Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are celebrating Tuesday’s election as six openly LGBTQ candidates won races across North Carolina while other candidates made history in elections around the country.
Three of those new North Carolina officials come from the Triangle. Altogether, there now will be 20 openly LGBTQ office-holders across the state, according to Equality NC.
“It’s huge for LGBTQ North Carolinians,” said Ben Graumann, director of communications for Raleigh-based Equality NC, a statewide advocacy group.
“Because to be truly representative of North Carolina, you need ‘out’ elected officials,” Graumann said. “You need people that know the issues and people who can represent you at the table when those tough decisions are being made. That was the problem in the past: There was simply no one at the table representing LGBTQ people.”
Tuesday’s election results, said Vernetta Alston, who was elected to the Durham City Council, “signal a great new progressive force that can kind of lead the way in advancing the rights of LGBTQ folks.”
A 2016 Gallup poll found that 4.1 percent of the U.S. population identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. That’s about 10 million Americans.
Other LGBTQ winners around the country include four transgender candidates. Democrat Danica Roem became the first openly transgender state representative, not only in Virginia but in the country. Roem defeated a Republican incumbent who had drafted a bill similar to North Carolina’s House Bill 2, or the “bathroom bill,” to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.
Another Virginia Democrat, Dawn Adams, became the state’s first openly lesbian candidate to be elected to the commonwealth’s House of Delegates.
An openly transgender woman won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council, and another was elected to the City Council in Palm Springs, Calif. Voters in Erie, Pa., elected a transgender candidate to their school board, and Seattle elected its first openly lesbian mayor.
Graumann said the victories reflect some voters’ concerns about HB2 and HB 142, the replacement for HB2, and a nationwide trend.
“What we’re seeing is that people are more engaged than ever,” he said. “People are voting. ... People are informing themselves about who are the candidates that represent them. Overall, I think it’s a push to more North Carolina forward.”
North Carolina winners
The openly LGBTQ candidates who won their races in North Carolina are: Alston; Michelle Kennedy, Greensboro City Council; Karen Stegman, Chapel Hill City Council; Tamara Sheffield, Salisbury City Council; Donald Webb, Pinetops Town Board of Commissioners; and Jerry Windle, Morrisville Town Council.
The candidates ran on platforms of broad interest, including growth and infrastructure; the environment; education; affordable housing; policing; care for immigrant communities; and inclusiveness.
Alston said that as a new Durham City Council member, she is committed to working on transportation, the environment, housing and policing. She has worked as a criminal defense attorney, including doing appellate work for more than five years at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation.
She said she is especially interested in helping reduce homelessness among LGBTQ youth locally, and improving the way the Durham Police Department works with transgender people.
Equality NC supported candidates who favor non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents. Of the 65 candidates to receive Equality NC’s endorsement – those the group considers to be pro-equality – 45 of those were elected.
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the N.C. Republican Party, said it’s immaterial whether candidates are LGBTQ.
“We are simply not in the business of tracking the sexual orientation of candidates, and have no plans to do so,” Woodhouse said. “Generally speaking, we simply look for good quality candidates that believe in the Republican ideals of smaller government and a strong national defense.”
Matt Hirschy, interim executive director of the group, said that in the aftermath of HB2, and with ongoing restrictions established by that law’s replacement, HB142, “Openly LGBTQ candidates will be vital in our efforts to keep the state moving forward.”