A Leesburg Town Councilman’s decision to write contentious comments on proclamations for LGBTQ Pride Month and Juneteenth resulted in protest and demands for his resignation. But he hasn’t left yet.
Chants of “Done with Dunn” echoed across the grass lawn of the Leesburg Town Hall on Tuesday, June 25. The individuals gathered at this “Rainbows for Leesburg” event represented the outraged members of the NAACP, Equality Loudon and Moms Demand Action.
The spark that lit the fire under these protesters was Leesburg Town Councilman Tom Dunn’s decision on June 11 to write, for the third time in two weeks, his personal opinion on a town proclamation.
On May 28, on a proclamation regarding gun violence delivered to Moms Demand Action, Dunn wrote: “People are violent, Guns are not.”
On June 11, on a proclamation that both established a memorial for Loudoun lynching victim Orion Anderson and officially recognized the celebration of Juneteenth, the anniversary of the date when slavery officially ended in the South, Dunn wrote: “Juneteenth is a celebration, lynching is not.”
Then, on a LGBTQ Pride Month Proclamation, fellow Leesburg Town Councilman Josh Thiel transcribed Dunn’s comments onto the proclamation: “Everyone is equal, identities don’t help.”
Both the Loudoun County NAACP and Equality Loudoun have since called for Dunn’s resignation, contending that he violated the Leesburg town council’s code of ethics by including his personal opinion on town proclamations.
Before the crowd attending Rainbows for Leesburg entered the town hall, several officials and members of the community spoke.
Charlotte McConnell, a steering committee member for Equality Loudon, stood before the crowd wielding a gay pride flag and a microphone. Her reading of the words Dunn wrote on the LGBTQ Pride Month proclamation — “Everyone is equal, identities don’t help” — was greeted with shouts of “so wrong” from the crowd.
“We live in a very unequal society and we do aspire for equality, but we have a long road ahead of us,” said McConnell, before calling for councilman Dunn’s resignation.
Mayor Kelly Burk and Vice Mayor Fernando “Marty” Martinez also spoke to the crowd, condemning Dunn’s actions.
In the days before the rally, Mayor Kelly Burk stated that she had repremanded Dunn at a public meeting, and called for him to apologize to all three groups. She said that the majority of the Town Council is very upset, and that she believes that Dunn’s actions were wrong, inappropriate, and unprecedented.
At the rally, between the chants for Dunn’s resignation, Burk said, “I want you to know that I’m with you. I stand with you, and I believe what you believe in.”
Councilman Martinez praised the people gathering on the lawn, and encouraged them to continue showing up to Town Council meetings to share their stories and educate the council.
Martinez stressed the importance of the council hearing these stories, in order to “understand the discrimination, the horrors of what happens to some of our LGBT members, especially transgender women and what has been happening to them. We need more of that to come out in the open so people can understand, and see that you are not just an organization that has LGBT on it. You are real people — women and men — that have had issues with this society and are trying to be a part of it.”
During the Leesburg Town Council meeting that night, several members of the community spoke to the council, both in favor of and in opposition to Dunn’s resignation.
Sylvia Glass, a Democrat running for Supervisor in the Broad Run District, began the call for Dunn’s resignation. “I find it reprehensible that councilman Dunn violated the Leesburg town council’s code of ethics numerous times with his personal comments on proclamations meant to acknowledge the often forgotten members of our community,” she said. “I am also disappointed in councilman Thiel’s complacency in councilman Dunn’s actions.”
Pastor Michelle Thomas, President of the NAACP’s Loudoun County chapter, criticized the complacency she perceived from some council members who had not called for Dunn’s resignation. “Silence is consent,” she said. “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to all of it, and you are all accomplices. God help you.”
Dunn was not only condemned by those holding official positions within the community. Loudoun teenager Emma Saville brought the house down with her words on the importance of identity. “I am a member of Pride,” she said. “Before I found my identity, before I found a word to say who I was at heart, I felt lost. I felt broken.”
Saville further criticized Dunn’s claim on the Pride Month proclamation that “everyone is equal.” “To hear someone say that everyone is equal, to me, even as a 15, soon-to-be 16-year-old, seems like a blatant lie to my face,” she said, telling stories of the anti-LGBTQ Instagram pages plaguing her school, and the harrassment she has faced as a part of Loudoun County’s LGBTQ community.
Several Dunn supporters spoke to defend the councilman’s actions and his right to free speech.
Sandy Kane, from the CedarWood area of Leesburg, argued to the council that Dunn’s continuous reelection by Leesburg residents showed their support for him and that he therefore should not resign. “If they did not want him to represent them, they would not have voted for him,” she said.
She continued by casting aspersions on the groups who’d objected to Dunn’s comments. “I was appalled to think that this Town Council could be railroaded by groups such as the NAACP, which has no standing in the town of Leesburg,” she said. “It is not rooted in the town of Leesburg, it has no reason to request the Town Council to censure, or require a member of its council to leave this seat.”
Later at the meeting Harold Brown echoed her sentiments. “That man has every right to his opinion, just like you do,” he said. “Any one of you who knuckle under to the NAACP or any one of these other mickey mouse organizations, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
This argument for free speech was refuted by the words of McConnell, who pointed out that, “On official town documents, there is no place for your personal opinion.”
Robin Burk, the Chair of Education for the Loudoun County NAACP, said, “The public expects and deserves council members who hold themselves and each other to high standards.”
Later, during the Council Comments section, Councilman Ron Campbell called for more transparency in the operations of the council in order to regain the trust of the community, and for a further discussion of ethics. “The rules are not optional,” he said. “A code of ethics exists, and it can be debated like anything else, and voted on.”
Councilman Dunn then spoke in defense of each of the three comments he made on town proclamations. His defense for his comments on the LGBTQ Pride Month proclamation was one he based on his own experiences of having a special-needs son. However, rather than seeing the similarity between the stares his son receives in public and the discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community as requiring support for both LGBTQ people and the disabled, Dunn claimed to see any recognition of difference as inherently divisive. “I believe that there are people in our history who have used identities to harm other people,” he said.
The NAACP, Equality Loudon, and several members of the town council, including Neil Steinberg, Fernando Martinez, Ron Campbell, and Mayor Kelly Burk continue to call for Dunn’s resignation. However, Councilman Dunn has not shown any indication that he will follow through with these demands.
Top Photo via Equality Loudoun/Twitter