Mayor holds meeting with activists before 'die-in,' council

Protesters: Chambers will run again in 2020


UPDATE: On WBRC's 10 p.m. newscast Monday, footage was shown of Mayor Mark Chambers being asked questions by reporters as he was walked to his car. He said he would not resign and said he "may" run again in 2020.  

CARBON HILL - Activists said Carbon Hill Mayor Mark Chambers told them before a protest and a city council meeting Monday night that he would not resign and that he will run for re-election in 2020. 

Chambers was also quoted by activists as saying he tried to put a lesbian on the city council, which an activist rejected as being "tokenism." 

Protesters revealed the remarks during a "die-in" protest by about a dozen people in response to remarks Chambers recently made on Facebook that many have taken to be threatening to the LGBT community and others. The remarks have created international headlines and lead to a letter from four Carbon Hill Council members asking him to resign. 

The resignations of District 1 Councilman McClain Burrough and District 4 Councilman Chandler Gann were accepted during Monday's 6:30 p.m. council meeting without comment. Both men have declined to comment since they submitted resignations. 

Applications for the positions will be accepted through July 19, with plans to appoint new council members on July 22. 

They and the other two signers, Councilman Greg Anderson and Councilwoman April Kennedy Herron, did not speak at the last city council meeting. Chambers and the council members did not personally address the matter Monday night. 

A march was held by about a dozen protesters, mostly from the LGBTQ community, dressed in black. The march was held at 6 p.m. after LGBTQ activist and Jasper native Champagne E. Girten of Warrior, along with two others, met with the mayor at 5:45 p.m. 

Waiting to start the march at the Methodist Church, Emily Jones, 26, of Eldridge said at the Methodist Chruch said she didn't agree with Chambers' views on the LGBTs and on racism. 

'My mother is a lesbian and I identify as bi-sexual, so I feel like those comments were directed toward me and my mother, which I don't appreciate," she said. She said the matter had caused a split in her family and has resulted in the Chambers' family not being welcomed in their home. 

"I would like to see him resign," Jones said. "I feel like anyone who is supposed to represent a community is supposed to represent it well, and with love and respect. I feel like the comments he made were the exact opposite of that, full of hate and detest for a community that has done nothing wrong, and never wronged him in any way. He bases his views off his Christianity, and I feel like if you want to be Christian, that is fine. If that is your religion, that is OK. But don't use that as an excuse to hate on anyone for any reason. Jesus preached loved and acceptance of everyone, and to say that you are using your religion to back up your views of hatred is just detestable and disgusting to me." 

Jones said not enough people have spoken up on the issue, and that Carbon Hill has been too quiet on the matter, letting it go. She said she was proud of Burrough and Gann for resigning and "standing up for what they believe in," but that more should speak up. 

"It kind of goes to show that the people around here maybe agree with what he is saying. There just needs to be some changes," she said. "It's 2019. There is no reason to hate anyone for any reason, especially when its their race, sexual identity, their choice of pronouns, things like that." 

Jones said others from the local LGBTQ community do seem to be speaking up online about the matter, as she said they usually do, but added others from outside that community need to stand up and speak up more. 

Naomi Colvin of Boldo also participated in the march, said before it started that she has lived in Walker County for almost 40 years. "I've been queer all that time," said, adding she is amazed of "the fact an elected sitting mayor of a local community can make essentially death threats against a local community." She indicated the community should protest to say, "You need to leave the office, because whether or not I like gay people, I don't want them dead." 

She said the community has not said enough and Chambers "lied and tried to say he didn't mean what he said. He's faked his apology. I would have a lot more respect for him if he just said, 'I said something that was bad and I've rethought it. I'm going to teach myself. I'm going to go out and I'm going to make reparations.'" She said the first way to do that would be to resign. 

Colvin said the council has mostly done what it can do. However, she noted one of the council members who has not called for his resignation is the mayor's brother, Jason, who was appointed after a resignation. 

