Archived News

Waynesville unites against hate and bigotry after false trans allegations

In addition to men's and women's locker rooms, Waynesville's Recreation Center has a gender-neutral family locker room as well. In addition to men's and women's locker rooms, Waynesville's Recreation Center has a gender-neutral family locker room as well. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Claims of indecent behavior involving a transgender person at the Waynesville Recreation Center roiled this tight-knight rural community last week, even after a town investigation found no evidence that any crimes were committed and that one of the allegations was completely unsubstantiated.

But if those allegations were meant to divide, deride or dishearten the people of Haywood County, they’ve proven to be a spectacular failure after a recent meeting of the Waynesville Town Council that will be remembered as a watershed moment for LGBTQ+ rights in a small Appalachian town nestled right in the heart of MAGA country.


On July 12, Jess Scott, a youth pastor from Clyde, made a now-deleted Facebook post saying that after his teenage daughter had been swimming at the Waynesville Recreation Center earlier that day, she told him a “full grown man” had entered the women’s locker room and changed into a bikini.

Implied in Scott’s post is that the person is transgender, or is a male who identifies as female.

The person at the center of Scott’s allegation has neither come forward nor been identified, but is referred to in previous reports from The Smoky Mountain News as “Jane Doe” (she/her).

Related Items

Scott never filed a police report, and didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Over the next few days, the allegations gained traction on social media.

On July 18, two more claims of alleged indecency on the part of Doe emerged from the rec center’s unisex sauna, this time from Amy Elizabeth Bumgarner. Bumgarner did file a police report, but didn’t allege any wrongdoing — just that she felt “uncomfortable” with the mere existence of a transgender person.

Bumgarner didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

Some who subsequently reacted on social media were measured and reflective, while others — business owners, right-wing activists and political candidates for Waynesville’s upcoming municipal elections — accepted the internet allegations as gospel truth and responded with a rush to judgement, including dehumanizing language and graphic, violent threats directed at the LGBTQ+ community.

Other right-wing groups, ignorant of North Carolina’s recent history with the LGBTQ+ rights movement, vowed to mobilize and demand that the town and the county pass ordinances regulating access to public facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms.

Republican-sponsored legislation passed in the wake of North Carolina’s disastrous HB 2 debacle has reserved the right to regulate such facilities only to the General Assembly, and not to local governments. Contemporary court cases have also affirmed the right of transgender people to use the facilities that align with their gender identity.

After an investigation by town staff and the town’s police force, Waynesville Town Attorney Martha Bradley announced in a July 23 memo that Bumgarner’s discomfort was not a cause of action and that Scott’s allegations about Doe were not at all supported, despite hours of video gathered from the rec center’s public areas.

In the video, viewed exclusively by The Smoky Mountain News, Doe’s actions at the Waynesville Recreation Center on July 12, July 17 and July 18 are seen to be completely within the law and were actually quite mundane.

She enters. She buys a day pass. She removes her gym shoes, shorts and tee shirt in the pool area to reveal a bikini already present under her clothing. She swims. She chats with a lifeguard. She makes several visits to the sauna and to the gender-neutral family locker room. She holds the door open for a person using a walker. She gets a drink from a water fountain. She puts on her gym shoes, her shorts and her tee shirt and she leaves.

The video shows Doe’s actions did not include, as Scott alleged, entering the women’s locker room, despite Doe being completely within her legal rights to do so.

As the investigation concluded — and some of the inflammatory social media posts began to disappear — there were rumblings within Western North Carolina’s small, fragmented LGBTQ+ community that they would take a strong stand against the lies, the harassment and the hate.

They’d quickly get their chance.


Looming over the entire investigation was an upcoming regular meeting of Waynesville’s Town Council, scheduled months ago for Tuesday, July 25 — just two days after the results of the town’s investigation were released.

Generally, such meetings aren’t well-attended by the public at large, especially by the left or the LGBTQ+ community. But they are usually well-attended by the right, some of whom utilize every opportunity to share verifiably false information with Waynesville’s Democrat-majority Town Council during public comment sessions.

Many of the people who regularly spread misinformation at the meetings also spread misinformation about the recent rumors from the town’s rec center.

By the time the gavel struck 6 p.m. sharp the otherwise boring board room, where the nuances of sewer improvement financing and classic-car drive-ins are often the order of the day, was filled to overflowing with more than a hundred people — lesbian people, gay people, bisexual people, transgender people, queer people, intersex people, allied people.


Those people weren’t there to apologize, or to grovel, or to meekly express their hope for a more just future — they were there to make their demands.

They want the freedom to exercise their constitutional rights like every other American.

“We just want to live in peace and not fear,” said Waynesville resident Hilary Underwood. “Please do not murder or harm us for merely existing.”

They want to thank law enforcement and lawmakers for safeguarding those legal protections.

“We stand with our Republican legislators and with the law,” said Dr. Tera McIntosh, of Clyde. “We're not here to beg for our God-given rights — we're here to exercise them without the threat of harm and violence.”

