Bill James reprimanded for "homo" comment

Published: Jan. 5, 2010 at 11:50 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 6, 2010 at 2:29 PM EST
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By Tom Roussey - bio l email & WBTV Staff

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Chair of the Mecklenburg County Commission publicly criticized Tuesday night a controversial comment in which Republican Commissioner Bill James made during the commission's last meeting in December.

Without mentioning James by name, Democrat Jennifer Roberts said the year ended badly for the commission and she urged all members to act better in the future.

"I know that there are many who believe that because of the first amendment they have a right to say prejudiced things and hateful things if they want, but there was behavior displayed on December 15th that was, in my opinion, unbecoming of an elected representative," Roberts said.

During the December meeting, James used the word "homo" in which some consider a derogatory slang for gay people when he asked about Leake's son who died of AIDS.

The incident happened after Leake made an impassioned speech about her son dying of AIDS.

During the December meeting Leake said, "A son that I birthed and died of AIDS, I did not know that in 2010 I would be sitting here to defend his lifestyle."

After that revelation, tempers flared when James leaned over and whispered a comment to Leake about her late son which was caught on the microphone.  Here is James' comment and Leake's response.

James: "Your son was a homo, really?"

Leake: "I'm going to hit you, don't talk about my son that way."

James was later on the losing end of a 6-3 vote that night in favor of the county offering benefits to domestic partners of employees.  The vote means a county employees who are gay can enroll their partner in the county's benefits program.

During Tuesday's meeting, two people addressed the commissioners regarding the issue even though it's already a done deal.

Joe Huss and Adrian DeVore were critical of James's "homo" comment, but they had very different opinions about the county extending domestic partner benefits.

"Providing benefits, it's beyond tolerance," Huss said.  "It's basically officially sanctioning.  "If you study history, homosexuality always seems to rear its head in times when a society or culture is in severe decline, like ours is now.  And every single time, they face disaster."

DeVore expressed an opposite opinion.

"I feel that people who are sexual minorities deserve the same rights and liberties as everyone else," she said.

Then, she turned her attention, specifically, to James.

"To paraphrase my friends in the gay community -- they're here, they're queer, get used to it.  I also would recommend that you apologize to commissioner Leake for your insensitive as well as inexcusable comments," DeVore said.

The week James made the comments, WBTV News requested an interview from James and in his email response, he did not apologize for the comment he made.

In his statement, James said that Leake was "a religious hypocrite" who "used her son's 'lifestyle' and his death from HIV-AIDS to justify voting for benefits to allow individuals to use tax dollars to engage in the same behavior that resulted in her son's death."

He also said "It is akin to someone whose son is an alcoholic and died from the disease, using his death from drinking as justification to have the taxpayers pay for more booze."

During Tuesday night's meeting, Roberts said she didn't want to "politicize" things by calling for a censure of James.  She did, however, separate Leake and James.  They used to sit next to each other during the commission meetings, but James was moved to the right and Republican Neil Cooksey was asked to sit in between Leake and James.