Damon Seils for Carrboro Board of Aldermen

Orange County, North Carolina has a long history of supporting openly gay candidates for elected office. Chapel Hill elected the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina in 1987 when Joe Herzenberg was elected to the Town Council (Herzenberg had been appointed to fill an un-expired term in 1979, but was not elected until almost a decade later). Since then, multiple openly gay candidates have been elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council, Carrboro Board of Aldermen, and Orange County Board of Commissioners. Our community currently has three openly gay elected officials, and if everything goes as expected, we’ll have a fourth on March 19th.

The fourth, Damon Seils, has been involved in town government in Carrboro for years. He’s served as Chair of the town’s Planning Board and has been a member of the Greenways Commission. He has also been chair of the Orange County Human Relations Commission. He’s been actively involved in important social justice issues in the community, and frequently contributes to Orange County’s progressive blog OrangePolitics. Damon is currently running in a special election for an open seat on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. I wrote earlier that he is likely to win if “all goes as expected” not because he is overconfident, but because he is the only candidate in the race. While there is still the potential for a write-in campaign, I hope we’ll be cheering Damon on as the newest member of the Board of Aldermen this spring.

In a town like Carrboro, Damon does not face much opposition because of his sexual orientation. At the same time, after our state’s vote on Amendment One last year, it is imperative that more gay and lesbian citizens play leadership roles in public life. When minority populations become more public, it helps change hearts and minds, and based on the Amendment One vote last year, we have a lot of hearts and minds to change.

For politically minded folks, the spring of odd-numbered  years doesn’t feel like a natural time to be campaigning. If you are looking to scratch your political itch and help support a true progressive champion, help Damon Seils out. The most important way to support the campaign is to get out the vote. Early voting begins in Orange County today and you can sign on his website to help finish canvassing. Also, let your friends who live in Carrboro know to vote, either early or on March 19th (Election Day). North Carolina currently only has eight openly gay elected officials, this spring, let’s make it nine. Support Damon Seils for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen.

Roe at 40

The 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade provides the pro-choice community a chance to reflect on our victories and defeats over the last four decades.

It is clear that the individuals and organizations opposed to legal abortion are quickly adapting new strategies and tactics to advance their agenda. While anti-choice organizations have had some success in restricting access to abortion through the public policy process over the last four decades, their efforts to deny women options have evolved in recent years. No longer content to simply set up barriers through the legal process, the movement has redefined the word “access” and built a national network of unlicensed and unregulated “crisis pregnancy centers” with the sole intention of convincing women, sometimes through manipulation and lies, to carry their pregnancies to term. Women are already making decisions about their pregnancies in a world of inequality, limiting access and sharing mis-information only makes these decisions more difficult.

The New York Times recently profiled the rapid increase of crisis pregnancy centers in the United States over the last decade, stating-

While most attention has focused on scores of new state laws restricting abortion, the centers have been growing in numbers and gaining state financing and support. Largely run by conservative Christians, the centers say they offer what Roland Warren, head of Care Net, one of the largest pregnancy center organizations, described as “a compassionate approach to this issue… Jean Schroedel, a Claremont Graduate University politics professor, said that “there are some positive aspects” to centers, but that “things pregnant women are told at many of these centers, some of it is really factually suspect.

Two years ago, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation (NPCNCF) conducted an investigation of “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) operating throughout the state, and found some shocking results. Since 2006, the number of crisis pregnancy centers in the state has doubled.

  • 92% of the CPCs studied (61 of 66 CPCs) had no medical professionals on staff.
  • Only 24% (16 CPCs) disclosed that they are not medical facilities.
  • 35% (23 CPCs) provide ultrasounds on site and 12% (8 CPCs) conduct STI testing.

Unfortunately, government has been slow to address and regulate these centers. Several municipalities around the country have taken action, although most have found their ordinances struck down by the courts. In Chapel Hill, our town council recently took action and voted for a resolution that expressed our support in the principles of informed consent and a patient’s fundamental right to complete and accurate medical information. Unfortunately, North Carolina law limits municipalities’ ability to pass ordinances to regulate or require signage at CPCs. Yet I hope that our symbolic resolution provides an opportunity to help shape the public agenda in our state.

As we celebrate the Roe v. Wade decision today, it’s important that we stay vigilant in protecting women’s right to make personal decisions about their reproductive health. The anti-choice movement will stop at nothing to make abortion legal in name only. These threats on women’s choices don’t just threaten their reproductive health, they threaten their ability to choose their own future, and exist as equal citizens in our state and country. It’s no mistake that many of the same organizations that oppose meaningful access to abortion also oppose the legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples or women’s success in the workforce. Granting these rights threatens the patriarchy, and “traditional” views about how men and women should exist in society. Let’s keep fighting to protect Roe, and insure every person has the right to choose their own future.

Reflection from #LGBTLeaders

I hopped off the plane at LAX last Thursday not really knowing what to expect. I was going to California to attend the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute’s LGBT Leaders Conference not feeling very optimistic about the state of LGBT rights in my state. I was elected to the Chapel Hill Town Council exactly a year ago today. Since them, I have seen a referendum pass that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman, as well as a new Governor and General Assembly elected who are unlikely to be sympathetic to the concerns of LGBT North Carolinians. I’ve been to many conferences over the years, and don’t always plan on the experience as being a particularly constructive one. This time was different.

LGBT Leaders was an eye-opening experience to the collective power that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered citizens have in our county and world. The conference brought together advocates, elected officials, and other leaders from the LGBT community to discuss local policy efforts around homeless youth and healthcare reform, how to tackle anti-discrimination campaigns in the 50 states, and next steps for policy efforts in DC.

Chapel Hill is fortunate to be a leader when it comes to gay rights. When Joe Herzenberg was elected to our town council in the 1980’s, he was the first openly gay elected official in our state. Mark Kleinschmidt has served as mayor since 2009, and our simultaneous service makes Chapel Hill one of the smallest municipalities in the country to have two openly gay elected officials on their governing body.

Being surrounded by a group of people with a shared sexual orientation impacted me in a way I did not expect. Even though I live in North Carolina, I’m fortunate to have lived in communities where I never felt threatened or in danger because of my sexual orientation. That was not true for some of the leaders I spoke with at this conference. I left feeling a sense of responsibility and obligation to our broader movement. LGBT Representation matters—and not just in elected office. It’s important that we have leaders in business, religious institutions, and popular culture that reflect the full identity of our state. Over and over again, I heard from participants (particularly those who experienced the AIDS crisis) that seeing openly LGBT leaders in public discourse impacted them emotionally and improved their own individual self-worth.

I came back from LGBT Leaders personally renewed and excited about the work to be done in North Carolina. After conversations at the conference, I’m sure more than ever that we are capable of creating equality in our state. We need to support elected officials who stand for equality and vote against those who do not. We need to encourage community groups that are working to support queer youth and adults.

Finally, we need more openly gay LGBT elected-officials in our state. We are fortunate to have a small number, but we need more. Call it the “Will & Grace effect”—Seeing likeable gay characters on TV, knowing a friend or colleague who identifies as LGBT, or living in a city run by a lesbian mayor all change public opinion. It took a trip to California to re-energize me for the work we need to do here in North Carolina, and I can not wait for what comes next.