On Monday, October 21, 2019, during a debate about gun rights in Sevierville, Tennessee, Republican Warren Hurst—member of the Sevier County Commission—decided the time was right to expound on his other beliefs.
Hurst's diatribe occurred during the discussion of an upcoming vote to make Sevierville a "gun sanctuary city."
A gun sanctuary city pledges to not enforce gun control laws. The crowd—largely there to support gun rights and holding little American flags—listened and appreciated Hurst's views.
Watch his comments here.
"It's time we wake up people, it's time, it's past time."
"We got a queer running for President, if that ain't about as ugly as you can get."
"Look what we got running for President in the Democratic party. We can go over here to [Sevier County Sheriff] Hoss's jail and get better people out of there than those running for Democratic, to be President of the United States."
Hurst failed to mention any names, but US Navy Afghanistan veteran and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is the only openly gay Democratic candidate. Buttigieg served as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve from 2009-2017, attaining the rank of lieutenant and taking a 7 month leave from his mayoral duties to deploy to Afghanistan in 2014.
Buttigieg was part of a unit assigned to identify and disrupt terrorist finance networks at Bagram Air Base as well as other locations. Speaking 8 languages with some skill, Buttigieg was also tapped as an armed driver for his commander for over 100 trips into Kabul.
That “queer” running for president is a Christian veteran who spent 7 months in Afghanistan, initiated rebuilding o… https://t.co/WAZQg6zAko— Kenzi McCarter (@Kenzi McCarter)1571755867.0
Hurst, however, thinks it gets no uglier than a multilingual, married Harvard scholar and military veteran.
Because, as Hurst so articulately explained, he's "queer."
@nmharder9 @SevierCounty @DollyParton @traecrowder @PeteButtigieg Sadly, it’s not just Tennessee. But we are changi… https://t.co/Nul1Oux9we— Carol Abney (@Carol Abney)1571761347.0
Not content with only being homophobic, Hurst went on to lament about the rights of White men.
"I'm not for prejudice, but by golly a White male in this country has very few rights and they're getting took more every day."
"You'll hear 'em stand on the stage and say, 'Oh, I'm for the poor and the black.' You never heard one of them say 'I believe white people have rights, too'."
Indeed, for someone who spent their entire life privileged and entitled, any measure of equality achieved by those Horst discriminates against can feel like a loss.
Sevier County's 25 commissioners are all White. The commission consists of 24 men and one woman.
Very few rights left for White males according to Hurst, though.
@ElectCarolAbney @SevierCounty @DollyParton @traecrowder When are these white men going to learn that their rights… https://t.co/m3OnBi7piU— JinGiSeokJoon (@JinGiSeokJoon)1571753958.0
Warren Hurst, the County Commissioner of Sevier County, Tennessee, calls Pete Buttigieg a “queer” and then later sa… https://t.co/tE2WUnv6cM— Travis Akers (@Travis Akers)1571762630.0
My family was going to Gatlinburg for Thanksgiving vacation next month; however, due to the bigotry, racism, and ha… https://t.co/U6uei1ZlVs— Travis Akers (@Travis Akers)1571770919.0
PSA: If you’re cancelling your trips to the @SevierCounty area, Gatlinburg, etc... because of County Commissioner W… https://t.co/k5CCAmEcDy— The Tennessee Holler (@The Tennessee Holler)1571775915.0
In the video, Sara Thompson can be seen storming out of the meeting following part of Hurst's comments.
Before leaving she stood and said:
"Excuse me. This is not professional. This is bullsh**."
Thompson told WVLT:
"County commissioners need to remember that when they're elected they need to represent everyone. Represent those who don't love, look or vote like they do."
"This should serve as a reminder to all county commissioners to have more respect for each other and their constituents."
See what she had to say here:
"I was actually incensed. I think that was a very demeaning and nasty thing to even talk about."
"I found it totally unprofessional, demeaning, bullying; I could not stay there any longer. Think about how many people were in that room. I'm the only one who stood up and objected to it."
But Hurst assured his constituents and WVLT News that "some of his best friends" were African American.
Although it's highly doubtful Hurst used that terminology—African American—to describe "some of his best friends." WVLT News noticeably chose not to quote Hurst's exact words in their reporting of his response to the backlash.
Hurst also said he stands by his comments because he's entitled to his opinions.
Some members of the crowd applauded Hurst's rant, proving homphobia and racism are alive and well in Sevier County Tennessee.
@Frances32412776 @travisakers Guess I should avoid Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville then. I know that the… https://t.co/RWEg5xVwkk— Nicholas Gauthier (@Nicholas Gauthier)1571770645.0
But despite the applause, not everyone was on board with Hurst's personal opinions.
The statements made by Commissioner Hurst at the Sevier County Commission meeting of October 21, 2019, do not refle… https://t.co/6JhisHATfy— Sevier County (@Sevier County)1571756139.0
Fellow Sevier County Commissioner Greg Haggard said:
"Commissioner Hurst's comments do not speak for the rest of the county commission."
A major employer and attraction in the area, Dollywood, released a statement to WVLT News.
The theme park—created by singer, songwriter, actress and icon Dolly Parton, a native of Sevier County—stated:
"We read the comments made in Monday night's County Commission meeting and they do not reflect the Dollywood experience in any way. Dollywood is open and welcoming to everyone, every day."
