in News

Tuesday’s election brought in successes and losses for North Carolina’s openly gay candidates, reducing the overall total of open elected leadership for the state’s LGBT residents. In the state’s largest city, two openly lesbian and gay incumbents were returned to their seats, while Chapel Hill’s high-profile openly gay mayor lost his bid for a fourth term leading the college town.

Charlotte’s LaWana Mayfield (D-Dist. 3) and Al Austin (D-Dist. 2), both Democrats, sailed to victory on Tuesday, each garnering more than 70 percent of the vote against nominal Republican challengers. Mayfield and Austin, together the city’s very first openly lesbian and gay elected leaders, have been at the forefront of local LGBT inclusion and efforts to pass LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in the Queen City this year.

In the Triangle, election night brought losses, though, to two openly gay candidates. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt lost his bid to challenger Pam Hemminger. Kleinschmidt carried 45 percent of the vote to Hemminger’s 54 percent. Town Councilmember Lee Storrow, who’d become the youngest elected official in the state when he took his seat at age 22 in 2011, also lost his race, coming in seventh in a four-way at-large race.

Neither Kleinschmidt’s nor Storrow’s loss are the result of any negative anti-LGBT backlash in Chapel Hill, long considered one of the state’s most inclusive and LGBT-friendly towns. The college town, home to the University of North Carolina, has been embroiled in local debates over economic and housing development. Kleinschmidt had been a leader in advocating for taller, more dense developments. Hemminger and her supporters weren’t happy with the way current leaders were handling the small town’s growth challenges.

Storrow, too, had faced his own personal challenge during the election cycle, charged with driving under the influence in August and pleading guilty to the charge in September. Storrow wrote a public commentary apologizing for the incident the same month. It’s not clear if the DWI had an affect on Storrow’s re-election bid. It had cost him an endorsement from a local newspaper, but Storrow still had the backing of more than 30 current and former elected leaders.

A third openly gay leader lost his re-election bid in the state, as well. Incumbent Franklinton Mayor Elic Senter lost his bid to challenger Art Wright 53-47 percent.

Diminishing LGBT representation

Tuesday’s losses in Chapel Hill and Franklinton have the practical effect of decreasing openly LGBT elected representation in North Carolina.

Before Tuesday, North Carolina had nine openly lesbian or gay elected officials. After election returns, that number had been cut by a third.

The representative decrease is a trend that began in 2014, when for the first time in a decade LGBT North Carolinians lost entire representation in the state legislature.

Though seemingly unrelated to any anti-LGBT backlash or campaigning, the diminishing representation of LGBT people in local and state politics has already raised eyebrows.

“LGBT elected officials must be leading a conversation about fair and inclusive communities,” Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said in a post-election statement. “This year, we took a bold approach to work to elect out candidates in every corner of the state. It is unacceptable that LGBT North Carolinians are not appropriately represented in our communities.”

Sgro added that his group would expand its efforts in 2017 municipal campaigns to ensure broader elected representation for LGBT residents.

Update (Nov. 4, 2015, 1:45 p.m.): The original version of this article did not include mention of an important pick-up. The election night wasn’t all bad news in terms of losses. In Gastonia, just a half-hour outside of Charlotte, openly gay community leader Robert Kellogg picked up a City Council seat there. Kellogg is the former chair of the Gaston County Democratic Party and LGBT Democrats of Gaston County.

Update (Nov. 5, 2015, 10:45 a.m.): A full list of current openly gay officials, pick ups and losses, courtesy Damon Seils and Aaron Sarver:

Al Austin, Charlotte
Nick Breedlove, Webster
Mark Kleinschmidt, Chapel Hill
Jennifer Knox, Wake County
Lydia Lavelle, Carrboro
LaWana Mayfield, Charlotte
Damon Seils, Carrboro
Elic Senter, Franklinton
Lee Storrow, Chapel Hill

Patrick Fitzsimons, Weaverville
Jillian Johnson, Durham
Robert Kellogg, Gastonia

Mark Kleinschmidt, Chapel Hill
Elic Senter, Franklinton
Lee Storrow, Chapel Hill

Write a Comment