Homophobic comments by Sevier County commissioner drawing sharp criticism

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SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Comments by Sevier County Commissioner Warren Hurst, who represents the county’s 1st District, during a Monday meeting are getting push back from multiple directions.

The comments came from an open County Commission meeting. The agenda lists a resolution declaring support of the Second Amendment.

A representative for GLAAD, a LGBTQ advocacy media group, wrote us to say Commissioner Hurst attacked Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg for being gay.

The representative also said Hurst said he believes his rights as a white man have been diminished at the meeting.

Sevier County resident, Sara Thompson was at the meeting, and when she heard the commissioner’s comments, she got up and left.

“It was a gut reaction. It was just time for me to leave. It was not something I deliberated on, I stood up at the time and said excuse me this is unprofessional. Everybody was applauding at what he was saying and ignoring what I said so I just left,” Thompson said.

GLAAD took to Twitter saying:

These statements from Sevier County Commissioner Hurst are completely unacceptable and ridiculous, especially coming from a county official. Call Hurst at 865-453-8513 and demand he apologize to his constituents.”

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said in a statement:

Commissioner Hurst’s comments were his and his alone and I disapprove of those comments. They do not reflect my beliefs or opinions.

I have lived in Sevier County my whole life and know it as a place that is welcoming to everyone, as evidenced by the more than 12 million people who visit annually.

Generations of families have enjoyed our beautiful county and know that our citizens are caring and compassionate.”

Assistant Sevier County Mayor Perrin Anderson sent this statement:

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.

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.”

Public Information Officer for the city of Sevierville Bob Stahlke sent this statement:

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.

The city of Sevierville is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of sex or handicap in its programs or activities pursuant to Public Law 93-112 or 101-336. The city of Sevierville does not discriminate based on race, color or national origin in federal or state sponsored programs, pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000d).

Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster said:

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. 

The city of Gatlinburg responded as well Tuesday evening:

We are shocked and disappointed by the offensive comments made by Sevier County Commissioner Hurst during Monday’s Commission meeting. The city of Gatlinburg certainly does not share Mr. Hurst’s views. They are not consistent with what we stand for as a community.

As more than 10 million visitors a year from across the globe can attest, Gatlinburg is one of the most friendly, welcoming communities in the world. We regret that these insensitive comments might leave the impression that we are anything less than that.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, who represents the 1st District including the majority of Sevier County said he has visited the area his entire life and the remarks by Commissioner Hurst did not reflect the views of the county’s residents:

I know that the residents are welcoming and accepting individuals. These remarks are not reflective of any views I’ve heard expressed in over 10 years representing Sevier County and a lifetime of visits.

Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project Chris Sanders is urging Hurst to resign.

“I think that would be a very good move,” Sanders said. “One scenario in which he shouldn’t, would by apologizing and implementing public policies to make county government more inclusive.”

The Tennessee Equality Project has set an online event for Nov. 18 at Sevier County Courthouse called “Wear Red Against Racism and Homophobia.”

Social media backlash has led to people lashing out at the tourist community calling for a boycott of the area.

We also reached out to Dollywood. The theme park’s Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Pete Owens said:

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.

The Tennessee Democratic Party chair Mary Mancini said, “If Commissioner Hurst can’t be a more responsible leader, then he must resign.”

The ugliness of bigotry and divisiveness was on full display in Sevier County last night. As a Tennessean, it was painful to watch elected Commissioner and community leader Warren Hurst use his platform to broadcast and sow hate.

Comments like these from leaders are responsible for the bullying that cause Channing Smith to feel overwhelming shame once his sexuality was revealed to his high school classmates. Commissioner Hurst is sending the same harmful message to the youth of Sevier County.

Channing Smith, a junior at Coffee County High School in Manchester, committed suicide in September after being outed online as bisexual and being the subject of ridicule from classmates.

We’ve reached out to Commissioner Hurst for comment and have not heard back at this time.

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