Albemarle vote 4-3 against drag amendment

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, November 7, 2023

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By a 4-3 vote Monday night, Albemarle City Council rejected a proposed text amendment that would have added a definition of drag shows to the city’s code of ordinances, and which would have prohibited minors from attending such events.

The decision concluded a four-month trek for the highly-controversial proposal, which generated passionate and intense public comment at each consideration by appointed and elected officials.

The matter was on the city’s planning board agenda on Aug. 3, but was tabled to the group’s September meeting.
When heard by the city’s planning board before an overflow crowd on Sept. 7, the advisory group voted unanimously (9-0) against its adoption, and in turn passed the matter on to City Council for a final decision.

An Oct. 16 public hearing, conducted as part of that evening’s regular City Council meeting drew another capacity crowd to City Hall, during which citizens expressed views both for and against adoption. However, with Councilman Bill Aldridge unable to attend the meeting, council members voted 5-1 to honor Aldridge’s request to delay the vote so that he could vote on the matter, as well as express his views in person.

Before another full house on Monday, council members discussed the matter prior to voting.

“Five of my six fellow council members honored my request (to delay voting on the matter), and I’d like to thank those who did,” said Aldridge, who described the matter as “a great opportunity” for City Council.

“We have the opportunity to show everyone that we are willing to do anything and everything to protect our children,” he said. “I’m in no way against drag shows, those who participate in them, or even attend them, but what I do want to assure is that we protect our children until they reach an age of maturity when they will be able to choose whether to attend or not.”

Councilman Chris Whitley expressed concerns with legal consequences that could arise from adoption of the text amendment, citing a play he had recently attended.

“I saw a play in downtown Albemarle last week that fits that (referring to the wording of the proposed text amendment),” he said. “Under this (proposed) ordinance, if someone had a problem with that, they would complain, and the police department would have to address it.”

Whitley also noted the recommendations of the planning board and city staff, as well as concerns over potential litigation relating to first amendment issues.

Noting that both Aldridge and Whitley had expressed valid points, Councilman Chris Bramlett cited personal freedoms in his reasoning for opposing the amendment.

“I don’t want to infringe on the freedom to have drag shows, because once we start taking freedoms like that away, then there are some freedoms that I cherish that you might want to take away also,” he said. “But I also don’t want children under 18 in those (drag show) programs. Remember, we don’t let you vote until you’re 18, and there’s a great deal of common sense in that kind of thinking. It’s saying that you’re not quite ready to take on the totality of adulthood.”

“I want to thank everybody, regardless of your position on the matter, who has come out and spoke during the public hearings,” Councilman Dexter Townsend said. “I’ll take every comment that’s provided to us as council members that will help us make our decisions. But, I also value the opinion of our planning and zoning board, which voted unanimously to deny this request, as well as the opinion of our professional staff,” noting City Attorney Britt Burch had informed council members at the Oct. 16 meeting that “no other municipality in North Carolina has an ordinance of this nature.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Sue Hall expressed that she believed protection of children was not the only issue behind those pushing for adoption of the amendment.

“For 40 years I’ve been protecting children,” said Hall, who was employed by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts prior to her 2014 retirement, “but, I personally do not believe that’s what this is all about. However, I do appreciate everybody’s comments on this very divisive issue.”

Upon vote, Aldridge, Bramlett and Hunt voted in favor of the text amendment, with Dry, Hall, Townsend and Whitley in opposition.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.