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Parks Helms gets Equality Award 

Gay activists honor commission chair; Bill James mouths off about it

Mecklenburg County Commission Chairman Parks Helms picked up a statewide award recently, and no one is happier for him than his Republican arch-nemesis, Bill James.

The Human Rights Campaign Carolinas, an advocacy group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, with more than 18,000 members in the Carolinas, just awarded Helms its 2006 Equality Award, which recognizes individual efforts to further the civil rights of LGBT people in the Carolinas.

The group is awarding Helms for his ongoing support of the LGBT community, in particular his successful effort to add sexual orientation to the list of non-discrimination categories for county employees.

The "homo award," James called it in an interview last week, and added that he believes it could be used by Republicans to help them reclaim the county commission. James and other Republicans think they stand a good chance of taking back control of the county commission this year because no other statewide or national races are on the ballot. The absence of bigger races usually depresses Democrat turnout.

"Having Parks get the award sets up the debate," said James. "The bottom line is if Republicans take over the county commission, we are going to reverse it (the nondiscrimination policy)."

Helms said he is proud of the award.

"I think it is an award that reflects my feeling about the worth and dignity of persons," said Helms. "I'm honored to receive it."

Helms has said in the past that he supports domestic partner benefits and he told Creative Loafing this week that he also supports gay marriage. Under Helms' leadership, the county explored domestic partner benefits, but in the end it shied away from them. The nondiscrimination policy the county commission passed 6-3 also doesn't protect transgendered individuals.

"I don't object to the fact that Parks has a different viewpoint, but I object to him saying it is the Christian thing to do," said James. "I said all along that sodomy is not a family value and perversity is not diversity. It is not going to be a big shock to anyone that I hold these opinions."

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