Gaston County officials axed a social media post by the Gaston County Museum of Art and History that would have recognized Pride Month.
The decision came around a week before the county forced the museum to take down a photo of two men kissing, according to emails released by the county.
The post the museum wanted to publish was highlighted in an email from Communications Director Adam Gaub, who wrote to County Manager Kim Eagle on June 2, "The Museum sent over their list of social media posts for June for review. The one that caught my eye given what occurred last year is this one, which they’d like to post next week."
Eagle forwarded the message to Ray Maxwell, the county's infrastructure and asset manager, writing, "Let's discuss next week. Museum should know by now our role is not to advocate."
Later that day, Gaub emailed the museum's education manager, Alexander Brooks.
He told Brooks not to publish a post about a Juneteenth celebration in Charlotte and instead to focus on local Juneteenth celebrations.
"And then nix the post about Pride Month. Everything else is good to go," Gaub told the museum's education manager.
The Gazette requested the information from the emails from the county on June 14. The county responded 23 days later on Thursday, July 7.
The post the county would not allow read, "June is widely celebrated by many people as Pride month. Now considered a celebration, Pride was founded after the Stonewall Uprising on June 28th, 1969. Like all modern historical events, Pride has been captured and shared through the power of photography."
The post went on to highlight the museum's "Into the Darkroom" photography exhibit, which, according to the museum, showcases "the evolution of photography, impacts of photography on human history, and highlights local photographers."
"One of the photographers highlighted, Grant Baldwin, captured this photo of Pride. As this annual human rights event continues this year, this photo is a reminder of how important capturing and sharing historical moments are," the museum wrote.
The photo in question showed a man proposing to another man during a 2019 Pride parade in Charlotte.
The county's refusal to allow the post to be published had an immediate impact.
The museum's assistant director, Alexandrea Pizza, wrote to Susan Allen, who works for the county's human resources department.
"I’d like to request a meeting to go over some disappointing news that our department received regarding the cancellation of a LGBTQ+ post we submitted to the county for approval," she said. "Unfortunately, I am having to navigate some very raw emotions from my staff regarding this, as it is affecting their productivity. Perhaps we can have Pearl Burris-Floyd join us since she represents the (multicultural affairs) committee," Pizza wrote. "I would like to see the MAC committee’s written goals for inclusion, and discuss how those goals are reflected in this recent decision by County Management."
Pizza also emailed Amia Massey, the county's director of human resources.
"Just so you’re aware, the museum presented two different social media posts highlighting LGBTQ+ rights for June’s Pride month. Both were denied by the communications office. (Museum Director) Jason (Luker) spoke with Adam and was told that we would not be allowed to post anything regarding LGBTQ rights on our social media because it 'is too political,'" Pizza wrote.
"Unfortunately, several staff members have broken down in my office over the county’s decision," Pizza added in the email to the county's human resources director.
Pizza asked for a meeting with Susan Allen and Pearl Burris-Floyd, the county's diversity, equity and inclusion officer.
She also wrote that her staff is "showing truly low morale this week and last."
"This decision by county management is a tough one to navigate, and I would like to know more about how the MAC committee is supporting our diverse employees," she said.
Based on other emails, Pizza had her meeting with county officials on June 9. That same week, Eagle forced museum staff to remove the photo of two men kissing from its "Into the Darkroom" exhibit. Gaston County commissioners have publicly supported Eagle's decision to remove the photograph.
In a follow-up email Pizza sent on June 9, she suggested ways in which county leadership could show support for LGBTQ+ employees in Gaston County following the county's decisions to remove the photo from the exhibit and "cancel a Pride post" on social media.
Pizza suggested that the county allow a "generic post" featuring museum staff "standing in front of the museum in solid colored T-shirts representative of a rainbow with text saying “We are open to all.” No mention of “pride” or “LGBTQ” would be included."
The museum did not post anything on its Facebook page in recognition of Pride month, which occurred in June.
Pizza also suggested a historical post for Pride month highlighting the history of the LGBTQ+ community, a message to county staff from the executive leadership team stating the importance and value of all employees regardless of sexual orientation; recognition in the county newsletter of the LGBTQ+ community, and a message to county staff from Pearl Burris-Floyd recognizing June as an important time for LGBTQ+ staff members and affirming the multicultural affairs committee's goals for inclusion.
Burris-Floyd, who was hired by the county in 2020 at a starting pay of $105,000, has remained publicly silent on the issue.
Burris-Floyd, a Republican, served as Gaston County's only Black commissioner from 2001-2008 before being elected to one term in the North Carolina House of Representatives.
Despite repeated requests for an interview, Burris-Floyd will not be commenting on the situation involving the museum, according to Gaub.
The county said that this year was the second year that the museum has tried to post something on social media in recognition of Pride Month. County staff also did not approve what the museum staff wanted to post last year.
As for Pizza's other requests concerning support for inclusion, "that's an ongoing conversation" between museum staff and county officials, Gaub said.
Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 704-869-1850 or at email@example.com. Support local journalism by subscribing here.
This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Gaston County barred mention of Pride Month on Facebook