Tuesday is Election Day, and for the first time in a decade, the chances of an openly gay or lesbian candidate being elected to the North Carolina General Assembly are slim to none. Come January, the state legislature will likely include no openly LGBT voices.
The state missed its opportunity to ensure LGBT community representation in the state legislature earlier this year, when Democratic primary voters passed over state Senate candidates Ty Turner and Billy Maddalon.
Only one openly gay candidate remains on the ballot for the legislature — Wake County’s Bryan Fulghum. His election in a GOP-held, GOP-leaning state Senate district is a near-certain impossibility. In 2012, the current incumbent won the district with 54 percent of the vote. Before that, in 2010, the GOP candidate won with 64 percent of the vote. In 2008, a Democrat didn’t even run.
So, if a fight over LGBT rights is debated in committee or on the floors of either of the state’s chambers, we’ll have no direct, representative voice — no Julia Bosemans or Marcus Brandons to take up our cause or look their colleagues square in the face and say, “What you’re doing here today affects me.”
But this is why your LGBT vote on Tuesday means more and has more power than ever before.
North Carolina has been swept along with the tide of ever-increasing marriage equality victories across the nation, but that also means near-certain backlash from conservatives desperate to maintain a discriminatory status quo.
Take, for instance, state Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and more than two dozen of his Republican colleagues. They have vowed to do everything they can to allow state officials like registers of deeds and magistrates to discriminate against LGBT people. Berger’s already announced he’ll introduce legislation in January to provide so-called religious exemptions for officials. Depending on how far Berger goes, the state might very well be staring down a fight over similar laws in states like Arizona and Kansas that threatened to allow businesses and others to openly discriminate against and refuse to provide services to LGBT people.
There’s precedent for such a possible fight. Last session, state Republicans proposed such a law here, though it didn’t get out of committee. But that could change, given the right-wing anger over the extension of LGBT marriage equality.
Your vote as an openly LGBT voter could very well decide close races or ensure the reelection of dedicated straight allies that could put up a fight against laws designed to harm us, our families and our youth.
Republicans in North Carolina are facing a wave of voter backlash and animosity following radical changes to voting laws, decisions not to expand Medicaid, attempts to roll back women’s reproductive freedoms and more.
The GOP was able to accomplish such radical changes because of their huge supermajorities in the House and Senate — able to pass any law they wanted without fear of a gubernatorial veto from what many considered a moderate Gov. Pat McCrory.
But if you vote and your friends vote and your friends’ friends vote, we could change that. Democrats won’t take back North Carolina this year, but they can provide McCrory the buffer and cover he needs to veto radical and harmful legislation.
In other races, you could send a strong message: One of the closest is the U.S. Senate race. Electing pro-equality Kay Hagan won’t stop anti-LGBT legislation in the General Assembly. But it will say this: Thom Tillis’ and his Republican colleagues’ politics of anti-LGBT bigotry has no place in representing North Carolina.
We have marriage now, but our fight isn’t over. It would be easy to sit back and rejoice in the hard-fought victory that brought marriage to LGBT Tar Heels. But we know that victory could be short lived, cut back piece by piece in efforts to allow discrimination against us or pass other harmful legislation.
We also know we have so much more work to do — employment protections, housing non-discrimination protections, efforts to better protect and educate our youth, among many more.
We can’t do that without electing allies. And we can’t elect allies if we stay home.
This year, barring any surprise coming out, I’m saddened to know I’ll likely have no one who understands my life and my struggles in the General Assembly; no one who will be able to share their own coming out story or the pains they experienced due to anti-LGBT discrimination; no one to tell their colleagues exactly how much their vote against equality personally hurts them.
But I’m not going to let that stop me from voting on Tuesday. And when the voting is done, I’ll ask my fellow LGBT community members and leaders exactly what we can be doing to ensure that 2016 will bring back our voices to the state legislature.
On Tuesday, I’ll cast my ballot for candidates I know will stand up against bigotry and stand for equality — for LGBT people, for people of color, for women, for the disabled, for the poor. Because, when we’re all equal, we’re all better off.
Equality North Carolina
U.S. House/Senate, North Carolina House/Senate, Judicial races
North Carolina Democratic Party
Statewide races, local races by county
Mecklenburg LGBT Political Action Committee (MeckPAC) (PDF)
Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, Clerk of Superior Court
Replacements, Ltd PAC (Guilford, Alamance, Randolph and Rockingham Counties)
U.S. House/Senate, North Carolina House/Senate, Judicial and local city/county races
Democracy NC Voter Guides
Guides for U.S. House/Senate, North Carolina House/Senate, Judicial and local city/county races for Cumberland, Forysth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Pitt and Wake Counties. Guides are soon expected for Harnet-Johnston-Lee and Watauga-Ashe Counties.
Rainbow flag, by Benson Kua, via Flickr.
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