Our People: Lydia E. Lavelle

Politician, Educator, Activist

Mayor of Carrboro, N.C. and law professor at North Carolina Central University School of Law, Lydia E. Lavelle has played a vital role in the fight for LGBTQ rights in North Carolina.

Having passed resolutions condemning the actions of the state legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, which was in response to the passage of House Bill 2 by the North Carolina General Assembly, Lavelle has been on the front lines of defense against intolerance and discrimination of the LGBTQ community.

With being the first openly-lesbian mayor along with her advocacy and proactiveness to address issues in our community, qnotes thought it was time to get more acquainted with Lydia and to see what she has been up to lately.

As mayor of Carrboro, N.C., what are your duties and day-to-day activities?

I prepare for and lead our Board of Aldermen meetings, which are held every Tuesday night. I am a member of several other boards in my role as mayor. I am also asked to speak at various events and to attend various meetings on behalf of the town. Technically, mayors are part-time in N.C. That being said, a mayor is always on duty because the town runs 24/7.

What are some projects you’ve worked on recently?

Work on our climate action and affordable housing plans is ongoing, and we see consistent progress toward goals in those plans. Another project that we have been working with Orange County on for many years is to build a library in our downtown. We are excited that this will be moving forward soon — everyone loves a library. As Rita Mae Brown said, “When I got my library card, that’s when my life began.”

What are some interesting things about Carrboro, N.C. that come to mind?

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Our town slogan is “Feel free.” Feel free to hang out, feel free to express yourself, feel free to be yourself. We have the only rainbow crosswalk in N.C., and we wear “I’m Openly Carrboro” T-shirts. If you like music, be sure to come to the Carrboro Music Festival, always the last Sunday in September. We have a town poet laureate who organizes our West End Poetry Festival every October. We are a silver level bicycle community, and we have the oldest Farmer’s Market in the South.

In comparison to your life prior to becoming mayor and a public figure, how has your life changed?

I still do the dishes and mow the yard, but it is a little weird when people I don’t know come up to me and call me by name. I do love that I feel comfortable just being myself in my community — I can just wear a T-shirt and running shorts when I go to the store. And email. I get a LOT more email.

How did it feel being the first openly-lesbian mayor in North Carolina?

It felt very natural, especially being in Carrboro. After I was elected, former Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson (the first gay mayor in N.C.) said, “Order has been restored in the universe: Carrboro once again has an LGBT mayor.”

Prior to your academic and political career, what did you do?

I played sports growing up, and continued that interest in college. After college, I went to graduate school and earned a degree in Recreation Administration. I worked in the field of Parks and Recreation for several years before I decided to go to law school.

Where did your interest in politics come from?

My dad was very involved in politics. He was the chair of the Democratic Party in Ohio when I was young. He and my mom were always off at one political event or another. He was a delegate for JFK at the 1960 Democratic convention, and for Al Gore at the 2000 convention.

What are some of your future career aspirations?

I am figuring that out. I do know that I enjoy public service.

What inspired you to teach?

I enjoy learning, and as a teacher, you are constantly learning. I also enjoy being around academia and challenging my students intellectually. Thinking back, I remember coming home from school every day and playing school with my little sister, teaching her everything I learned. As a result, she learned how to read before kindergarten, so I guess you could say I’ve been a teacher for a very long time!

While I’m sure you enjoy both areas of your career, being mayor as well as an educator, but, if you absolutely had to pick one, which one would you choose and why?

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Wow, that is a tough question, one that I am not sure I can answer. I might go with being an educator because of the one-on-one impact I can have on students. But I prefer to balance both as long as I can.

I imagine both of your positions can be demanding and stressful at times, during times of adversity or opposition, what motivates you to keep going?

When I commit myself to something, I just do it. Fortunately, I have never lacked motivation for either position.

What’s your favorite color?

Red (Go Pack!)

What’s your life like outside of being mayor and a professor?

I really enjoy my downtime. I love to read, participate in fantasy baseball and play board games. I work hard, and play hard. I also have a wonderful family, and an extended family of siblings, cousins and in-laws that I love catching up with.

What types of things do you and your wife, Alicia, enjoy doing?

We like to hike and bike. We love to sit together at night and catch up on each other’s busy days. Alicia is a wonderful cook and we enjoy having friends over for dinner.

Where did you grow up?

Athens, Ohio.

What’s your favorite food?

Fried pickles.

What are some of your favorite places to travel for vacation?

Our very favorite is the best beach in the world, Sunset Beach, N.C. If we are in a mountain mood, we travel to Brevard, N.C.

Do you have any pets?

We have the cutest little kitty cat living on this earth. Her name is Candy, and she is as sweet as her name.

Do you have a favorite animal?

Black and white kitties.

Do you and your wife have any children or foresee any in the future?

We have two young adult children, 24 and 21. We enjoy spending time with them.

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