North Carolina may experience a historic change to the state Senate in the 2020 election. Four years after the enactment of House Bill 2 — the North Carolina law that prohibits transgender individuals from using the bathrooms aligning with their gender identities — the state may have its first two openly transgender state legislators.
Gray Ellis of Durham and Angela Bridgman of Wendell are both running for the Democratic party nominations for N.C. Senate in the 20th and 18th Districts, respectively.
Bridgman moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania in 2014. She said she decided to run for office to fix a system she said is not helping the state’s citizens.
“There’s a lot of voices not being heard in North Carolina,” Bridgman said. “Democracy is broken in North Carolina.”
Bridgman also said HB2 was a reason for her to run for office, but it was not the only factor.
“I have so many more issues than just HB2," she said.
Both candidates had legally changed their gender at the time HB2 was passed, but both were upset with the bill being passed in the state Senate. Ellis said the fact that the bill didn't necessarily affect him physically didn't mean it didn't emotionally devastate him.
At the same time, both candidates believe their campaigns go beyond their gender identity. Bridgman said her platform is more than just transgender issues like HB2, and includes topics like education, health care expansion and economic and social justice issues.
“I’m totally about expanding Medicaid. If people had more access to health care, rural doctors and clinics could stay open," she said.
Bridgman said her identity as a transgender woman has taught her how to overcome obstacles.
“I came out in 1993. This is a time where I remember being the only transgender person anyone knew,” Bridgman said. “I would say having achieved everything I have with everything against me, I think I could make a difference in the North Carolina Senate.”
For Ellis, he said while being transgender is an important part of his identity to him, he doesn't necessarily want to focus on that if he joins the legislature. Instead, he said he hopes his gender identity can provide a new background and perspective to the N.C. Senate not present before.
“I’m a unique voice,” Ellis said. “I’m a voice that has never been heard. I am the first trans man to run for any political office in the state of North Carolina.”
He said he believes the key to solving problems is to find similarities between one another.
“I’m someone who believes that we have a lot more in common than we have in differences,” Ellis said. “If we focus on the commonalities, then we can actually get there and do something.”
Ellis also said his platform includes similar issues to Bridgman’s, emphasizing healthcare, education and social justice issues.
Ashley Dos Santos, a political science major at UNC, said the diversity these candidates bring gives her hope for the future.
“For there to be two transgender legislators, especially after HB2, I can see it mostly as progress as well as a statement that HB2 does not define the state of North Carolina,” Dos Santos said.
Bridgman said she wants her voice to be a platform for those who feel their voice is not heard by the state.
“They’re not hearing these people,” Bridgman said. “I want to be a platform for those people to speak for themselves. All they need is for someone to hear them and do something about it.”
And that's just what Dos Santos wants. She said she hopes these candidates become a role model for LGBTQ+ youth to make a difference in the world.
“I hope that they will be figures that politically active LGBTQIA+ youth can look up to,” Dos Santos said. “I hope that these candidates will be a progressive voice in our legislature, offering their unique perspectives while also representing themselves and our community well.”
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