Butler, an attorney from Wilmington, was appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper to fill the vacancy left by former Rep. Susi Hamilton, D-New Hanover, who was chosen to be Cooper’s Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Butler said addressing House Bill 2 is a main priority for her this session.
“That’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind, as well it should be,” she said. “It’s damaging our economy, it’s certainly a blemish on our national reputation, it’s something that was ill-conceived and instead of admitting the mistake, the Republican leadership doubled down on it.”
Just two days into her official term, Butler has already begun discussing plans for the repeal of the bill with other Democrats.
Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, who came out as bisexual the day before November’s election, said Butler’s appointment is politically and personally significant.
“It means a whole lot, especially to be joined by another member of the LGBT community,” he said.
Brockman said he tries not to bring up his sexual orientation at work when it isn’t relevant — and he hopes his work speaks for itself. This week, he plans to announce his own proposal to repeal House Bill 2.
Butler said while she supports a repeal, she has other political priorities, as well.
“Gay people care about their civil rights, certainly,” she said. “But they also care about having a good job, they care about good schools, they care about taxes, they care about crime, they care about the environment — the issues affect all people regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Butler cited low funding for mental health care as a specific concern, saying opioid addiction medications are unaffordable and more space is needed to treat those with addiction or mental health diagnoses. She said she is aware of the diverse needs of her constituency, which includes rural and urban populations.
Andrew Reynolds, a UNC political science professor, said LGBTQ politicians must strike a difficult balance to avoid being pigeon-holed as a one issue politician.
“But at the same time, (Butler) inevitably is going to have this role as a spokesperson for a community that needs more than just allies in the legislature,” he said.
Reynolds said before Brockman came out, the General Assembly was lacking openly LGBTQ representation, especially after the end of Rep. Chris Sgro’s term. Sgro, a representative from Guilford, was openly gay when he was appointed to his seat in 2016.
Reynolds said while two representatives might not seem statistically significant, Brockman and Butler’s presence is important to the LGBTQ community.
“It’s a really big impact because it changes the conversation, and it also gives voice to that community that’s been excluded,” Reynolds said.
Butler’s appointment lends additional visibility to the LGBT community, which has the potential to drive change in political processes, he said.
“No one is expecting her appointment to suddenly change the vote in the legislature,” he said. “But as she sits next to and has coffee with and eats with Republican and Democrat legislators, they become less able to discriminate.”