A Republican county commissioner in Tennessee was caught on video making homophobic comments about presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
Sevier County Commissioner Warren Hurst used an anti-gay slur and lamented the fact that the openly gay South Bend mayor is running for president.
At a county commission meeting on Oct. 21, Hurst took the floor just prior to a vote on becoming a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” meaning it can ignore any laws that attempt to regulate or restrict access to firearms.
“It’s time we wake up people, it’s time, it’s past time,” Hurst said.
“We got a queer running for president, if that ain’t about as ugly as you can get,” he said to laughter and applause. “Look what we got running for president in the Democratic party. We can go over here to Hoss’s [Sevier County Sheriff Ronald Seals] jail and get better people out of there than those running for democratic (sic) to be President of the United States.”
According to WVLT News, one woman stood up and left the meeting while expressing her distaste for Hurst’s comments.
“This is not professional,” she said, “this is bullshit.”
Hurst also complained about the state of white male rights in the country.
“I’m not prejudiced, a white male in this country has very few rights and they’re getting took more every day,” he said, to more applause.
He later told WVLT News that he stands by his comments because he’s entitled to his opinions.
Perrin Anderson, the assistant to Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, denounced Hurst’s comments, saying the county does not support any type of discrimination.
“The statements made by Commissioner Hurst at the Sevier County Commission meeting of October 21, 2019, do not reflect the opinion or position of Sevier County administration,” Anderson said in a statement. “Sevier County is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or status in any other group protected by law.”
National LGBTQ advocacy groups denounced the comments as well.
“These statements from @SevierCounty Commissioner Hurst are completely unacceptable and ridiculous, especially coming from a county official. Call Hurst at 865-453-8513 and demand he apologize to his constituents,” the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD tweeted.
These statements from @SevierCounty Commissioner Hurst are completely unacceptable and ridiculous, especially coming from a county official. Call Hurst at 865-453-8513 and demand he apologize to his constituents. https://t.co/BqMUTqQ4N4
— GLAAD (@glaad) October 22, 2019
“Sevier County Commissioner Warren Hurst is using his position of power to publicly spew bigotry against LGBTQ people — people who are very likely his own constituents,” Nick Morrow, the deputy communications director at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “A group of people having rights doesn’t take away those of another. But with LGBTQ people running for office at every level of government and more and more people voting for candidates who support equality, he should be more worried about losing his seat than losing his rights.”
In response to a follow-up inquiry, Morrow, who grew up one county away in Knox County, told Metro Weekly that East Tennessee’s relationship with LGBTQ rights is complicated, and, while some have become more accepting, there are others who hold views similar to Hurst’s.
“Sevier is a conservative county, but it also is home to some of the largest economic engines of East Tennessee: Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville,” Morrow said in an email. “These are huge tourism destinations that bring people from all over the country, including LGBTQ people. It’s not uncommon to see same-sex couples walking around any of the above locations — very often without incident. With that comes more exposure to LGBTQ people, and by extension, changing hearts and minds.”
But, Morrow warns, comments like Hurst’s have the potential to create an economic backlash by scaring away LGBTQ people and other tourists who prize tolerance.
“What’s heartening, though, is the outcry against his comments and the people in the room who loudly disagreed or walked out. This type of news coverage or in-person backlash wouldn’t have been possible without changing attitudes — in Tennessee and around the country,” notes Morrow. “These changing attitudes and the backlash to overt bigotry is something that I’m proud to see as a Tennessean.”