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Neil Rafferty Makes History As First Gay Man Elected to Alabama Legislature

UPDATE (11/8/2018):

Neil Rafferty won the seat for Alabama’s House District 54 in a landslide, earning 90 percent of the vote. He will now succeed Patricia Todd, the state’s first openly lesbian legislator. He is just the second LGBTQ state lawmaker in Alabama history.

UPDATE (7/19/2018):

Neil Rafferty took a giant leap toward history on Tuesday by winning the Democratic runoffs for Alabama’s House District 54 in a landslide.

With 100 percent of districts reporting, Rafferty earned more than two-thirds of all ballots cast in the election — finishing with 67.1 percent. Jacqueline Gray, a professor and journalist, trailed far behind her opponent — tallying just 32.9 percent of overall votes.

The two previously faced off in the June primaries, which Rafferty won by 20 points. His win, however, was not decisive enough at the time to prevent a runoff race.

Either candidate’s victory would have been a groundbreaking first for House District 54.

If elected, Gray would have been the first black woman to hold the seat, which has been occupied by openly lesbian State Rep. Patricia Todd since 2006.

Meanwhile, Rafferty will be the first gay man to contend for House District 54 — as well as one of just a few gay men to win a major party nomination in the state.

Michael Hansen, a 35-year-old environmentalist, competed in the 2017 special election for the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he accepted the position of Attorney General in Trump’s White House. Doug Jones won the Democratic primary, however, with 66.1 percent of the vote, while Hansen finished in third with 6.7 percent.

Should Rafferty win in November, he would be the first gay man elected to the Alabama Legislature, as well as the second LGBTQ person overall after Todd.

Rafferty was unavailable for comment prior to press time. But when INTO spoke to the 33-year-old earlier this year, the former Marine and program director for Birmingham AIDS Outreach stressed the importance of having an LGBTQ lawmaker in the legislature during a time when laws targeting queer and trans people are being passed across the United States.

Rafferty said that having Todd at the table kept Alabama from passing laws like North Carolina’s anti-trans bathroom bill, HB 2. He hopes to have a similar influence.

“I don’t know what Alabama would have been able to pass if Patricia Todd wasn’t down there … showing who she is and being unafraid of it and unashamed of it,” he claimed at the time. “Alabama maybe hasn’t moved forward, but I think that having somebody there in the legislature kept everything from moving backwards.”

Elliot Imse of the LGBTQ Victory Fund credited Rafferty’s focus on issues like public health — which includes tackling the opioid epidemic and health disparities among rural populations — as key to his decisive win on Tuesday.

“Alabama remains an extremely tough place for LGBTQ people to be elected — but Neil Rafferty’s victory Tuesday night proves LGBTQ candidates who focus on the issues that matter most to voters can pull off a win,” said Imse, who serves as the advocacy group’s senior director of communications, in a statement. “We are thrilled for Neil and thrilled for LGBTQ Alabamans who need a stong voice in state government.”

Lucas Acosta, national broadcast media manager and director of LGBTQ Media for the Democratic National Committee, noted that Rafferty wasn’t the only queer candidate who will be contending in November: Felicia Stewart will be facing off against Republican incumbent David Faulkner in the general election.

Stewart, a business executive and consultant, was unopposed in the Democratic primary for House District 46. There was no Democratic candidate in the 2014 race.

“In the face of sustained Republican efforts to roll back the progress we’ve made, leaders within the LGBTQ community like Neil Rafferty and Felicia Stewart are stepping up, running for office and fighting back. LGBTQ people deserve a voice in every legislature — and now Alabama is poised to double the strength of our voice,” Acosta said in a statement.

“The DNC looks forward to helping elect Rafferty, Stewart and other LGBTQ candidates up and down the ballot this November,” he added.

Rafferty — who will now face off against Independent Joseph Baker — looks likely to repeat victory in November. Todd was reelected in 2014 with 64.4 percent of the vote and was uncontested in the 2006 and 2010 general elections.


Nico Lang

Nico Lang is a staff writer for INTO, covering news, politics, and global LGBTQ issues.