A Durham City Council candidate says controversial statements he provided to the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC had been altered without his review and do not reflect his beliefs.
John Rooks Jr. is running for the Ward 2 seat on the City Council.
In a candidate questionnaire from Equality NC, Rooks' answers suggested he does not believe people should be protected from discrimination based on their immigration status, gender identity and gender expression. The responses also suggested he does not support same-sex marriage or the right of transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.
Via a statement on his website, Rooks apologized and said, as a first time candidate for office, he had consulted someone else in filling out the questionnaire. The answers were submitted without his review, he said. Rooks did not name the person who altered the responses, which were submitted two months ago.
"These responses were irresponsible and inconsiderate and hurtful. They did not and do not reflect my views on the rights that members of the LGBTQ and immigrant communities deserve. I am truly sorry for my oversight and the hurt that I have caused. I take full responsibility for this. I need my Durham community to know that I am committed to the rights of all people, namely those who belong to protected classes. Durham is the unique city that I love because of our valued LGBTQ and immigrant communities, and this is the city that I love and want to serve," he wrote. You can read the full statement here.
Rooks is one of six candidates running for the Ward 2 seat currently held by Eddie Davis, who is not seeking re-election. He won the endorsement of the influential People's Alliance after McDougald Terrace residents went to the PAC's endorsement meeting convinced members in an impassioned plea to overturn the recommendation of its interview committee, which was to endorse Mark-Anthony Middleton. Equality NC endorsed LeVon Barnes in the Ward 2 race.
Tom Miller, a People's Alliance PAC coordinator, said PA leadership and members have met on multiple occasions with Rooks since he brought the matter to their attention a few days ago and believe the statements were an error. Miller said Rooks is "unequivocal" in his support for the LGBTQ and immigrant communities and that the PAC supports him.
"He explained to us what occurred and we listened but then we tested him fairly thoroughly. Each individual tested John on the actual issues," Miller said.
"John Rooks is someone I've come to know only because he was a City Council candidate," Miller said. "… He has impressed me the more time I spend with him and the more I speak to him the more convinced I become he is the right candidate for Ward 2."
In a statement, the PA PAC says it is "impressed by the straightforward and open manner in which John has responded to this unhappy problem. It confirms to us that John is a man of honesty and integrity and the best candidate for the Ward 2 City Council seat."
Miller also said he is aware of some People's Alliance fliers being altered by hand to indicate support for Middleton rather than Rooks. "That is certainly not sanctioned by the PA PAC. We are not dropping our support for Rooks,"he said.
In the questionnaires, Rooks was asked to circle "yes" or "no" to signal whether he agreed with statements about the rights of LGBTQ residents and immigrants.
"I do not support the idea of granting care blanche for implied protections on the basis of 'expression' that could be open to interpretation," one response reads.
Other questions asked about marriage equality, violence against transgender and gender nonconforming people, and sex education.
One response accuses Equality NC of blatant religious discrimination. In a question asking how he would discrimination by law enforcement, he writes "Why was there a need to address gender, transgender, or gender non-conformance regarding this question?"
Rooks says he is sharing the responses in the interest of transparency.
"I am constantly evolving as a father, a husband, a man, and community organizer. While I am not perfect, I will always accept the challenge of learning from the mistakes that I make and I hope that you will allow me this opportunity," he wrote.