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In the state that passed HB2, two transgender candidates running for legislative seats

Angela Bridgeman, left, and Gray Ellis, right, would become the first transgender lawmakers in...
Angela Bridgeman, left, and Gray Ellis, right, would become the first transgender lawmakers in the North Carolina General Assembly if elected.(Photos submitted to The News & Observer)
Published: Dec. 22, 2019 at 5:30 PM EST
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RALEIGH, N.C. (Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan/The News & Observer) - Four years after North Carolina enacted House Bill 2, the state could get its first openly transgender lawmaker. Or two.

Attorney Gray Ellis of Durham and Angela Bridgman of Wendell are both Democrats, transgender and seeking seats in the state Senate.

HB2, which became known as the “bathroom bill,” required people in government buildings to use the restroom that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificate. Most of the bill was overturned in 2017, after national criticism and boycotts of the state.

Virginia voters elected the first openly transgender candidate in the country in 2017, Danica Roem, who is serving her first term in the Virginia House of Delegates.

In North Carolina, there are only a few LGBT state lawmakers, and no lawmakers who are openly transgender.

Ames Simmons, policy director for Equality NC, said that Bridgman, a transgender woman, and Ellis, a transgender man, are the first openly transgender candidates for the state legislature, as far as his organization is aware. Equality NC is a statewide organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights.

“There was the beginning of a blue (Democratic) wave in 2018 that was encouraging to trans people. I’m a trans person myself, but don’t speak on behalf of the community. I was personally inspired by the runs and elections of trans people who ran elsewhere, like Danica Roem in Virginia,” Simmons said.

He said that it’s a personal decision if someone is going to be open about their LGBTQ status and if they are transgender. Some might consider it a closed chapter in their life, and some might not feel safe from violence and discrimination, he said.

“I think to some degree it depends on where you live and how you feel about your job,” Simmons said. “Most trans people have to make calculations on a daily basis of who gets to know and who doesn’t.”

THE CANDIDATES

Bridgman is running in Senate District 18 in Wake County, where incumbent Republican Sen. John Alexander is not seeking reelection. Ellis is running in Senate District 20, which is being vacated by Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr.

Ellis, a transgender man, is owner and managing partner of Ellis Family Law in Durham. His campaign platform includes mental health reform and Medicaid expansion.

“We must expand Medicaid coverage to cover more people who are uncovered or only have partial coverage for mental health disorders and ensure that insurance carriers in North Carolina are compliant with the law of parity, requiring that mental and physical health be covered in the same way,” Ellis wrote.

In a telephone interview with The News & Observer, Ellis cited his law career and his desire to serve people directly — rather than being a career politician — as among his strengths. Ellis, who called the state’s passage of HB2 “horrifying,” said he wants everyone to have a seat at the table.

“I’ve lived in Durham for 20 years, and been in a safe environment that’s very accepting of me. ... I’ve been fortunate, but I know that’s not true for most trans people,” he said.

Bridgman is a former Wake County Democratic Party precinct chair, who has stepped down because she is running in a contested primary. She lives in an unincorporated area outside Wendell and runs a home business.

HB2 was a factor in Bridgman wanting to run for office, but only one of several, she said in a phone interview with The News & Observer. Her campaign issues include education, Medicaid expansion and economic and social justice.

Bridgman has testified at the legislature about redistricting and HB2, which she urged legislators to oppose. It didn’t affect her directly, she said, because she is post-operative and her Illinois birth certificate had previously been changed to reflect her gender.

As a college student in Kentucky in the late 1990s, Bridgman was living as a woman and using women’s restrooms. She was also an activist, she said, so people knew she was transgender. Bridgman said she was told to start using men’s restrooms instead.

“So I was forced to choose between my education and my personal safety,” she said. HB2 did the same for college students in North Carolina, Bridgman said.