"That is a little bit of nepotism that seems kind of creepy to have in local government but it is Alabama, I guess," she said. 

She feels like the local non-LGBTQ community is waiting for the matter to go away so they don't have to talk about it any more.

"A lot of it has been, if you don't live in Carbon Hill you don't have anything to say about it, which is utterly ridiculous. It is not like homophobia stops at the city limits," she said, adding she was glad supporters showed up that night.

She said it has appeared to bring out more from the LGBTQ community, "as much as it is safe." Living in Walker County, she is concerned about her home being vandalized or being harassed in Jasper. 

"However, I have met a lot more LGBT people because of this. There have been some Facebook groups that have been started because of this," she said. "There is a little bit more of a sense of community now. There wasn't as much a sense of a queer community in Walker County" beforehand. 

Protesters marched from the Methodist church a short ways to City Hall. Starting the march, Girten told the crowd Chambers said in the meeting he would not resign. 

Along the way, she said the three-person delegation talked with him about what he could do to make this up to the gay community. She said their demands include passage of a non-discrimination ordinance in Carbon Hill to protect the LGBTQ community and communities of color. The other demand was that he resign. 

"He has refused to resign and we are not leaving," she said. 

At City Hall, the crowd was told by Girten that Chambers had talked about killing off gay people. "Let's show him what that looks like," she said, and the protesters lay on the grass for several minutes to pretend they were dead. Girten said the mayor had said in a post the only way to get rid of gays was to "kill them out." 

Rawsy Diane McCollum, a local resident who was one of the three people meeting with Chambers before hand, spoke to reporters and cameras for several minutes. She said communities have got to get away from officials not liking someone's race or sexual preference. She said God did not intend to put in officials "with the authority or choice to kill anybody." 

She said anyone making statements like the ones Chambers made should turn in their resignation, she said. "You shouldn't be over a city, because this city cannot excel," she said, explaining grants will not come where there is discrimination and companies will not bring jobs. 

"And you talk about how the people love you after what you've done? I would be ashamed to make a statement," she said. 

She said the mayor had just told the delegation "that he feels like he hasn't done any wrong, that he feels he hasn't hurt anyone. I said you have hurt people. You've hurt the minorities. You've hurt the majorities. You've hurt everyone making these statements because everyone loves their relatives. Which ones are you going to choose to keep? Whoever it is is somebody's daughter, somebody's mother, somebody's relative. We've got to pray for this city."

She said the city should "stop putting these type of people into office," noting there are people on the council agreeing with the mayor. "You need to move them, too," she said. She said Chambers is not fit to hold office anywhere in the U.S. 

McCollum said Chambers said he would not resign and that he would run for office next year "because the people of this town love it," predicting he would win. She said people may love him but not what he has done. 

The third activist in the meeting, Savannah Sav Miles of Gadsden, confirmed he stated he was running again and would win easier than the time before. 

Girten said Chambers appeared to be "defensive" during the meeting, repeating past statements that he didn't mean the post as it appeared, that he was talking about "some sort of war," which Girten said she called him out on for that, calling it insurrection. 

"He claims to have been misquoted, and my point, our point consistently was, we saw what you said. Even if you felt like you was misquoted, the damage has been done," Girten said. "This has been an international disgrace on Alabama, once again. I've been contacted by people in this community who are afraid." 

She said without the ordinance that the protesters are calling for, one can lose their job, their home or even their child for being gay in Carbon Hill.

"He tried to tell us he asked a lesbian to serve on the city council. That doesn't fix the problem. Tokenism doesn't work," she said. 

Miles told reporters before the council meeting started if Chambers were mayor of New York, Los Angeles or Washington, and said the same statements, and "called for genocide against their people, they would be out of office immediately. There would be an uproar." She said as a small town mayor, he isn't held accountable as much as large city mayors. She said people across the state deserve the right to feel safe, protected and represented fairly. She said she appreciated with Burrough and Gann acting in solidarity with the views of the activists.