Op-Ed: The North Carolina Senate’s only LGBTQ member on the importance of representation in politics

Op-Ed: The North Carolina Senate’s only LGBTQ member on the importance of representation in politics

By Senator Lisa Grafstein

June 26, 2024

Of the 50 Senators in the North Carolina General Assembly, I have the strange honor of being the only openly LGBTQ legislator in the chamber. Most days when I go to work, this fact is not directly relevant to the issues that come up, and that is a mark of the progress made by generations before me. 

Some days when I go to work, the continued attacks on the LGBTQ community take center stage. On those days, I do my best to be a voice for the many North Carolinians affected by these bills and the pride I feel as I stand up and fight for a community that means so much to me is overwhelming. 

It’s an incredible privilege to be a voice and a champion for LGBTQ+ rights, but it can also be a tough reminder of how far we still have to go. 

When we talk about representation, it’s not just about having a seat at the table; it’s about the real impact we can make through our work. Having LGBTQ+ members and allies in our legislature means we can sponsor legislation that could truly impact our community. 

Take the Equality For All Act (Senate Bill 398), for example, which was introduced by my colleagues and I in 2023. This comprehensive bill would explicitly protect against discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, and more, no matter your sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s a step toward making North Carolina a place where everyone, no matter who they are, can live freely and openly.

Or, take the Right to Use Contraception Act (Senate Bill 540). This bill would ensure that everyone has the fundamental right to use contraception without government interference. For LGBTQ individuals, who often face unique healthcare challenges, this bill would expand the right to make personal health decisions without discrimination​​. It would also reflect a commitment to bodily autonomy that is currently lacking in North Carolina law, but that is essential to LGBTQ freedom.

Then there’s the Parents’ and Students’ Bill of Rights (Senate Bill 895). This bill – which stands in contrast to the Republican-passed Parents’ Bill of Rights – is all about creating safe, supportive educational environments where all students can thrive. For LGBTQ students, this means protection from bullying and discrimination and the right to be themselves at school. It’s about making sure every student feels seen, valued, and supported, regardless of their identity​​.

Representation is essential because it shapes the policies that affect our daily lives. But beyond legislation, it’s also about visibility and aspiration. When LGBTQ youth see someone like them in the General Assembly, it sends a powerful message: you belong, your voice matters, and you can achieve anything. It tells them they are not alone and that they have the power to make a difference.

We are living in challenging times with unprecedented attacks on our rights. Discriminatory laws and harmful rhetoric run rampant, but we cannot let fear dictate our actions. We must stand firm, stand together, and continue to fight for our rights and our future. We’ve made incredible strides, but there is still much work to be done. The progress we’ve achieved is too significant to lose, and the stakes are too high to give up now.

To every person in our community, I say this: do not be afraid. Your authenticity, courage, and resiliency are our greatest strengths. Continue to live your truth, and know that you have allies fighting for you every day.

Author

  • Senator Lisa Grafstein

    Lisa Grafstein represents Senate District 13 in Wake County. She was first elected in 2022. Senator Grafstein has been a civil rights lawyer since 1995, working on issues related to disability rights, health care access, voting rights, employment issues, and race and gender discrimination. She has been included in Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite and Best Lawyers in America and was named one of the top 50 women lawyers in North Carolina in 2011 by North Carolina Super Lawyers magazine. She has served as a Commissioner on the State Personnel Commission, and on the boards of several non-profits, including the North Carolina Justice Center and North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and her law degree from UNC Chapel Hill.

CATEGORIES: LGBTQ
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