At a time when the U.S. is seeing increased attacks on trans youth, LGBTQ+ individuals, women, minorities and other marginalized groups through hurtful legislation and invasive regulation, Equality North Carolina (ENC) is dedicated to creating a safer, more equitable state for all people. ENC works hard to ensure this equity by providing training and support in our communities and also working directly with state leaders to craft and strengthen legislation that will assist our marginalized members.
Equality NC Action Fund also endorses candidates for public office in North Carolina who share our vision and support the communities and causes we champion. As a nonpartisan state organization, ENC thoughtfully vets endorsements through an application and interview process. ENC does not endorse based on party affiliation, but on the promise to stand up for marginalized communities. When an endorsed leader takes a position counter to ours, we engage in conversation to understand the reasoning.
Representative Tricia Cotham was one such endorsed leader, but today ENC is revoking that endorsement. To be clear, Equality North Carolina is not revoking this endorsement because Cotham switched her party affiliation, but because she materially misled our organization and the voters who put her in office and has now voted on numerous issues in ways that run counter to the positions she took in her endorsement application and endorsement interview. Representative Cotham ran as a progressive on progressive ideals and has now taken numerous positions that are harmful to the communities we seek to advocate alongside. Further, while ENC attempted to have a conversation with Representative Cotham to understand her recent votes, we have been fully shut out from communication and have been given no opportunity to discuss her radical shift from an ally to an adversary. At Equality North Carolina’s Advocacy Day, Representative Cotham refused to meet with members of the community she passionately claimed to support only a few months prior.
We initially joined calls for Cotham’s resignation when it became clear she was not interested in communicating with us around her potential votes on LGBTQ+-specific issues and was voting contrary to the intersectional issues on which we based our endorsement. We called together our Political Action Committee and began the process of reviewing all of our relevant materials and, ultimately, voting to revoke Representative Cotham’s endorsement.
Representative Cotham filled out and submitted an application for endorsement to ENC after previously missing the March 15th deadline for submission. After missing the deadline, she reached out directly to ENC’s executive director, Kendra Johnson, and utilized her contacts in LGBTQ+ organizations across the state and Charlotte region to advocate on her behalf. She completed the application on March 22, 2022 without assistance from her staff.
In an April 21, 2022 email, Cotham stated “Equality NC’s endorsement of me is very important to me personally and would be an honor to receive once again.” She had previously been endorsed by ENC in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and in 2013 won the organization’s “Legislative Leadership Award.” Representative Cotham reiterated her desire to be considered for an endorsement in an April 22, 2022 email, stating “ENC’s Endorsement is very important to me. I was so very honored and proud to have received the endorsement every election. I was extremely honored to win legislator of the year by ENC.” She further indicated “My survey was very thorough and showed my real record and experience speaking up fiercely for LGBTQ community repeatedly on House [sic] floor, to the media, National cable networks like CNN and MSNBC. I would like to have a strong consideration.” Based on her questionnaire answers and advocacy, Representative Cotham was given an endorsement interview and received Equality North Carolina’s endorsement based on the alignment of her stated values and those of our organization.
Tricia Cotham’s shift is not about values but about access to power and power brokers. By shifting her stated positions, she has aligned herself with people who will take away every right for which the most marginalized and vulnerable in North Carolina have fought. Even prior to her announced party switch, Cotham was voting against the values she claimed to hold in her endorsement questionnaire.
Some of the ways Representative Tricia Cotham has voted against her own stated values in her March 22, 2022 endorsement questionnaire, include:
- When directly asked if she was pro-choice and would support legislation guaranteeing access to abortion care without “dangerous delay, isolation, or obstruction,” Representative Cotham, replied in the affirmative, but on May 16, 2023, she voted to severely limit access to abortion in North Carolina.
- When asked if she supported local sheriffs determining if their department will cooperate with ICE and allow them to end existing 287(g) agreements, she responded in the affirmative. However, on March 29, 2023, Representative Cotham voted in favor of a bill requiring local sheriffs’ full cooperation with ICE.
- When asked if she supported trans-inclusive sports in public schools and the ability for trans students to play sports in alignment with their gender identity, Representative Cotham wrote, “Trans youth should be able to play in alignment with their gender identity. While this is an issue dealt with by local school boards, I would support statewide legislation to ensure that trans students are protected and not discriminated against by school sports programs.” As of April 2023, Representative Cotham has shown support for the so-called “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which would exclude trans students from athletic participation.
- When asked about her position on school vouchers and the use of public tax dollars to support schools that may discriminate against LGBTQ+ students, Representative Cotham wrote, “LGBTQ students deserve to be protected in every school. I would not support any public funding for private schools that discriminate in any way.” However, on April 18, 2022 she introduced H823, a bill that dramatically expands private school vouchers, regardless of family income, and includes private schools with discriminatory policies. After this bill passed the House, Cotham posed for pictures with Moms for Liberty from the floor. Moms for Liberty is nationally recognized as the organization leading book bans and attacks on LGBTQ+ communities in schools.
These are just a few of the ways Representative Cotham has voted against her own stated values in this legislative session. In 2016, Cotham was a vocal opponent to House Bill 2, writing in her 2022 questionnaire that she “led the fight against HB2 in the legislature” and that she was the “first member to stand up and speak against it.” In this session she has stood uncritically with the bill’s orchestrators, posting pictures with them, and Tweeting their praises.
Representative Cotham either misrepresented herself or turned her back on her district and marginalized communities who relied on her for support and advocacy. She misled people by convincing them she was an ally and gaining their trust. Ultimately, Representative Cotham chose herself and her ambition over the people of North Carolina.
For these reasons, Equality North Carolina cannot allow Representative Cotham’s endorsement to stand and revokes her endorsement in full.