurtful at the time and I apologize for that and have apologized for it. It was hurtful toward transgender people. The benefit that came out of that for me is that it opened up and allowed for circumstances to be able to understand that issue so much better. I no longer believe that transgender people are a fringe part of society,” Stadtlander said.

He added that he attends and enjoys drag shows.

“They are fun and are great entertainment. I have no problem with them.” Stadtlander said.

But he stopped short of fully embracing non-discrimination legislation that includes gender identity among its protected categories along with sexual orientation if it meant the measure might not gain approval. His comments echo a firestorm that erupted in 2007 over passage in the U.S. House of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bars workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. The measure does not bar discrimination based on gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign and gay Rep. Barney Frank were criticized for supporting the gay-only version of the legislation that passed.

“The political reality is that we don’t have equality and we have to be strategic in our movement and we won’t always get what we want at the time. It is an incremental effort. We have to move one step at a time with ultimate goal of all people being protected and treated with equality,” Stadtlander said.

“There is a large number of people, and I am one of them, who believe transgender is not the same as gay and lesbian. It is not the same. Simply because you are transgender does not mean you are gay or lesbian. There are gay and lesbian transgender people, absolutely there are, and there are transgender people who are not gay and lesbian,” he added.

“This is a gay and lesbian movement, a gay rights movement. I welcome transgender people into that movement, but I am not willing to say that if a piece of legislation that has been introduced that protects gay and lesbian, like ENDA at the federal level, I am not willing to say that I will sacrifice that entire piece of legislation. It is an incremental step and incremental movement,” Stadtlander continued.

The city of Atlanta’s non-discrimination ordinance, which was passed in 2000, includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Flap over Pride scholarship

In 2005, Stadtlander’s appearance at PrideFest in St. Louis caused a stir and at one point, police escorted him to and from the stage when he accepted a $1,000 scholarship from Pride organizers. Log Cabin marched in the city’s gay Pride parade for the first time that year.

The LCRGS marched in the St. Louis Gay Pride Parade for the first time this year to jeers and cheers. Some community members booed in protest of the Stadtlander scholarship, while others voiced their opposition to the group’s refusal to include transgender equality in its mission statement.

“Yes, there were a few negative comments,” stated Stadtlander. “But I firmly believe that for every one negative statement made, twenty people would cheer and commend us on our difficult work.”

Stadtlander received a police escort on and off the stage when accepting the scholarship award. According to both Stadtlander and Pride St. Louis, neither requested such an action, although they admitted that they were aware of protesters. St. Louis Police could not be reached for comment.

Critics of the scholarship award knocked Stadtlander for his support of President Bush and Gov. Matt Blunt, both Republicans, and his affiliation with Log Cabin at a time when the group apparently refused to include transgender people in its mission statement. They also claimed the award was based on a personal friendship between Stadtlander and Pride officials and not merit, an allegation both parties denied.

In the heat of that Saturday, Stadtlander, microphone in hand, accepted the $1,000 award that provides financial assistance for college education. He did himself no favors by invoking his affiliation with the Log Cabin Republicans, but he did promise in his acceptance speech that the Log Cabin Republicans would work to advance the cause of gay and lesbian rights.

“I said, ‘Men and women are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for your right to protest,'” Stadtlander recounts. “‘Log Cabin Republicans are going to work in a positive manner to advance the cause, and those who choose to concentrate on negatives will soon be left behind. Anyone who wants to work with us on our positive mission of moving this forward, we welcome you.'”

“I did work to get President Bush re-elected,” acknowledges Stadtlander. “Why? Because there was no clear difference to me on the gay-rights issue between John Kerry and George W. Bush. They were both against gay marriage. The only difference is that Kerry supported the state amendment, and Bush supported a federal amendment. Regardless, all the amendments are equally bad. And I found myself choosing between a lesser of two evils.”

“The gay and lesbian community, unfortunately, likes to focus on negatives and likes to focus on hate,” he says. “When they do that, our cause is damaged. We’ve done more in six months than a lot of gay and lesbian organizations in this state have ever done.”

In his legislative race in 2006, where he lost a bid as a Republican candidate for the District 94 seat in the Missouri House, he criticized the state Republican Party. “I feel the GOP is way too far to the right. I support so little of [Gov. Matt] Blunt’s agenda it’s amazing.”

‘Fiercely independent’

On Monday, Stadtlander said he quit the Republican Party in early 2008 and remained vice president of the local Log Cabin Republicans group for a few more months until they found his replacement. He said he supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary and voted for President-elect Barack Obama in November.

“Politically, I am fiercely independent,” Stadtlander said. “I thought I could work within the party and I felt like I was getting further and further away from the party. Every election I have voted in Georgia, I pulled the Democratic lever.”

On his campaign web site, Stadtlander says he wants to extend the city’s smoking ban to include all public places, “improve and enforce” hate crimes laws, reduce traffic congestion and balance the city’s budget without raising taxes.

Areas on the web site, including Piedmont Park and Human and Civil Rights, did not contain any information. Piedmont was closed to large-scale festivals last year, forcing Pride organizers to move the event’s location and time.

The campaign’s leadership team includes several people well-known in the city’s gay circles, including Frances Ann Moran and Ebonee Bradford, campaign co-chairs; Jamie Ensley, president of Log Cabin Republicans, treasurer; Tracy Elliott, executive director of AID Atlanta, health and wellness policy advisor; Kurt Edwins, co-founder of Social Tuesdays, campaign spokesperson; Jason Cecil, public health advisor; Julie Wood, community outreach director; Jeremy Faulkner, gay outreach director; and Robert Scott, Stadtlander’s boyfriend, operations manager.

Stadtlander, who lives near the intersection of Piedmont and Cheshire Bridge roads in Midtown, is scheduled to formally announce his campaign on Wednesday during an event at Cowtippers in Midtown. Campaign events are also set for Jan. 9, Jan. 11 and March 6.

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