John Arrowood made history during the midterm election last week when he became the first LGBTQ candidate elected to statewide office in the South.
Arrowood was appointed to the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2017 to fill a vacancy, but ran in the 2018 midterm election for a full term on the court. He was previously appointed on the court from 2007 to 2008.
He won 77.6 percent of the vote in Orange County, according to unofficial results.
Damon Seils, a member of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, said Arrowood’s election is a great step forward for LGBTQ+ people in North Carolina and the South.
“I’m really proud of John," Seils said. "He’s worked really hard to get where he is and has been on the bench a couple of times, but this is the first time after a lot of work to get there in a general election. I’m just happy for him and his accomplishment.”
Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, said prior to the 2018 midterms, only 0.1 percent of elected officials at any level of government identified as openly LGBTQ.
“While last week’s 'Rainbow Wave' certainly boosted the number of LGBTQ people in public office, America has a long way to go before achieving a baseline level of parity between the LGBTQ population their representation by public officials,” Johnson said. “We are, however, seeing more openly LGBTQ elected officials than ever before.”
The LGBTQ Victory Fund backed 225 LGBTQ candidates nationwide during the midterms, and 156 of those candidates won their races according to unofficial results, including eight races in North Carolina.
Seils agreed the LGBTQ community is making gains in representation in North Carolina.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve made some gains at the local level," he said. "So I think what we’re seeing is really good engagement from people from all walks of life all over the country, and I think that’s only done good things for representation.”
Johnson said it was a thrilling experience to see Arrowood win his election, and she hopes to see more queer leadership in southern states in future elections.
“As LGBTQ people continue to gain more visibility in public life, their representation in public office will hopefully increase as well,” she said. “But the LGBTQ community is extremely diverse, and many queer people don’t yet see themselves reflected in their political leaders.”
Seils said more representation is important for the LGBTQ community because a government that is more representative of its constituents will also be more responsive.
“Having judges on the bench who come from all walks of life and who know the struggles all North Carolinians face means having judgements being delivered that are fairer and more representative of the interests in the people of North Carolina,” he said.
In a new report released Tuesday, the FBI said hate crimes increased by 17 percent nationally in 2017. Johnson said while recent political milestones have made America more accepting of LGBTQ people, they still experience hate and threats to their safety despite progress that is being made in parts of the country.
“So much of America is still entrenched in centuries-old bigotry along the lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation," she said. "And these are all modes of power and oppression that different members of the LGBTQ community have to contend with not just in running for political office, but in their day to day lives.”
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