First among equals

African-American History Month: LGBT African-Americans have made historic first in North Carolina politics

Back to 2015 African-American History Month Index…

africanhistorymonthLGBT African-American leaders in North Carolina have been among the historic firsts that have helped push politics and government to more inclusive atmosphere. From the state level to the local level, black gay North Carolinians have made their visible presence and their voices known.

LaWana Mayfield

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Elected to her District 3 seat in 2011, Charlotte City Councilmember LaWana Mayfield was the city’s first-ever openly LGBT elected official. Mayfield, a longtime community advocate and organizer, wasn’t the first to try. That honor first went to Robert Sheets, then a president of Queen City Quordinators, who became the first member of the LGBT community to attempt to run for City Council in 1987. Sheets, who was white, was followed in 1995 by Sue Henry, the first LGBT community member to attempt a run for Charlotte mayor.

But it was Mayfield who took attempt to success, running against an embattled and controversial incumbent and winning 78 percent of the general election vote in November 2011.

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Mayfield was re-elected in 2013 and has worked on a variety of measures, both for her district and her diversity of constituents. She’s advocated for “banning the box” and making employment easier for those with past criminal histories, as well as recent efforts to add LGBT-inclusive protections to already-existing city ordinances.

Marcus Brandon

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Elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2010, Marcus Brandon was the first openly gay man to win election to the statewide General Assembly, and only the second openly LGBT person to serve there.

It was during Brandon’s time in office, after openly lesbian state Sen. Julia Boseman had already left her office, that the state was faced with its anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on marriage. It was a political debate Brandon took to heart.

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“I take it very personally,” Brandon told qnotes in a September 2011 interview. “I’m the only openly gay member of the legislature and there’s definitely a responsibility that comes with that when we’re talking about something so personal.”

The amendment did eventually pass the legislature and was put on the May 2012 ballot, but Brandon was there every step of its way through the lawmaking process and speaking out at every turn and putting a human face to an issue under consideration by his colleagues.

Brandon chose not to run for re-election in 2014, turning his attention to a bid for Congress in Charlotte’s 12th Congressional District and a bid for mayor of High Point. He lost on both attempts, but he hasn’t disappeared. You can find him at civic events and elsewhere around the Triad.

Al Austin

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Though Mayfield might have broken the initial mold for open LGBT service in the city, it was Charlotte City Councilmember Al Austin who helped to round out a bit more of the progress. Austin was elected to his District 2 seat in 2013, coming out as a gay man to qnotes immediately following election. He’s the second openly gay man to serve on the Council, following Billy Maddalon’s short tenure. Austin has lent his name and efforts to some of the same LGBT-inclusion efforts as Mayfield and has been a staunch advocate for District 2.

In our Feb. 13-26 print edition, we mistakenly reversed head shots for Charlotte City Councilmember Al Austin’s and former state Rep. Marcus Brandon’s profiles. We’ve updated the photos and profiles for our online feature and digital print editions. We regret the error.

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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.