During a public meeting Monday, an elected official in Tennessee made homophobic comments about presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and claimed white men in America “have very few rights.”
“We’ve got a queer running for president, if that ain’t about as ugly as you can get,” Sevier County Commissioner Warren Hurst said to the crowd after telling them to “wake up.”
“I’m not prejudiced, but by golly,” continued Hurst, waving his finger in the air, “a white male in this country has very few rights, and they’re getting took more every day.” While one member of the crowd walked out in protest, Hurst was met with whistles and applause from the audience after he finished speaking.
Hurst’s “queer” comment, which was caught on camera, was presumably referring to Buttigieg, the mayor South Bend, Indiana, and the only openly gay 2020 presidential candidate.
Hurst’s remarks — made during a commission meeting about whether the county should become a gun sanctuary — set off a controversy in one of Tennessee’s major tourist areas. Sevier County is home to Dollywood, the Dolly Parton theme park.
The official Twitter account for Sevier County posted a statement on Tuesday denouncing Hurst’s comments.
"The statements made by Commissioner Hurst at the Sevier County Commission meeting of October 21, 2019, do not reflect the opinion or position of Sevier County administration," the statement said. "Sevier County is an Equal Opportunity Employer and does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or status in any other group protected by law."
Hurst did not respond to NBC News’ requests for comment, but LGBTQ advocates said the impact of his remarks could have consequences far beyond the county.
The Tennessee Equality Project, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group that has been leading the campaign against the state’s “Slate of Hate” — a series of 12 bills that activists have deemed harmful to the LGBTQ community — called for Hurst’s resignation.
"Tennessee Equality Project condemns the commissioner's racist and homophobic rant,” Chris Sanders, the group’s executive director, told NBC News. “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.”
Sander’s said Hurst’s remarks “speak to an ongoing need for local organizing around the state, outside of its urban areas.”
Sanders said that over the summer, the equality project was at the Tennessee Soybean Festival, "which isn’t billed as an LGBTQ event, but we were there to build more of a base there locally, and we need more of that."
Sanders’ organization is now urging community members to rally at the next Sevier County Commission meeting, on Nov. 18, to protest Hurst’s statements.
National LGBTQ rights organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, were also swift to condemn Hurst’s comments.
“Sevier County Commissioner Warren Hurst is using his position of power to publicly spew bigotry against LGBTQ people — people who are very likely his own constituents,” Nick Morrow, the organization’s deputy communications director, said in a statement. “A group of people having rights doesn't take away those of another. But 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.”