They want those whose false allegations fueled the furor to be held responsible.

“[I urge] you to seek accountability to the fullest extent that is within your power for those who made false claims, wasted community resources on the investigation of a non-issue based on false information and who communicated clear threats of harm or violence on the basis of gender identity,” said Chelsea White, also of Waynesville.

They want voters to know that some who embraced Scott’s allegations are candidates for Waynesville’s Town Council.

“We’ve got a whole lot going on in this next six months,” said Jesse Ross, of Waynesville. “We’ve got elections [coming] and we've got people that frankly do not need to be on this council.”

They want to prevent violence against marginalized communities.

“I'm here from Swain County because the rumors and violent threats that we've seen over the last few weeks have ripples that will cross these mountains. I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to deal with these things very seriously and where people have been communicating threats, if that is a prosecutable offense, please do so,” said Garrett Lagan, a licensed clinical social worker from Bryson City. “When we spread lies and wind a community up through false allegations it leads to violence, consistently. Please, please, hold those liars accountable for their lies, for attacking this community.”

Lagan’s words were unfortunately prophetic; one day after the meeting, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office arrested Joseph O’Neal, of Brevard, after O’Neal threatened to shoot up an 18-and-over drag show at a private establishment, UpCountry Brewing in Brevard, on July 29.

But perhaps most of all, they want people in this deeply religious corner of the South — people like Jess Scott, the youth pastor from Fines Creek Memorial Baptist Church who made the initial false allegation — to re-examine their commitment to the words of Christ.

“The Bible teaches me that the most important things we ought to do is to love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbors. Trans people are our neighbors too,” said Helen Ryde, of Lake Junaluska. “When aspiring leaders speak unkindly about them, when they make false and harmful allegations about them and when they whether intentionally or not incite others to make violent threats against them — this seems about as far removed from how Jesus calls us to live as I can imagine.”

Ryde was one of several speakers from the LGBTQ+ camp who mentioned tolerance as an aspect of their faith. Others offered otherwise.

“It seems to me there's a bunch of people confused about one book called the Bible. Very, very, very confused,” said David Lovett, of Waynesville. “Evidently, they forgot about Leviticus, that tells [that] all of this is completely wrong, and forgot about Noah and the ark, who flooded the Earth and killed everybody on Earth except for those on the boat because of this kind of behavior along with drug addicts and everything else. Evidently, there's a lot of people who call themselves Christians that need to actually go back and read that book again. You can't just pick out a little piece here and there.”

Lovett, clad in a “Trump 2024” shirt, was drowned out by laughter but soon resumed his comments.

“The fact is, it is not okay, it's disgusting,” he said. “And I'll tell you right now I served my country. I'm perfectly able to protect myself and other people, and I can promise you this — I got five grandchildren and most of those are females. I can tell you right now, some male tries to walk into a bathroom or locker room and begins to change, I can promise you I will defend them to my death.”

At this point, the crowd openly heckled Lovett; when one person said that because Lovett apparently identifies as a man, he wouldn’t be allowed to enter the female locker room to defend it against a transgender person who is exercising their legal rights, he said that a transgender person would never even make it into the bathroom.

The crowd erupted into bedlam, prompting some vigorous gaveling from Mayor Gary Caldwell in an attempt to restore order. Lovett faced the crowd, defiant, and screamed into the din, “There’s no such thing as trans-anything! It’s a made-up mental disorder! You need to get some friggin’ help!”

Police Chief David Adams told the crowd to respect Lovett’s right to speak, and with another officer ushered Lovett back to his seat once he was through.

Elias Hatcher, of Canton, was the only other speaker to voice concern over the laws governing bathroom access.

“I feel for people that truly don't feel that they're in the right body, but the fact is that they have a biological body that God gave them and just as a father, I shouldn't have to worry about that. I think that the staff at the rec center needs to enforce [that] your biological sex is what designates which bathroom to go to or not,” Hatcher said. "If you guys want to have all-gender bathrooms, unisex bathrooms, that's fine. That's a different thing. I should not have to worry about my daughters being in a space with a man.”


Although there was no official business on the agenda related to public accommodations, the town did end up taking several steps to reaffirm its support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Council Member Jon Feichter read a statement from his seat before the public comment session began. Feichter is a native of Waynesville and has been its most unabashed cheerleader, adamantly and repeatedly insisting that the town is the best on the entire planet.

“That said, as I've watched some of the responses to the incident that was alleged to have taken place at the rec center I'd be lying if I said this situation hasn't caused me to doubt whether that's entirely true,” he said.

Feichter went on to express confidence in the investigation and declare that there is no room in Waynesville for what he called “hateful rhetoric and threats of violence” surrounding the false allegations.

“I'd like to ask everyone to take a step back and do some soul searching on what's happened here over the past couple of weeks,” he said. “Although my belief in what makes Waynesville great, the people, has been shaken by what's transpired, deep down I don't believe this is who we are.”

