On Nov. 3, North Carolina lost three openly LGBT local elected officials, including Chapel Hill’s Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Town Council member Lee Storrow.
“Losing Mark Kleinschmidt and Lee Storrow from elected office means losing two of our biggest advocates in North Carolina,” Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Damon Seils said.
“Both Lee and Mark have been some of the most active, if not the most active, LGBTQ people in the state. Their losses mean that some of the rest of us probably have to pick up the slack.”
The third was Franklinton Mayor Elic Senter. But North Carolina gained two openly LGBT elected officials as well — Robert Kellogg was elected to the Gastonia City Council, and Jillian Johnson, who identifies as bisexual, was elected to the Durham City Council.
“(Johnson) brings visibility to bisexual members of our community that we haven’t done a good job of highlighting previously,” Seils said.
But Seils said he thinks the eight LGBT elected officials across the state aren’t enough.
“I think it’s too small, and I think it’s to be expected in a state as conservative as North Carolina,” Seils said.
Dr. Terri Phoenix, director of UNC’s LGBTQ Center, said it’s hard to know whether eight local elected officials are a sufficient representation of North Carolina’s LGBT population because there aren’t conclusive statistics on the number of LGBTQ people in the state.
“It’s certainly not high,” Phoenix said.
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said she will miss the opportunities she and Kleinschmidt had.
“He and I have often tag teamed on events and discussion regarding the gay community,” she said.
Still, Lavelle is optimistic about the future.
“I imagine with marriage equality and increasing general acceptance of the LGBT community that this number will continue to rise a bit,” she said in an email. “I believe the number is a bit small, but as importantly, I think the number of elected officials, gay or straight, that supports the LGBT community openly needs to increase.”
Lavelle said the number of LGBT elected officials has increased gradually over the past decade.
“It is hard to know what the number of LGBTQ officials may have been in the past because those persons were likely unable to come out and live their lives openly,” she said.
Phoenix said LGBT representation and visibility is important in all aspects of society.
“I think visibility matters in a whole lot of ways,” Phoenix said.
“I think a lot of the progress that we have seen around LGBTQ rights is because of the cumulative effect of people being out and visible about their lives.”