A boisterous crowd packed Leesburg Town Council chambers on Tuesday night to call for the resignation of Councilman Tom Dunn following a protest by the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Loudoun on town government grounds.
Dunn, who has served on council since 2008, recently signed sentiments rather than his signature on three town proclamations for Pride Month, Gun Violence Awareness Month and Juneteenth. Town staff reprinted the Juneteenth and Pride Month proclamations without Dunn’s signature after the sentiments were discovered. Councilman Josh Thiel then re-signed the Pride Month proclamation at the absent Dunn’s request: “Everyone is equal. Identities don’t help.”
Dunn eventually re-signed the proclamations with his signature.
Council members can ask to have their names removed from proclamations with which they disagree.
During Monday night’s work session, Councilman Ron Campbell tried to suspend rules to discuss the town’s ethics policy and made a motion to censure Dunn during a future meeting, but both failed.
Before council met Tuesday, a protest of several dozen individuals formed on the town green to listen to statements and chant “Done with Dunn.”
“On public town documents, there is no place for your personal opinion,” said Equality Loudoun Steering Committee Member Charlotte McConnell. “You had an opportunity to do something respectful that night, and you failed.”
Mayor Kelly Burk and Vice Mayor Fernando “Marty” Martinez also spoke.
“I stand with you,” Burk said. “It was not appropriate, it was unkind, it was mean and it was very selfish of [Dunn].”
Burk added that council can’t make Dunn resign and must follow process. At the end of her speech, Burk told protesters they could make Dunn “uncomfortable” by continuing to speak out.
Loudoun Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) attended the protest, as did Councilmen Ron Campbell and Neil Steinberg.
“When you think of what the LGBTQ community has gone through, you need to speak out,” Umstattd told the Times-Mirror.
The protest ended minutes before council began, and many came upstairs to speak. Some brought LGBTQ Pride flags and posters calling for Dunn and Thiel’s resignations; one woman wrote the word “Resign” on her hand.
“I stand in solidarity with Equality Loudoun, the NAACP and Moms Demand Action,” said Equality Loudoun Steering Committee Member Amber Beichler, a lesbian and transgender woman. She said that she struggled with feeling “broken” before she came out. “You don’t have the right to say identities don’t matter. They matter to me.”
NAACP President Michelle Thomas confronted Burk for not voting to censure Dunn—the Monday vote failed 4-3 with Campbell, Steinberg and Martinez in support. Campbell, Steinberg and Martinez have also publicly called for Dunn's resignation.
“I would like to say I’m disappointed, but I think you’ve normalized disappointment in Leesburg,” Thomas told Dunn. “What you did ... not only dishonored the communities, it dishonored the entire citizenry of Leesburg.”
A minority of speakers came out in support of Dunn.
“Tom Dunn has a right to his opinion as the rest of you do,” said Leesburg resident Sandy Kane. “For years he has been voted into that position on town council ... by community members. You have no right to take that seat away from him.”
Both Thiel and Dunn have announced they will not resign. However, they have backed down from the tenor, if not the content, of their words.
On June 18, Campbell released to his Facebook page an email Thiel sent council.
“My inclination to do a favor for [Dunn] in this matter was a mistake and [I] regret fulfilling his request,” Thiel wrote. “My decision to serve as Councilman Dunn's scribe was wrong and it allowed his personal statement to be inscribed on the official Pride Proclamation. I look forward to the discussion to depolarize future proclamations.”
Dunn spoke during council comments at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, clarifying his stances on all three of his proclamation statements. He said that he would have supported two separate proclamations for Juneteenth and the lynching of Leesburg teen Orion Anderson, just not together. He also said that as the father of a son with special needs, he empathizes with what it means to be identified and mocked as different. Finally, he said that because he believes violence comes from individuals rather than particular weapons, he opposes all forms of violence.
“My comments were more geared toward council,” Dunn said. “For those people who found harm in the statements. I made, I truly regret that. That was not my intent. I am grateful that people, supporters or detractors of me, came out and spoke ... Now people need to work towards unity and not division.”
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox made a successful motion Monday night to clarify the town’s ethics policy at a future meeting. This discussion will come in addition to an agenda item about how council will handle future proclamations, scheduled for July.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct what Councilman Josh Thiel wrote in Councilman Tom Dunn's place on the Pride Month proclamation. He wrote, "Everyone is equal. Identifies don't help."