Convention Watch

Record Number of LGBTQ Delegates Represent North Carolina

North Carolina had a record-number of 18 LGBTQ delegates representing the state at this year’s Democratic National Convention. We spoke with Ginger Walker, president of the LGBTQ Democrats of North Carolina, and some of those delegates prior to the Convention to get their take on this year’s election. In her role, Walker served on the N.C. Delegate Selection Plan Committee, along with Matt Hughes, Sam Spencer and Janice Covington Allison, who together exceeded their goal for LGBTQ representation including four non-binary/gender non-conforming delegates — a historically new selection included this year.

The Democratic Party is the longest continually-running political party in the U.S. and has held presidential nominating ceremonies every four years since 1832. These in-person gatherings serve as a culmination of the months-long presidential primary season, which in 2016 welcomed an estimated 50,000 people to Philadelphia, Pa. This year’s convention, which took place from Aug. 17-20 anchored in Milwaukee, Wisc., took on a different look going virtual during the coronavirus pandemic.

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ginger Walker (she/her)
LGBTQ Democrats of N.C., president

How did you get involved in politics and why is being a delegate important to you?

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I grew up in a solid Democrat household and my first involvement in politics occurred when I was five years old, accompanying my sister doing door-to-door voter registration in predominately Black neighborhoods of Rutherford County. I became an out lesbian activist in the 1980s and over the next two decades got involved in politics after my spouse, Concetta Caliendo, said, “We have to infiltrate the Democratic Party to show them who we really are.”

Over the years, I have worked in various capacities within the Democratic Party including serving on the State Executive Committee, which has given me the opportunity to educate and advocate for LGBTQ issues and build strong allies along the way. The Democratic National Convention is an exciting time. Being part of the North Carolina delegation is important to me because I am afforded the opportunity to represent my LGBTQ community and be part of the democratic process.

What excites you about the Biden/Harris nomination?

Joe Biden had proven his commitment to our community by being one of the first to come out in support of marriage equality. He has strong plans for LGBTQ equality, racial and social justice and he will restore integrity and dignity to the office. He will reverse the horrible executive orders made by Trump, including restoring transgender service in the military and promoting passage of the Equality Act. The Biden/Harris team is our hope for the future to build a more perfect union, where all people are created equal with a guarantee of “life, liberty, justice and the pursuit of happiness.”

What are the most important issues to you in this year’s election?

I’m excited about this year’s platform at the state and national levels. For me as a lesbian, it advances LGBTQ equity and equality, and is the most inclusive and progressive platform in the party’s history. Other important issues include healthcare, racial justice, immigration reform to protect DACA, criminal justice reform, environmental protection, climate change and the protection of Social Security. We must also protect the courts at the state and national levels. Many of our gains and the recent SCOTUS Title VII ruling have shown us that the courts are critical. There’s no question that the next President will appoint at least one Supreme Court justice. Everything is on the line in this election — we have everything to lose and everything to gain, so I encourage people to vote as if your life depends on it because it does.

Matt Hughes (he/him)
4th Congressional District, Orange County

How did you get involved in politics and why is being a delegate important to you?

It goes all the way back to fourth grade. My teacher had us watch the 2000 election returns, and I became hooked about the political process and how much of an impact politics and government has on your life even when you may not realize it. As a delegate, I get to represent my community, my party and the candidate I’m pledged to. It’s the very manifestation of representative democracy.

What excites you about the Biden/Harris nomination?

Joe Biden has the steady hand and thoughtful leadership that can get us through turbulent times and unite the country, and I’m excited about the historic Vice President candidacy of Sen. Kamala Harris. I believe this is a ticket that can and will defeat Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the fall.

What are the most important issues to you in this year’s election?

Under Trump, America has abandoned its leadership role in the world, something made even more evident during the pandemic. Joe Biden has the experience to make us a world leader again. He is someone who will work with our allies, not against them, and hold bad actors like Putin accountable, not do their bidding. The pandemic has also shown that we have to finish the job of guaranteeing affordable and universal healthcare by strengthening and building upon the Affordable Care Act. Even before COVID-19, the Republicans had eroded the ACA, and in places like North Carolina have prevented it from being fully realized by failing to expand Medicaid to 300,000 people. This has to be a key tenet of any economic recovery moving forward.

We all do better when we all do better, but the pandemic has shown that too many are barely making ends meet. Biden oversaw the previous recovery, where it succeeded and where it did not, and I believe he and Sen. Harris will make sure that the next recovery is fair and equitable so that Americans do not have to work more than one job to have a roof over their head and food on their table. This year’s platform shows that we can pull our party together, both progressives and the center-left, when we cooperate with one another. It is the most progressive platform our party has ever put forward.

Ebony West (she/hers)
4th Congressional District, Durham County

How did you get involved in politics and why is being a delegate important to you?

I got involved in politics while in college when College Democrats and Obama for America fellows updated my voter registration. They invited me to a meeting and the rest is history. I attended local meetings and eventually became the first African-American woman to be elected president of the Young Democrats of North Carolina.

There are inherent systemic and historic inequities within the DNC, and I think it is important to engage as delegates to ensure we’re enacting platforms and policies that are truly progressive. I also love voting and believe it’s one of the most important ways we can use our voice to move our country forward. As a delegate, we all gather to vote on many things, including the DNC platform and the nominee President. These are important matters, and it’s so important to be “in the room” voting on them because they will shape the Democratic Party for years to come.

