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Alabama’s first gay legislator bows out to standing ovation

By MALLORY MOENCH, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s first openly gay legislator received a standing ovation as she bid farewell to the House of Representatives ahead of the last day of the legislative session Wednesday.

Democratic Rep. Patricia Todd of Birmingham will not seek re-election after serving 12 years. Todd said on the House floor Tuesday evening that her life had changed forever when she joined the Alabama legislature as its first openly gay member in 2006.

“You are incredible, beautiful people, some people I thought I would never get along with or never like,” Todd told fellow lawmakers.

She said that when she speaks to gay political candidates around the country, they always ask how she’s received in Alabama. She answers that she’s treated like anyone else.

“You walked into this institution that’s never had anybody like you. It’s Alabama. I was prepared for the worst. But you know, I’ve never heard anybody make any crude remark. Everybody’s always been very respectful,” Todd told the Associated Press. “Honestly, what surprised me the most is how close I became to a lot of people who I would have never met before or don’t agree with on hardly any issues.”

Todd was married twice while a House member and said that both times she received congratulations from her colleagues. She remarried in 2016, the same year that Roy Moore, then chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was suspended for ordering probate judges to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Moore lost Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election in December 2017.

Todd, one of few white Democrats in the GOP-dominated House, helped pass Carly’s Law to allow marijuana-derived medication for treating severe seizures and expanded its use to more patients under Leni’s Law two years later.

More often than not though, Todd’s bills failed. She unsuccessfully pushed her colleagues to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, legalize medicinal marijuana and add sexual orientation as a protected category under the state’s hate crime law.

“I’d hoped to make progress on that. But Alabama’s not ready,” Todd said. “I haven’t passed many bills but I haven’t let things happen.”

Todd fought against what she called discriminatory bills that came through the chamber. She wished she could have stopped a 2017 law that allowed faith-based adoption organizations to refuse to place children with gay parents or other households because of their religious beliefs.

Todd was a member of education, fiscal responsibility and Jefferson County committees and said she tried to hold the legislature financially accountable about who received government funds in the budget. Todd, whose background is in activism, said she’s taking away future lessons from her legislative experience.

“What I learned is how to actively listen and try to understand their reasoning behind their positions and to be respectful and I think that makes me a better activist. I’m saddened in this country that we can’t have civil discourse without screaming at each other. I hope I changed some of that,” Todd said.

“I hope I opened up some hearts and minds,” Todd told her fellow lawmakers Tuesday evening. “I won’t be the last. There will be other openly gay folks that join this chamber.”

She is supporting two other openly gay candidates running for the Alabama Legislature in 2018. Neil Rafferty, a gay former Marine who works with Birmingham AIDS Outreach, is one of three Democrats who are running for Todd’s seat. Todd is also supporting gay Democratic businesswoman Felicia Stewart, who is running against incumbent Rep. David Faulkner, a Republican, in one of the state’s wealthiest suburbs.

A native of Kentucky, Todd has lived in Alabama since 1984. She said she has her eye on a few job opportunities after the session including as the executive director of an advocacy organization formed in Orlando, Florida, after the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Todd said she is not attending the last day of the session Wednesday because she is “terrible at saying goodbye.”

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