Most revenue for Sevier County, childhood home of @DollyParton, and home to @Dollywood, comes from tourism to Great… https://t.co/s2USwOecsh— Carla Lewis (@Carla Lewis)1571716718.0
I moved away 5 years ago, but still own a home in the @GreatSmokyNPS. The majority of people in @SevierCounty are k… https://t.co/eto5H9iJXh— Carla Lewis (@Carla Lewis)1571716941.0
@LauraBaMom @ElectCarolAbney @SevierCounty @DollyParton @traecrowder It might if @DollyParton put her voice and eco… https://t.co/f76wRdf8MQ— thea younce (@thea younce)1571755006.0
Pigeon Forge city manager Earlene Teaster's statement read:
"On behalf of the city of Pigeon Forge, we in no way condone Sevier County Commissioner Hurst's disturbing comments."
"His statements made during the Sevier County commission meeting do not represent the views and feelings of the city of Pigeon Forge."
"Pigeon Forge welcomes everyone with open arms. We do not discriminate."
Tennessee Equality Project called for Hurst to resign. A TEP representative stated:
"He should apologize and yes he should consider resigning."
"If there were some weird extenuating circumstances like he was having a medical issue, but right now it just looks like he made those remarks."
Chair @marymancini calls on @SevierCounty Commissioner Warren Hurst to resign. "Comments like these from leaders li… https://t.co/Eg8BXmwgcd— TN Democratic Party (@TN Democratic Party)1571761565.0
TEP called on citizens to attend the next Sevier County commission meeting in protest.
"Tennessee Equality Project is urging people to attend the next Sevier County Commission meeting in red to send a message that racism and homophobia are not acceptable in East Tennessee."
"We will not forget the Commissioner's harmful words. We condemn them and we believe many people in the area feel the same way."
Sevier County, you got a bigot in the henhouse. You can't sit in a commissioner position, call someone a queer, and… https://t.co/VbEnojI08I— Justin Kirkland (@Justin Kirkland)1571757286.0
TEP representative Chris Sanders said:
"The racist and homophobic statements of Commissioner Hurst are something we condemn as strongly as we possibly can."
"He should consider resigning unless he were willing to make a complete about face and introduce ordinances that would make county government more inclusive."
The next meeting—which TEP asks the public to attend—is scheduled for November 18 at 6 p.m.
@shannonrwatts @wvlt This kind of hate and bigotry will continue as long as the citizens of communities like… https://t.co/mBvxgcMJPs— Tyrannosaurus Mex (@Tyrannosaurus Mex)1571765108.0
Wear #RedAgainstRacism at the next @SevierCounty commissioner’s meeting November 18th and help support local divers… https://t.co/sqstcGaHoh— Carol Abney (@Carol Abney)1571760652.0
Sevierville also condemned the homophobic comments. Their statement read:
"On October 21, 2019, Sevier County Commissioner Warren Hurst made several offensive remarks during an open commission meeting that have produced much concern and rightful indignation, within our city and beyond."
"Although Sevier County government is separate from Sevierville City government, we realize that these remarks still impact all of us living and working in this area."
"The City of Sevierville Board of Mayor and Aldermen and City administration reject bigotry and prejudice towards any and all persons. As such, we strongly condemn the remarks of Commissioner Hurst."
"Mr. Hurst's remarks do not reflect the feelings of our residents, who are friendly, caring people and neighbors. The City of Sevierville and the entire Smoky Mountain community is a welcoming place for the millions that visit our region and the thousands who live here."
"The City of Sevierville does not discriminate in our business interactions, hiring, or attitudes towards our visitors or residents."
Perrin Anderson, Assistant to Sevier County Mayor, also denounced Hurst's homophobia:
"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."
Online, Hurst found more jeers than cheers for his opinions.
NEW: “We got a QUEER running for President... the white man has very few rights.” Watch @SevierCounty Commissioner… https://t.co/Py0tBPZVdc— The Tennessee Holler (@The Tennessee Holler)1571746905.0
@DickandSharon @shaunking @TheTNHoller @SevierCounty I live in Sevier County and I can tell you that a lot of peopl… https://t.co/aThjUKlxOO— Mary (@Mary)1571760845.0
As someone in a same sex marriage and a Tennessee resident... I will not be heading to @SevierCounty anytime soon u… https://t.co/59LWqdJnrg— Sarah Bland (@Sarah Bland)1571759797.0
@travisakers I bet he's one of those people who thinks only people who speak English should be allowed to live here. Just a guess.— Jenney🌺 (@Jenney🌺)1571763653.0
@neatdesign @travisakers He should move then. Because that wasn't English by any stretch of the imagination.— Annoyed Norwegian #TIR #FBIR (@Annoyed Norwegian #TIR #FBIR)1571764202.0
@travisakers With guys like this, sooner or later we see them on the evening news after they are busted in a seedy… https://t.co/IFOWSMHcNX— It's not The Crime, it's the #CoverUp (@It's not The Crime, it's the #CoverUp)1571765974.0
This story is still developing, but as of now Hurst gives no indication of plans to resign. His political party—Republican—also remains silent on Hurst's comments and any actions they might take—if any—to censure him.
It could be a hard candy Christmas if Hurst's comments—and a lack of official actions beyond statements to the press—cost Sevier County tourist dollars. Money talks and people disgusted by Hurst's display of bigotry are willing to let their vacation funds speak for them.
Have you listened to the first season of George Takei's podcast, 'Oh Myyy Pod!'?
In season one we explored the racially charged videos that have taken the internet by storm.
We're hard at work on season two so be sure to subscribe here so you don't miss it when it goes live.
Here's one of our favorite episodes from season one. Enjoy!