What excites you about the Biden/Harris nomination?

For one, I’m excited for the first African-American/Southeast Asian woman to be on the ticket. I’m also thrilled that we have two people who will listen and champion progressive issues. There are definite areas that I want to see them go further on, like Medicare for All, but I see a clear way for my voice to be heard and hold them accountable moving forward. Vice President brings previous experience from the White House, and Sen. Kamala Harris has served the people of California as a brilliant woman that I think will really utilize and embody the position of Vice President in ways we’ve never seen before.

What are the most important issues to you in this year’s election?

The most important issues to me heading into the election are racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement, Medicare for All, student loan forgiveness, LGBTQ+ issues and environmental justice and climate change. While the 2020 DNC Platform is more progressive than previous iterations, I joined many of my fellow delegates in voting against the platform because of its lack of explicit support for Medicare for All, or an equivalent single-payer system. I hope to see the DNC and our party leaders really step up on these issues if we want to say our party truly reflects the wishes of progressives and the best interests of our communities.

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Italo Medelius (he/him)
4th Congressional District, Durham County

How did you get involved in politics and why is being a delegate important to you?

I am a first-generation immigrant from Lima, Peru and we moved to Hampstead, N.C. when I was nine years old. When my dad was deported in 2006, we took to the blueberry fields in Burgaw, and my mom worked as an administrative assistant for the Pender County Health Department in Eastern North Carolina. I noticed that my family was not the only one affected by unjust immigration laws. It was the entire workforce. We built close connections with labor organizers who came every week to help us fight for our rights. At the time, I was only 13 or 14, so I didn’t quite understand the systemic nature of these issues.

In 2010, I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the first time to protest the growing number of deportations and private prisons at the Southern (U.S.) border where many of my former coworkers and their families had been held. In 2011, I gained my citizenship and was proud to cast my first vote in the U.S. for President Obama.

Working in politics in New York, I realized that many elected officials were mostly worried about re-election and not the good of our communities. My work across party lines resulted in threats blacklisting, causing me to quickly realize that our systems were horribly broken. I began working on campaigns of elected officials that would bring the voice of the people to their respective positions, rather than those of special or personal interests. Being a delegate is important to me because it allows me to bring the voice of those who elected me to the party. I can be the change I want to see where we all have an equal voice in our democracy.

What excites you about the Biden/Harris nomination?

I am excited about the historic nature of the Harris nomination. Having a Black woman with immigrant parents is an enormous step toward representation in our democracy. I hope we can continue to build on this within our party and begin giving a voice to people of color, queer people and disabled people, who are screaming for system change on an institutional level.

What are the most important issues to you in this year’s election?

This year’s election is about getting Donald Trump out of office, but also building a platform that fixes the issues that got him elected in the first place. There is a deep issue with corruption and dirty money which has politicized our electoral system so much that we have a growing wealth gap between the rich and the working class. It is exacerbating the already horrible racial wealth gap. We have marijuana sales that are holding up state economies during COVID-19, but the plant is still illegal on the federal level. We have a foreign policy institution that dehumanizes people from other countries and encourages meddling in foreign elections, namely in South America.

I think it is a disservice to blame all of this on one party. I hope to uplift voices for change within the Democratic Party and I joined 800 other fellow delegates in voting “no” on the platform. I still believe the Democratic Party is a better choice by far this election cycle, and I’m most excited for the Biden/Harris administration to fulfill their promise to fight for a minimum wage of $15/hour, to end our inhumane immigration practices at the Southern border, and to decriminalize marijuana as a path to immediate legalization.

Narissa Jimenez-Petchumrus (they/them)
4th Congressional District, Durham County

How did you get involved in politics and why is being a delegate important to you?

I have interned and volunteered with social and economic justice organizations since graduating from UCLA in 2014, but couldn’t envision myself becoming a community organizer at the time. The non-profit world isn’t exempt from the same maladies we are trying to cure in other areas like toxic masculinity, exploitation, etc. After the 2016 election, I felt compeled to work with other local activists in my homogenously White, relatively conservative, and affluent suburban community back home. I was sick of feeling like I had to flee to Los Angeles to be part of a queer community. My intersectional identity, my brownness, made me feel additionally isolated and vulnerable. I realized that we need to build community right in our backyard and was inspired by other activists in the country making a difference around a common vision and willpower to match.

What are the most important issues to you in this year’s election?

Everything is inextricably connected, making it difficult to answer. We don’t live in a single-issue world. I value a strong national response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. I value a Green and Red New Deal, and much more, to at least slow the cataclysmic effects of climate change. I value Medicare for All. I value foreign policy that doesn’t bow to the interests of the military industrial complex and doesn’t accelerate global tensions. I value total student debt forgiveness and universal housing. I value the abolition of ICE and DHS and defunding police departments nationwide while exploring as many alternatives to policing that are at our disposal. I value reparations. I value making oligarchs pay their share in taxes. I value protecting and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, especially the trans community. I’m optimistic with Gen Z’ers and Millennials ascending into political involvement to push the envelope further for current and future party platforms.

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