Both North Carolina and South Carolina saw legislative, policy and electoral progress in 2009. The news wasn’t always good, but its coverage in local and national mainstream media outlets provided the LGBT community positive attention.
On the campaign trail, both Carolinas saw openly gay and transgender candidates on the ballot. Chapel Hill Town Councilmember Mark Kleinschmidt became the first openly gay mayor there. Transgender candidate Amanda Ashley ran for mayor in next door Carrboro, describing herself as a “a mixed race, translesbian, Quaker, Wiccan feminist.” Lee Sartain and Owen Sutkowski ran for city council positions in Raleigh and Charlotte, respectively. In November, the state’s only openly gay or lesbian legislator, state Sen. Julia Boseman (D-New Hanover), announced she’d step down at the end of her term in 2010. Her unfortunate announcement was followed by positive news when anti-gay state Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston) announced he’d also be leaving the chamber in 2010.
In February, news broke of College of Charleston student Nick Shalosky’s 2008 election to the Charleston County Constituent School Board. His guest commentary on the popular LGBT blog Bilerico.com made the November electoral feat public. The successful write-in campaign had gone largely unnoticed until then, but the young politico got his due. Shalosky is the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to public office in the Palmetto State.
Also in February, Republican U.S. House Rep. Virginia Foxx, representing portions of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and the northwest Piedmont, claimed the 1998 Matthew Shepard hate crime was a “hoax.” In response, the Winston-Salem chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) placed ads condemning her remarks in three local newspapers. The ad encouraged community members to make their individual concerns known to the congresswoman. Foxx eventually made a half-hearted apology to Shepard’s mother, Judy, but continued to make often outrageous and controversial statements throughout the year.
Other U.S. House members from North Carolina experienced their own time in the anti-gay limelight. Democratic Reps. Heath Shuler and Mike McIntyre were linked to the secretive, conservative “The Family,” an organization with ties to Ugandan legislators pushing for a harsh, anti-gay death penalty law. Other conservative lawmakers were also linked to the group, including South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Nevada Republican U.S. Sen. John Ensign. Equality North Carolina called on their members to contact Shuler and McIntyre and ask them to denounce their association with “The Family.” Neither had doone so at press time.
In state government, state Sen. Martin Nesbitt (D-Buncombe) was elected Senate majority leader. Nesbitt, whose record has been friendly on LGBT issues, was named to the post after the resignation of former Majority Leader Tony Rand.
In the summer, North Carolina legislators passed the School Violence Prevention Act, requiring schools to adopt new anti-bullying polices and procedures.
At the same time, leaders also passed the Healthy Youth Act. Although far from perfect, the new law established abstinence-based, comprehensive sex education as the standard in all public schools. Equality North Carolina Executive Director Ian Palmquist was among chief proponents for the bill. He says LGBT youth will be respected and included in the new curriculum.
Through the summer and early fall months, South Carolina Lt. Gov. André Bauer took heat as Linda Ketner, an openly lesbian, former congressional candidate, and a Washington, D.C.-based activist and blogger Mike Rogers claimed the Palmetto State’s second-in-command was a closeted gay man. Bauer and his supporters denied the charges and claimed they were attacks from political allies of Gov. Mark Sanford, mired in a deeply controversial affair with an Argentinean mistress.
In local policy successes, late 2009 witnessed the Charleston City Council’s decision to adopt ordinances prohibiting discrimination against LGBTs in public accomodations, such as hotels and restaurants. The council also extended protections to LGBTs in an already existing housing ordinance. Charleston follows the Palmetto State capital, Columbia, which passed similar ordinances in 2008.
In Mecklenburg County, commissioners made the long-overdue decision to extend health and leave benefits to the same-sex partners of county employees.