Logan Smith always assumed the Garden Party Against Hate would never happen. He thought it would be canceled when Progress NC—for which he is communications director—secured a $1,150 permit to rent out the bottom floor of the Executive Mansion. But it wasn't. He thought it would be canceled last week, after news outlets reported on its existence. But it wasn't.
"I spent the last month planning this thing under the assumption that it was going to be canceled," Smith says. "The day of, I woke up and realized, Oh my God, this is actually happening."
Smith conceived the Garden Party a month ago, after learning that the mansion had rented space to the Jesse Helms Center, and officials said they would do the same for any nonprofit. He had an exquisitely devilish idea—a sort of quiet statement against HB 2 juxtaposed against the cacophonous weekly performance of the Air Horn Orchestra.
More than two hundred people RSVP'd. The plan was simple: around six o'clock last Wednesday night, the attendees would make their way to Governor McCrory's house. There they would spend the next ninety minutes munching hors d'oeuvres (no alcohol; Pat runs a dry mansion) and listening to a handful of short speeches on the front lawn (including one by yours truly).
At six thirty, the event would turn into a listening party for the Air Horn Orchestra. The whole thing would be understated—at least on the east side of Person Street—no loud protests or disruptions, just a gathering in support of equality in the residence of a man who put a political target on LGBTQ people's backs.
And then, just two hours before all of this was to happen—and after Progress NC spent the day whittling the guest list from 230, the maximum allowed by the contract, to just 50, per the mansion staff's last-minute directive—the governor's office did what Smith expected it to do all along: cancel the event.
"They put themselves into a really kind of indefensible position by allowing the Jesse Helms folks to have their party," Smith says. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you what a despicable racist and homophobe Jesse Helms is. For the governor to allow Jesse Helms acolytes to party it up at the mansion but refuse to give a space to supporters of equality—[that's] just a very disturbing double standard."
The official reason, issued in a press release, was that the Garden Party was a "coordinated political protest," the kind of "political campaign event" prohibited by the contract. As evidence, spokesman Graham Wilson appended a Facebook post from INDY contributor and Air Horn Orchestra organizer Tina Haver Currin indicating plans for call-and-response between protesters and Garden Party attendees.
This explanation has a few shortcomings. First, Tina isn't a Progress NC official and thus isn't party to the contract; what she posts on social media shouldn't be cause for summary judgment. (Smith says the mansion never called to ask about Tina's post before dropping the ax.)
Second, the contract forbids "political campaign events," not political events in general. In fact, "political groups" are among those organizations expressly allowed to rent the space. Because of Progress NC's nonprofit status, Smith points out, "we legally can't be a campaign, nor can we have anything to do with campaigns."
So we can surmise, then, that the official reason is bullshit—a pretext to preserve the governor's apparently brittle ego. As Smith puts it, "I think it's very sad when the mere presence of supporters of equality and the LGBT community, the mere presence of these people at the governor's mansion embarrasses the governor." In other words, our governor is a coward.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Our Governor, the Coward"