For Alabama’s only gay lawmaker, a political defeat was deeply personal
Born and raised in Birmingham, he first came out as gay in 1998. His teenage years were filled with teasing and bullying which he described as a “daily gantlet”. He ran away from home. Before his first year, in search of a fresh start, he transferred to another school and did not reveal his sexual identity to his classmates or teachers.
Mr. Rafferty attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham and joined the Marine Corps. While in the military, he avoided conversations about personal relationships, even though he was already in a relationship with the man who would later become her husband. It wasn’t until he left the Marines just over a decade ago that he became more open about his sexuality.
He spent nine years as an employee of Birmingham AIDS Outreach, working with young people and running HIV testing events across the region. He ran for the Legislative Assembly in 2018, becoming only the second openly gay lawmaker elected in the state. The first, Patricia Todd, held the same seat in the Birmingham Area House before him. On his retirement, Ms. Todd said she was very proud of Alabama legislation she had helped block — measures she saw as harmful to LGBTQ voters.
Mr Rafferty has also spent his term in the Legislative Assembly working to prevent further restrictions on gay and transgender youth. He testified against such proposals. He connected voters with Republican supporters of the measures, hoping to change lawmakers’ minds by making them more comfortable with gay and transgender people and explaining the charges they thought such legislation would create. He brought medical experts and local organizers who provide support for LGBTQ youth to the Capitol.
When the bill was introduced in the House, Mr. Rafferty called out his colleagues on the basis of their conservatism, saying they did not have to get involved in the decisions of parents, doctors and children. “Where is the freedom in that? ” He asked. “Where’s the little government in this?”
The pressure to restrict the rights of young transgender people
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His efforts were praised by gay and transgender residents, who saw him as a singularly important ally. “He’s earned a degree of trust with trans people, not just through his representation, but because he’s part of our wider community,” said Sydney Duncan, a lawyer and head of the organization’s LGBTQ legal services. where Mr. Rafferty once worked. “He took the time to learn about these issues, and it earned him a pass with us to be able to represent us and talk to us and see that we are treated well.”