Gov. Roy Cooper is a man committed to equality for the LGBTQ community. That’s not to say he hasn’t encountered his fair share of roadblocks from other elected officials in Raleigh since he’s served as governor and tried to achieve goals for our community.
But he hasn’t given up.
And he won’t. He’d like to sign off on a statewide nondiscrimination law specifically geared toward protecting the LGBTQ community. Until changes are made via the ballot box that send some members of the opposing party packing to accomplish that, he’s urging towns, cities and lawmakers across the state — like Charlotte and Mayor Vi Lyles — to move ahead with local ordinances without delay.
A state native, Cooper was born in Nashville, N.C. He’s a recipient of the Morehead Scholarship, which allowed him to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for understudies, and he’s a graduate of the North Carolina School of Law. He spent a few years working for the family law firm before capturing a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1986. In the years that followed he would be appointed to fill a vacant seat in the North Carolina Senate and later serve as Majority House Leader there before running and being elected as the State Attorney General. In 2016, he threw his hat in the gubernatorial race and successfully unseated the incumbent: a first in North Carolina history.
It’s a Friday afternoon when Cooper sits down at his desk in the office of the governor’s Executive Mansion to talk with qnotes about a variety of topics.
The interview was prompted by his continuing historic proclamations of a state-wide Pride month, but he has a lot more on his mind he wants to talk about.
What prompted you to declare a statewide Pride month in North Carolina, and did you know it hadn’t been done here before? Your actions also made us one of the very first southern states to do so, too.
I knew that we had never done it in North Carolina before, but I was not aware [about] other southern states. It really didn’t require much thought at all, actually. The suggestion was made to me, and I said “Absolutely. Let’s open the governor’s mansion and put up the rainbow flag and let’s have a celebration.” And we did. We know that North Carolina has been through a lot when it comes to LGBTQ+ people. This was a public showing to demonstrate all I believe, and what most people in North Carolina value and we want to project, not only across the state and country but around the world. We are an inclusive people. We value diversity and we know it makes us stronger.
What are your feelings about the current state of LGBTQ civil rights? And are you satisfied with it?
I am not satisfied, and I won’t be until we can get a nondiscrimination law in North Carolina. I think that’s important. I think at the end of the day, when we are going to do that, there are going to have to be changes made at the ballot box, but until then, I think that local officials need to move forward with protective policies. I’m glad that we have removed our state of all vestiges of House Bill 2 (HB 2), and now that the time has run out on the ban of local ordinances, there is nothing left of it to prevent efforts to make sure there is equality and protection. I’ve issued a nondiscrimination executive order, which is very comprehensive and sends a strong message. We banned any kind of organization that attempts to engage in conversion therapy, and banned funds for those groups as well.
A lot of things we do have been aimed at LGBTQ+ youth, with the conversion therapy issue and our new child care practice healthcare guidelines. We know in the foster care system there are children from the [LGBTQ] community who sometimes do not get treated well, or are treated with disdain, so we have made sure they get the care they need, especially with specific services and tailoring it to them. We’ve done the same with our juvenile court system. Another important change is at the department of motor vehicles. We’ve made it so it’s easier to get documents and things you need for a driver’s license and state IDs.
A lot of your vetoes were overridden during your first term and you were really pushed into a corner with HB 2. How is it different this go-round?
There are a lot of positive things happening in the state now. Since we broke the supermajority in the legislature, I can veto all that bad legislation and they know it. And we can kill it, so I’m excited about how this affects us, not just economically, but also just because it’s the right thing to do and is the right way to be going forward.
What’s going on with the Republican Party? I would point at the Trump era as a big part of it, but if you look back even further during the Obama administration and the rise of the Tea Party, it really seems like they’ve lost their way. What are your thoughts?
It’s hard to be able to pinpoint that [chuckles slightly]. I think their tent is shrinking. People who are different or think differently often get pushed out. I don’t know if Trump’s actions were his own, or what he did. The actions he took, the things he said, were very hurtful and I think it means we have to work harder as a people. We have North Carolinians that feel the same way — that positive, inclusive direction of the people is key, and we are seeing the rewards of that now, both economically and the way people view our state. And the more people get to know people in the LGBTQ+ community, the better off we all are because we’re all people and we should try our best to accept each other the way we are. It’s hard for me to be able to [speculate] what’s happening with the core of the Republican Party, though. I’ve had to deal with it when trying to get budgets passed, important laws and stopping other bad laws.
Given the way the districts were gerrymandered and then “redrawn” in a clearly tilted manner, do you see a positive path forward in the next election?
I believe so. When you realize this is a census year and North Carolina is getting close to one million new people, and the fact these people have moved into our urban and suburban areas in all House districts and Senate districts, there are going to be more districts drawn. There have to be, in more Democratic areas.
Even though the Republicans have been overly shrewd and technologically diabolical in the way they have drawn districts, the demographics of the state are changing, so I do feel positive about what we can do in making changes to come.
What is the future of healthcare for everyone in North Carolina?
We have to provide healthcare for all of North Carolina’s residents. I believe it’s a moral issue. We’re living in the wealthiest country in the world. People ought to be able to go to the doctor even if they can’t afford it. In North Carolina, we still have more than a million people who don’t have healthcare insurance. The previous administration put in place a law that prevents us from accepting Medicaid funding, and that would provide insurance for about 600,000 people. It could take care of about half the people that don’t have insurance right now and all that has to be said is one word: yes. Right now there is more federal funding coming down than ever before, and it would not cost us any of our tax dollars. We’re one of the few remaining states that has not accepted the funding. As governor, I began the process to try to expand it executively, and they sued me in federal court to stop me and they won, but we’re continuing to push this effort in the budget debate right now.
Why is North Carolina’s Sodomy Law still on the books? 20 years after the Lawrence v. Texas ruling, we know it is technically unenforceable, but there have been reports from various individuals around the state that it has been used to intimidate gay men into plea-bargaining from a trumped up felony charge, to a lesser misdemeanor, when they otherwise would have plead not guilty.
I think it’s important to remove ugly, antiquated laws from our statute books. I support that, and I would sign the legislation to do it. As to why the Republicans don’t support [removing] it, or don’t want to do it, it’s hard to say. But I’ll tell you this: I’m working to recruit progressive candidates to run for the state legislature who would be eager to remove those laws from the books and to make [the] progress we need.
Is there an individual who has had a lasting impact on you from the LGBTQ community?
There are a lot of people. One that comes to mind immediately is right there in Charlotte. That’s Judge John Arrowood. I appointed him to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. We have been friends since law school, and he has given me a lot of support. I admired his strength and the things he has had to go through as a gay man. I’ve been grateful for the advice he has given me, and I appreciate the strong, courageous example he has set. He has been, and continues to be, a good friend and a good man.
Would you consider a transgender appointment?
Certainly I would. We have consulted with Equality North Carolina, and they have been intimately involved in shaping some of the executive orders and policies we have put in place. Equality North Carolina has a number of transgender people who have been involved in that process, so definitely, I would.
Lastly, this state routinely loses some of its best and brightest every year. Even with the achievements we’ve made so far, a lot of young LGBTQ individuals leave because they’re still experiencing bigotry, intolerance and things like employment insecurity. What would you tell LGBTQ youth to encourage them to stay in North Carolina?
Together we can make this state the kind of place they would want to live. We can make it a place they would want their families to live. Let’s keep working together to make North Carolina the best it can be, a place with equality and a place that is inclusive and accepting of everyone.
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