Openly gay North Carolina House Rep. Marcus Brandon and state Senate candidate Deb Butler, right background. Pictured here at the LGBT Caucus of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Sept. 4, 2012. Photo Credit: David Lari/QNotes.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An historic number of openly gay and lesbian candidates are running for the North Carolina General Assembly this year. One is guaranteed victory. Two others have faced conservative opponents.

Guilford County’s incumbent Democratic state House Rep. Marcus Brandon faces no general election challenger today. Elected in 2010, he became the legislature’s only openly gay or lesbian member when Wilmigton’s state Sen. Julia Boseman left office at the end of her term in January 2011.

Though Brandon’s election is assured, he’s spent the last few weeks organizing volunteers to canvass voters and bolster his party’s get-out-the-vote effort.

This election is critical, he says. The economy, tax reform and education issues will be top agenda items.

“The GOP is not that interested in job creation,” he says. “They say that, but we haven’t seen that. I don’t see any reason to believe that is going to be a priority this time.”

Republicans swept into power in the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010. Their motto then was “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” but Democrats say the GOP has been misguided. The economy hasn’t improved. Education budgets also came under scrutiny, as budgets were cut and teachers laid off.

The state’s two other openly gay candidates, New Hanover County state Senate candidate Deb Butler and Buncombe County state House candidate Susan Wilson, both Democrats, have also campaigned hard on economic and education issues this year.

Susan Wilson

“I want to make education a top priority again,” says Wilson. “We need to put teachers back tor work rather than on the unemployment line. The way this General Assembly has gone it looks like they are out to destroy pubic education as quickly and as effectively as they can. We need public education.”

Wilson and Butler have both faced conservative Republican challengers this year. Last month, a GOP operative used an anti-gay slur to attack Wilson. In Wilmington, Butler has drawn attention to her challenger, incumbent Republican state Sen. Thom Goolsby, and his support of intrusive anti-choice laws and this year’s anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment.

“At the same time he thinks that cutting education down to the bare bone…is the answer,” Butler says. “I feel strongly a stellar public education system…is the key to economic recovery.”

On matters of LGBT equality, Brandon, Wilson and Butler feel the state is moving forward, even in the face of this year’s amendment. Their campaigns are proof.

“I hope we’re behind that kind of limited thinking,” says Butler. “We are more concerned about leadership, talent, ingenuity, creativity…than we are someone’s personal, private business.”

Brandon says his district voted for the amendment. Still, those same voters elected him. “Although people might have personal feelings about marriage, the feeling on them being an elected official is totally different,” he says.

“Anytime you humanize something, it helps,” says Wilson, who believes she and her partner were among the first openly gay attorneys in Asheville. “It took a little bit of time to come to terms with that, but nobody was really negative.”

If elected, she’s sure the experience will be the same in Raleigh.

Brandon, too, hopes Wilson is successful. He was the sole openly gay voice during legislative debates on the anti-LGBT amendment.

“I am very excited,” Brandon says. “We can finally have a caucus.”

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.