Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, will be the sole openly gay legislator in the N.C. General Assembly — its third ever. Johnson’s primary successor, the Rev. Amos Quick, will replace Sgro in January 2017.
Sgro said LGBT representation is vital, especially amid controversy surrounding House Bill 2.
“We would never endeavor to have a conversation about reproductive justice without female legislators, and we should not endeavor to have conversations about voting rights without people of color at the legislature, and we cannot have conversations about legislation that will impact the LGBT community without LGBT members,” he said.
Former Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said an LGBT voice would broaden the congressional conversation.
“The presence of an openly LGBT person in a legislature — even one — can’t be overstated, so thinking about it as a purely symbolic action is wrong,” he said.
“I know members of legislature have a much harder time vilifying and expressing their bigotry in the face of a person they’re discriminating against, so I think it’s deeply important.”
Sgro’s appointment followed an organic election process among precinct chairpersons and vice chairpersons and elected and party officials, said Myra Slone, chairperson of the Guilford County Democratic Party.
His contender, the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, also backed LGBT rights and reflected the district’s tradition of African-American representation, Slone said. But he didn’t campaign as long.
Sgro campaigned around social justice.
“I had multiple conversations with the members of the Guilford County Democratic Party about the potential for them in this unique place and time to send an out LGBT person for the short session when we certainly hope to be debating the repeal of House Bill 2.”
But Sgro’s legislative impact will be limited since his brief tenure will not tip the Democrat-Republican ratio, said Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and director of the UNC’s Program on Public Life.
“In that sense, it is more symbolic than a shift in the political calculus. In terms of the votes available for changing the law or repealing the law, that doesn’t change,” he said.
Guillory said Democrats will face an uphill battle.
“The first instinct of the Republican majority will not be to repeal the law that they just enacted. The legislators, the people outside the legislature who want the law repealed, will have to get votes from legislators who voted to enact the law in the first place,” he said.
Sgro will remain at Equality NC, which is one of several groups launching a lawsuit against Gov. Pat McCrory over House Bill 2.
“In my particular role, I will continue to be an effective advocate with Equality North Carolina as we talk about the deep harms done to members of the transgender community, the damage that’s being done to the economy of North Carolina and the broad impacts of (House Bill 2) as it pertains to employment claims on the basis of race or gender in state court,” he said.