One person in the Tar Heel State has done more singularly than any other to advance our equality and place in North Carolina government, law, society and community. State Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover), the state’s only openly gay or lesbian legislature, has been our community’s face and voice in the North Carolina General Assembly. She was elected to and served openly on the New Hanover Board of County Commissioners prior to her 2004 election to the Senate. Her presence in Raleigh gave us a seat at the table.
Julia Boseman is Q-Notes’ Person of the Decade.
Accepting Equality North Carolina’s (ENC) 2009 Legislative Leadership Award in Greensboro on Nov. 14, Boseman addressed our community’s successes and the difference an openly gay voice makes when sitting at the table.
“When I won this seat it didn’t become my seat, it became our seat, and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot with our seat,” she said. And as [ENC Executive Director Ian Palmquist] said, having a seat at the table has made a world of difference.
“When I’m in that back room of the caucus and we’re talking about the marriage amendment, it makes a difference that we’re there. When we’re talking about the bullying bill, it made a difference that we’re there. When we have Republicans saying that comprehensive health education, sexual education means that you’re going to teach all our kids how to be gay, it makes a big difference that we have a seat at the table.”
Boseman attended the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She attended law school at North Carolina Central University. In 2000, she was elected to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners and made her first run for the state Senate against an appointed, incumbent Republican.
At the end of her first term, the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research ranked Boseman the 20th most effective state legislator in North Carolina. It was the highest ever ranking for a first-term female senator and the second highest for any freshman legislator.
Despite personal setbacks — a public break-up with a former partner and its resulting high profile court cases — Boseman has had legislative success. Taken together, her successes have seen no better time than this year. She made waves and headlines, and progress for the LGBT community.
On June 10, the North Carolina General Assembly heard a resolution honoring the life of the late U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. While 26 other legislators “took a walk” on the vote, Boseman stayed in her Senate chamber and cast the lone no vote against the resolution.
At the time, Boseman told Q-Notes she couldn’t bring herself to vote yes, and felt she had to be heard.
“To me, Helms represented hate and intolerance — his opposition to civil rights and AIDS funding, his opinions of gays and lesbians,” she said. “There was absolutely no way I was going to vote for the resolution, nor was I going to take a walk.”
And Boseman says “no” didn’t even come close to what she really felt.
“The only reason I voted no was because there was no ‘hell no’ button there I could push,” she said in a September Independent Weekly interview by Steven Petrow.
LGBT advocates in the Tar Heel State had worked for years to create safe schools policies protecting students from bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender-identity. Their hard work eventually paid off this year, but not without the steadfast leadership of Boseman.
In July, Gov. Bev Perdue signed the School Violence Prevention Act, requring all public school system to adopt stringent, LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies by the new year. The legislation’s chief sponsor, Boseman led debate on the Senate floor and worked with Senate leadership, colleagues and statewide advocates to gain the needed votes for passage.
“I am very happy that the State of North Carolina is going to do what we can to protect the most vulnerable children,” she told Q-Notes in July. “This bill was about protecting kids, not about gay marriage or special rights.”
Less than a week after receiving ENC’s award, Boseman announced she would not seek re-election when her term ends in 2010. Originally elected to the Senate in 2004, Boseman will serve four terms by the end of next year.
She cited family responsibilities for her decision to leave the General Assembly.
“Being a parent has been my guiding force as a Senator and it is as a parent that I have made this decision,” Boseman said in a statement. “With a baby on the way in January, I feel that it is more important than ever to be close to home.”
In the statement, Boseman said she was proud of her successes in the legislature including her work on education, creating jobs in Wilmington’s film industry and helping the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and the local community college.
She added, “But if asked for my greatest accomplishment, I would say it was doing what I could to help the vulnerable: protecting victims of domestic violence, protecting our children from sexual predators, and protecting kids — all kids — from bullying.”
Boseman doesn’t plan on disappearing though. She said the decision won’t be the end of her political career. “I will continue to work for the people of New Hanover County in other ways,” she said.