Council Member Anthony Sutton also issued a brief written statement earlier that day, and read it just before Feichter read his own.

Sutton is Waynesville’s first openly gay member of the governing board. He was elected in 2019 and is currently seeking reelection along with Mayor Caldwell and the other three Council members.

“As a member of the LGBTQ+ Community and Council Member for the Town of Waynesville, I am deeply troubled by the continued vilification of our transgender citizens,” Sutton wrote. “It’s disheartening to see this level of hostility being leveled at such a historically marginalized group of people; and there is no place in Waynesville for these kinds of cold-hearted, calloused and libelous attacks.”

Sutton went on to mention his own difficulties in dealing with those who have a hard time accepting the fact that he’s married to a man. He also thanked the Waynesville Police Department for conducting the investigation without prejudice and in a serious manner.

After public comment, Council Member Chuck Dickson made a motion for the town to “approve, endorse and support” Sutton’s statement. Julia Freeman, the board’s lone Republican, seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

But Dickson wasn’t quite finished, and offered another motion.

“The Town of Waynesville, I do not believe, discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” he said, “but my motion is that we look at all our policies to make sure that our policies of employment, use of facilities, do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression.”

Sutton seconded the motion, which also passed unanimously.

Town Attorney Martha Bradley later weighed in, calling the previous two weeks some of the most difficult in her life.

Bradley said she’d had plenty of experience prosecuting child sex offenders in the past, and not one of those cases ever came from a women’s restroom. She also courageously revealed — like several of the speakers earlier that evening — a painful chapter from her own past.

“I personally am a sexual assault survivor, and I can tell you that not one time did that happen in a women's restroom,” she said. “Like many of you, I also went to church every Sunday, in a deeply religious southern town. I had a few less mountains and a couple more swamps, but I'm grateful that that church never taught me to hate anyone. I'm grateful to have found a town that matches that message.”

Whether implicitly or explicitly, the arguments against North Carolina’s public accommodations laws — including those made by Lovett and Hatcher — assume that the only reason a transgender person ever goes into a public restroom is for the purposes of child molestation.

A 2022 study by the ULCA School of Law says that in their survey of 964 incarcerated sex offenders, transgender respondents made up only seven-tenths of one percent.

“I hope that every person feels safe in this town. I hope that every grandfather knows that their granddaughters are safe in this town. I hope that every trans man and trans woman feels safe in this town,” Bradley continued. “And I can personally guarantee that as long as I’m town attorney I know for a fact that this board and this police department will protect any person whose personal space has been violated. If your granddaughters are inappropriately touched or approached by a man, please tell us. We care. If you are a trans woman in a woman's restroom, and you were attacked, we care. We want to know, because this is a town that protects itself.”


Yet to be resolved are the concerns over comments made by two candidates for the Waynesville governing board.

Joey Reece, a Waynesville native, Republican and retired DEA agent who very nearly beat out Sutton for an alderman seat in 2019, twice referred to Jane Doe as “it” in a Facebook comment.

Reece is running for mayor against Democrat Caldwell, as are two other candidates, in the upcoming November municipal elections.

While Webster’s dictionary does list a definition of “it” as “a person or animal whose sex is unknown or disregarded,” many members of the LGBTQ+ community find the use of that particular pronoun insulting and dehumanizing.

When reached for comment, Reece declined, but did say he might put out a statement at some point in the future.

Stephanie Sutton (no relation to current Council Member Anthony Sutton) is a Republican running for a seat on Town Council in the same November election.

Before the results of the investigation were released, Sutton posted on her campaign Facebook page some words from her friend, local conspiracy theorist and anti-vax proponent Melanie Williams.

“A grown man entering the women’s dressing room at the Waynesville Rec and changing into a bikini with women and young girls present,” reads Sutton’s post. “Can we just think for a minute of how traumatic that was for every female exposed or witness?”

Obviously, Sutton assumed all of Scott’s allegations were true, despite not having any facts to back up that assumption. Sutton later deleted the post.

When reached for comment, Sutton was immediately combative and expressed her distrust for the media, as she’s done in the past.

In a Jan. 6, 2021 Facebook post from Washington, D.C. that shows Sutton wearing Trump memorabilia while present at the insurrection, Sutton states that she “never once witnessed violence, never once!” and that “You are being lied to by the media ...”

More than a thousand people have been charged with various insurrection-related crimes, including crimes of violence, after widely televised reports showed multiple instances of violence — some, directed at law enforcement officers.

In April, Robert Sandford, a Pennsylvania man who pled guilty to assaulting three police officers with a fire extinguisher, was sentenced to more than four years in prison.

Sutton refused to answer any questions over the phone about why she made her post about the Waynesville Recreation Center without gathering any facts and why she later deleted her post.

Instead, Sutton demanded questions in written form. Her demand was rejected.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.