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Will a Post-HB 2 North Carolina Elect Its First Trans Senator?

Angela Brigman / Gray Ellis
Facebook/Ellis Family Law

Two trans candidates make history by filing to run for North Carolina's state legislature. Just three years ago, state lawmakers passed the nation's most notorious bathroom bill.

North Carolina, once home to America's most controversial so-called bathroom bill, may see its first trans lawmakers elected in 2020.

Gray Ellis and Angela Bridgman, both Democrats, have filed for different state Senate seats in the Tar Heel State. They are the first transgender candidates for the legislature in state history, The News & Observer of Raleigh reports.

The electoral milestone comes just a few years after North Carolina lawmakers enacted a notorious law striking at inclusivity ordinances. And that's no accident.

Bridgman said the draconian House Bill 2 was among the reasons she filed to run. She had written to the legislature and testified in committee about the bill. It reminded her of being forced in the 1990s in Kentucky to use men's restrooms at her college. "I was forced to choose between my education and my personal safety," she told the newspaper. It hurt to see North Carolina students later having to make the same choice, she said.

Ellis, meanwhile, called passage of HB 2 "horrific" and a sign that more North Carolinians need a seat at the table. "I've lived in Durham for 20 years, and been in a safe environment that's very accepting of me," he said. "I've been fortunate, but I know that's not true for most trans people."

At the same time, both Eillis and Bridgman want their campaigns to extend beyond their gender identity. Ellis, an attorney running for a seat being vacated by a Democrat, will focus on health care issues like Medicaid expansion. Bridgman, a former Democratic precinct captain, will campaign on education, Medicaid access, and social justice issues. In her district, the seat is currently held by a Republican, but he is not seeking reelection.

The politicians seem ready to follow the path of Danica Roem, who just won reelection to the Virginia House of Delegates. Roem addressed transphobia head-on in 2017 when she unseated one of Virginia's most anti-LGBTQ incumbents, but she also focused on a transportation, economic development, and many of the local issues directly impacting most voters.

HB 2, the so-called bathroom bill, restricted trans citizens from using public bathrooms and changing facilities matching their gender identity, when in government buildings. The legislation was passed by both houses of the state legislature and signed by the governor in a day, treated at the time as an emergency response to Charlotte passing a local antidiscrimination ordinance. It also prevented cities and counties from enacting or enforcing antidiscrimination ordinances broader than state law -- therefore, any LGBTQ-inclusive ordinances.

The move precipitated a boycott of the state of North Carolina by businesses, entertainers, and more. After the state economy lost millions of dollars, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory lost reelection in a narrow defeat to Democrat Roy Cooper, who signed a partial repeal of the legislation into law shortly after taking office.

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