Eliazar Posada — along with other candidates for office — wanted to find a way to bring younger voters to the polls for the 2023 Carrboro municipal election. However, he wanted the solution to be something unique to not just Carrboro, but to the entire state.
The answer came in the form of heels clacking on pavement, hair higher than the heavens and a picture perfect smile from Raleigh-based drag performer Celeste O’Korr. O’Korr was recruited by Posada and some of his running mates to encourage voters — young and old — to participate in this year’s municipal race.
“I think voting is extremely important, but it should also be fun,” Posada told Qnotes. “We need to give some kind of motivation: how do we make this fun? What would make it interactive?”
Posada — who is also the first openly gay Latino man elected to office in North Carolina history — joined the town council in 2021 when he was voted in to fill Damon Seils’s seat after Seils was elected mayor. He is the only incumbent running for reelection.
He is a part of the trio calling themselves the “Better Together” slate, which also includes nonbinary resident Catherine Fray. If elected, Fray would become the one of the first nonbinary elected officials in North Carolina’s history. Fray could share the title if Jack Turnwald of Holly Springs wins their bid for Holly Springs town council, which would make them both the first nonbinary office holders in the state.
“Carrboro, as far as I know, has had one of the longest stretches anywhere in the country of uninterrupted LGBTQ leadership,” Fray said. “Queer folks are part of the fabric of social life in Carrboro, and so I felt very comfortable running for office as a nonbinary person here.”
Fray and Posada were the target of a mailer — which their supporters viewed as homophobic — sent to residents to persuade voters to cast their ballots for other candidates, April Mills and Stephanie Wade.
“[It said] They would be the only mothers running and talking about how they are the ones that would understand the issues around being parents,” Posada recounted. “It’s a very veiled attempt to discredit me and my slate mate, who is also queer (Fray).”
Instead of “getting into the mud,” Posada, Fray and their running mate Jason Merrill decided to hold their heads high and use their platforms and identities to reach the community where they are. The medium they chose: a drag queen — complete with a radiant personality — donned in black pumps, Barbie pink trousers, an “Eliazar for Carrboro” shirt and jewelry, hair and makeup to tie it all together.
“You want to play that game, people are gonna see through you,” Posada said. “What I’m going to do is I’m going to talk about what we bring to the council, the experience that I bring in, as well as the folks’ that I’m running with, and then also while we’re at it, engage some young people.”
O’Korr’s presence at the polls was certainly positive — her charm enamored many farmers market patrons and even drew a group of young, college-age voters to the polling place.
“I’m here to help people go vote,” O’Korr told Qnotes. “These elections are super important, especially for LGBTQ people and our rights.”
Families stopped O’Korr for pictures with their kids, which she always agreed to with a wide and dazzling smile. One child even referred to the performer as a “real Barbie.” But the best part was the “Better Together” slate’s idea appeared to be successful in drawing in young voters, according to Fray.
“We’re able to look at some of the aggregate numbers for early voting, and so we know that the average age of voters has been dropping the last few days,” they explained. “One metric that we are really interested in is how many folks voting this cycle are new, meaning they haven’t recently — or maybe ever — voted in a municipal race.
“We find that brand new voters in our municipal race here in Carrboro are considerably younger than returning voters, and I’m really encouraged by that.”
Carrboro’s historic acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in leadership has played a key role in the community residents know today. Fray said they hope the community will continue to be inclusive and to be a model for other towns across the country.
“It’s Carrboro, we do things a little bit differently here,” Fray said. “When we want people to think about voting, we want people to think about fun and celebration … and I feel drag performance just really invites people into that kind of joy.”