County Lawmaker Rants About 'Queer' Running for President

Apparent reference to Pete Buttigieg has earned Tennessee's Warren Hurst condemnation
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 23, 2019 9:10 AM CDT

A commissioners' meeting in Sevier County, Tenn., went off the rails Monday during a discussion on a resolution to make the county a "Second Amendment sanctuary," per the Washington Post. While a couple of people showed up to push back on the resolution, things remained generally coolheaded—until one commissioner leaned forward into the mic and offered his take on things. "I'm not prejudiced, but by golly, a white male in this country has very few rights, and they're getting took more every day," Warren Hurst can be heard saying in a video from WVLT. He also turned his attention to Democrats running for president, making an apparent reference to Pete Buttigieg with a homophobic slur: "Look what we got running for president in the Democratic Party. ... We got a queer running for president, if that ain't about as ugly as you can get." His comments were mostly met with spirited applause, but one woman can be seen in the video getting up from her seat during Hurst's diatribe, noting that "this is unprofessional," then hurling an expletive and leaving. More on the controversy:

  • Hurst's detractor in the crowd: The Knoxville News Sentinel has more on the woman who stormed out. That was Sara Thompson, chair of the Sevier County Democrats, who says it "was better for me to leave the room than to continue a scene or to listen to what apparently followed." She adds to WVLT: "County commissioners need to remember that when they're elected they need to represent everyone."
  • Denouncements abound: The station rounds up other reaction, including from Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, who says "I disapprove" and that Sevier citizens are "caring and compassionate," as well as the city of Sevierville, which notes that it "[rejects] bigotry and prejudice towards any and all persons" and "strongly [condemns] the remarks of Commissioner Hurst." Nearby cities issued their own statements, calling Hurst's comments "insensitive" and "disturbing."

  • National waves: The hubbub isn't just contained to the state, with both the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD condemning Hurst's remarks, per NBC News. "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," an HRC rep says in a statement.
  • Possible repercussions: At least one group is already throwing out the idea that Hurst should step down over his "racist and homophobic rant," NBC notes. "The County Commission should censure Commissioner Hurst and he should consider resigning unless he is willing to sponsor some ordinances to make county government more inclusive," says the Tennessee Equality Project, an LGBTQ advocacy group.
  • A more expensive ripple effect? A Tennessee state representative says Hurst's "embarrassing" comments aren't just offensive, they could hit the area where it really hurts: its pocketbook. "Folks in Sevier County who rely on tourist dollars—it's that sort of thing that's going to chase people away," Gloria Johnson tells the News Sentinel, noting that Dollywood, a "most open and welcoming place," is located in Pigeon Forge, which is in Sevier County.
  • A final thought: WVLT tracked Hurst down, and he told the station that even though some of his best friends are African American, he's not backing down from what he said because he's entitled to his opinions.
(More Tennessee stories.)

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