A Fabulous Fight

Gay candidates reached for the stars in 2008

Linda Ketner’s South Carolina U.S. House campaign saw early success with hard hitting radio and TV ads against her incumbent Republican opponent.

There’s no doubt the 2008 election was historic on many levels. From Barack Obama, who will become the nation’s first African-American president, to Bev Perdue, who will take office as North Carolina’s first female governor, gains have been made and barriers once thought unbreakable have been shattered.

LGBT Carolinians also saw plenty of historic firsts. A total of seven openly gay candidates ran for office across the two states, including candidates for U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

Of the brave frontrunners, N.C. State Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover) was the only gay candidate to find herself on the side of victory the day after the election. She easily won her reelection bid against Republican challenger Michael Lee, despite huge amounts of controversy surrounding details of her break-up with her partner and accusations she used racial slurs.

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Boseman remains North Carolina’s only openly gay state legislator. After the stinging defeat of incumbent N.C. Court of Appeals Judge John Arrowood, Boseman also gets the unique honor of being the highest-ranking, openly gay, elected state official.

Arrowood, who was appointed by Gov. Michael Easley to fill a vacancy in the Court in late 2007, lost his bid for reelection to Bob Hunter. If he had won, Arrowood would have been the highest-ranking, openly gay official in the state and the first openly LGBT person to win in a statewide election.

Jim Neal, U.S. Senator-elect Kay Hagan’s foremost opposition in the primary for the Democratic nomination, had hoped to achieve what Arrowood also found elusive. Since his defeat in the primary, Neal has taken to resolving his campaign’s debt and working to build voter turnout across the state. He’s yet to indicate whether he’ll seek another elected office.

In South Carolina, Food Lion grocery store heiress and national LGBT leader Linda Ketner gave her incumbent Republican opponent a fight worth remembering. Despite running as an openly lesbian Democrat in a heavily conservative-leaning, Republican district, Ketner managed to keep up a neck-and-neck race with U.S. Rep. Henry Brown.

Ketner’s strategy of attacking Brown on the real issues paid off. When all the votes were counted, the close race was more than enough to place Ketner in a great position for a do-over in 2010.

Openly gay N.C. House 74 candidate Wade Boyles, center, and his parents.

In conservative Winston-Salem, Wade Boyles was thrust into the campaign season less than three months before the Nov. 4 election. After the Democratic candidate had to drop out of the race for N.C. House District 74, the local party nominated the youthful Boyles to take his place.

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Boyles found himself with no campaign money and no immediate campaign infrastructure in a district that has leaned Republican for years. His race against incumbent Republican Rep. Dale Folwell looked grim.

After the election, Boyles and his supporters got a shock. Despite his loss, he fared well, garnering 41 percent of the vote and picking up important, heavily populated precincts.

“We ran a civil and clean campaign and in the end an unknown, openly gay dude won nearly 15,000 votes in the conservative leaning district,” Boyles told Q-Notes in an emailed statement. “Not bad for less than three months of campaigning.”

In South Carolina, 27-year-old, real estate agent James Akers, Jr. went door-to-door and face-to-face for his chance to win a seat on the conservative Greenville County Council. His Republican opponent, Liz Seman, eventually carried the day with more than 60 percent of the vote. Despite the loss, the city and county — home to the arch-conservative, Baptist school Bob Jones University — got its first taste of LGBT political influence.

Despite winning only one of its races, the LGBT community has made great advancements in Carolinas politics. For the first time, several openly gay or lesbian citizens took real chances and brave stands for the opportunity to serve their fellow citizens in local and state offices. At the end of the day, their losses, while sad, amount to progress.

Before Barack Obama could take his glorious, historic first, four other African-American citizens — three Democrats and a Republican — had to take on the chances for the White House. As more openly gay people run for office, more North and South Carolinians will learn that we’re just like everyone else. In only a few more years, don’t be surprised if you see an openly gay congressional victory and openly gay members of your local city and county governments.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.