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 early teens were filled with scorn and bullying, which he described as a “daily gantlet”. He ran away from home. Before his teenage years, looking for a fresh start, he moved to another school and did not reveal his sexual identity to 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 matters, even though he was already in a relationship with the man who would later become his husband. Only after leaving the Marines, well over a decade ago, did he become more open about his sexuality.

He spent nine years as an employee of the Birmingham AIDS Outreach, working with young people and organizing HIV testing events throughout the region. He ran for the Legislative Assembly in 2018 and was elected only the second openly gay legislator in the state. The first, Patricia Todd, had the same seat in the Birmingham area in front of him. Upon his retirement, Ms. Todd that she was most proud of the Alabama legislation that she had helped block – measures she considered harmful to LGBTQ constituents.

Sir. Rafferty has also spent his term in the Legislature assembling new restrictions on gay and transgender youth. He testified against such proposals. He linked voters with Republican supporters of the measures, hoping to change lawmakers’ opinions by making them more comfortable with gays and transgender people and explaining the burdens they said such legislation would create. He brought medical experts and local organizers providing support to LGBTQ youth to the Capitol.

When the legislation came to the floor, Mr Rafferty appealed to his colleagues on the basis of their conservatism, arguing that they had nothing to do with getting involved in the decisions of parents, doctors and children. “Where is the freedom in that?” he asked. “Where’s the little government in that?”

His efforts were welcomed by gay and transgender residents, who saw him as a vital ally. “He has gained a degree of trust among transgender people, not only with his representation, but because he is part of our extended community,” said Sydney Duncan, lawyer and head of LGBTQ legal services at the organization where Mr Rafferty once worked. “He has taken the time to educate himself on these topics, and it has given him a passport with us to be able to represent us and talk to us and see that we are treated well.”

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