Carolina leaders respond…
Sen. Julia Boseman is widely respected and honored by LGBT elected officials and community leaders, nationally and locally.
Civil and LGBT rights activist
Our North Carolina LGBT community will be forever thankful to Julia Boseman for being the first out lesbian to run and win a seat in the North Carolina General Assembly. Her race captured national attention because it happened in the South. This historic win happened in spite of the expected “gay-baiting” that took place from the opposition when she first ran and won. This should serve as both an inspiration and a call to have others run for office as well. Julia has now joined the ever-growing roster of North Carolina LGBT elected and/or appointed officials, which underscores the importance of a statewide LGBT movement that does both grassroots organizing and is involved in the electoral work that gives us a presence in our state legislature.
Chair, Equality North Carolina Board of Directors
When I think of Julia Boseman’s place in North Carolina politics, it is the geography that stands out in my mind and puts her in her own place in LGBT history. By this I mean that Julia was not elected from what was already an assumed LGBT or liberal or Democratic enclave. She won election to the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners in 2000, while all of her colleagues on that board were of a different party. The state Senate seat she claimed in 2004, and subsequently held in 2006 and 2008, was previously held for many years by the Republican party. So here in the southeastern tip of North Carolina, this openly lesbian Democrat was open and honest with her fellow citizens, and they trusted her to lead them as they had trusted few Democrats before her. Julia is an example to me, and her story should be an example to all, that progress for LGBT North Carolinians can happen in any corner of our state.
Former Co-Executive Director, Equality North Carolina
On Julia – I was thrilled at her election to fill the Senate seat vacated by the 2004 Republican candidate for governor. That goes to show that a well-qualified LGBT candidate can win anywhere. And her excellent representation of her constituents has been wonderful to watch. She is not a lesbian state senator – she is a state senator who happens to be a lesbian. I was disappointed when I learned she was not going to run for re-election in 2010. A terrific, beneficial side effect of her election was she always had opposition. The Republican Party was so obsessed with trying to beat her, even though she very effectively represents her constituents, that she won re-election and all that Republican money, which could have been spent more effectively elsewhere, was wasted in Wilmington. She will be missed and we, as a community, should be grateful to her for opening a lot of doors — and eyes.
Chair, Equality North Carolina PAC Board of Directors
To me the one word I would use to describe Julia is courageous. By serving in the North Carolina Senate she immediately made the discussion change from “them” to “you” and made it harder to demonize the LGBT community. By fighting to put herself in that position of power, she was able to influence other decision makers and challenge their assumptions and prejudices. Her work on the bullying bill was extraordinary, but she also works on law enforcement concerns, domestic violence, business issues and education. She represents her constituents and works hard for their interests despite the prejudice and roadblocks that she encounters and has been an effective legislator. It is always hardest for the courageous trailblazer who takes the brunt of the storm so that others can walk the same path.
Chair, Equality North Carolina Foundation Board of Directors
It’s hard to briefly put into perspective Julia Boseman’s place in North Carolina politics but perhaps my most significant observation is that she will be regarded as having been a great senator for New Hanover County – period – no need for the “gay” disclaimer. She worked hard for the people of the 9th district – creating new jobs, promoting education and supporting the local film industry. Yes, she was critical in the passage of the School Violence Protection Act – but that is just a part of her legacy. She is respected for her talents and accomplishments as a person – who happens to be gay. And, of course, she will always be remembered for her dry wit and the Jesse Helms remark – “The only reason I voted no was because there was no ‘hell no’ button.” I’m sad to see her not seek re-election.
Executive Director, Equality North Carolina
Julia is an amazing leader and friend. Her election as our state’s first out county commissioner in 2000 and legislator in 2004 have proven that, even in conservative districts, voters can and do look beyond a candidate’s sexual orientation. Her presence in the Senate and her efforts behind the scenes changed the tone of debate on equality issues and brought new allies to our cause. This year, we couldn’t have gotten the ground breaking <School Violence Prevention Act> through the Senate without her tenacity and hard work.
— Individual affiliations for identification purposes only.