You may not yet recognize her name, but you’ve very likely seen Carrie Evans on social media.
We caught up with Evans just a few weeks after a video of her impassioned speech at a Minot City Council meeting went viral and she told us about the importance of local government, being a “professional gay,” and that viral rainbow flag incident.
How did you get involved in local politics and what inspired you to run for councilwoman?
During my 27 years away from North Dakota I worked on many campaigns; some of my favorite ones were local races. I appreciated the close and intimate connection that local candidates make with voters. The impact on a community that local elected officials can make is significant and meaningful. I said that if I ever ran for office, it would be at the local level. Fast forward to 2020, I was back in Minot, ND, and I was excited to support Sen. Elizabeth Warren in her bid for the Democratic nomination for President. Fun fact: In 2017 I got my first tattoo, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” When Sen. Warren withdrew from the presidential race, she said, “And sure, the fight may take a new form, but I will be in that fight, and I want you in this fight with me. We will persist.” I spent a few days being disappointed in the Democratic electorate and grieving that I may not live to see a woman President. During this time, I reflected on what it means to “stay in the fight” and persist. And what this translated to in my life, at that time, was collecting signatures and putting my name on the ballot for City Council.
You’ve been a longtime advocate for the LGBTQ community. Can you tell us a bit about the work you’ve done?
I am so fortunate that for most of my career I have been a “professional gay” – a term for those of us who get paid to work for LGBTQ equality! I started the work in Louisiana, as the President of Baton Rouge’s LGBT Community Center and then was co-chair of LAGPAC/Equality Louisiana (the statewide LGBT political organization). From there I went to Washington D.C., and worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (now The Task Force) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). I returned to state-level work with Equality Maryland and was proud to lead that organization when we won marriage equality and transgender anti-discrimination protections in Maryland.
What does pride mean to you?
We still live in a society where some believe that queer people are immoral and inferior. In many states we can still be fired from our jobs, denied housing or turned away from restaurants simply because of who we are. In spite of this, the queer community has the audacity to take pride in ourselves. To be proud of who we are as individuals and as a community is an act of resistance.
Can you speak to some of the changes you have seen in Minot over the last few years that have made you feel more at home? What does it mean to plant roots here later in your life, and to say “you’re not driving me out of the city one more time”?
The Minot I left in 1990 was stifling on so many levels. Thankfully there have been wonderful changes since then – more diverse people, an out and vibrant queer community, progressive, locally-owned businesses and a city that wanted curbside recycling! When I returned in 2017, I did not plan on staying. But I had changed, and Minot had changed. I was more secure and confident in who I was, I was happy to be with my immediate family again, and Minot felt like it had space for me to be who I was, in an open and honest way. So I decided to stay and run for office. I ran a strategic and thoughtful campaign (setting a state record for the most voter outreach in a local election), my campaign volunteers and I worked our butts off, and I won. When I was sworn in on June 23, 2020, I knew I had earned my place on the Council. So when the homophobes came to our meeting on Sept. 8th and started spewing their hate, it felt imperative that I use my voice to stake my claim on Minot and make it clear that no matter what you say, I am not leaving. Furthermore, I am going to work as hard as I can so young queer North Dakotans do not feel like their only option is to leave the state as soon as they can. Not only is the city of Minot big enough for all of us, the state of North Dakota is big enough for all of us. That is my battle cry, and I am going to work on making this a reality.
There is still obviously work to be done in Minot and in many other communities. Are you hopeful that more queer people will run for office?
There are record number of queer candidates, at the federal, state, and local level this election cycle. From major urban areas to small cities like Minot, we are in every community across the U.S., and we are running for office. Many young people have reached out to me since (what I like to call) the “rainbow flag incident” and said that hearing me speaking up for myself and for the queer community as an elected official has given them the confidence and inspiration to run for office.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing your community?
In North Dakota we have no state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. This means that LGBTQ+ people can be denied or fired from a job, refused service at a restaurant, prohibited from renting an apartment or refused a loan, simply because of our sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The state legislature refuses to pass an anti-discrimination law. Thus, I think one of the biggest issues for our community is to identify and elect political candidates that will support our community and pass measures that protect us from discrimination. After we get these basic protections in place, then we continue the work of changing hearts and minds.
Who inspires you to keep doing this work?
The young people who are still struggling. To be sure, the queer community has made tremendous progress, but as we witnessed at our City Council meeting, there are still forces that don’t want LGBTQ+ people to exist. Those are voices that our young people hear and internalize, and it is those kids that inspire me to keep on “claiming space” and demanding we be treated with equality and dignity. Many people have said that my words at the Sept. 8th Council meeting were the first time they heard a public official speak up for our community. I continue doing this work, so this won’t be the last time. Since “the rainbow flag incident” I have received so many phone messages, letters, emails, and texts from people all over the state, country, and world. It felt selfish to keep them to myself, so I started putting excerpts from them on my Facebook page every day so others could be inspired. If I am having a bad day, all I need to do is sit down and read some of these messages. They instantly re-center me and serve as reminder why I need to show up every day for myself and for my community,
What advice do you have for LGBTQ+ people living in places where they don’t feel represented or listened to?”
I can sincerely tell these people I know what it feels like to live in a community that devalues you for the sole reason you are queer. But I can also sincerely tell people that those voices of intolerance and hate are the minority. I saw this firsthand in Minot. The people who came to our meeting to register their objection to the rainbow flag and queer people have been outnumbered by the counter voices standing up for equality and fairness. The tide has finally turned in my small city of Minot, where the haters are being scorned by their families and neighbors for their outdated views. In fact, I received messages from family members of some of the people who spoke at the meeting, telling me that they are embarrassed by their cousin, mother, etc. and that they themselves are kind and loving. This indeed is progress, even a decade ago, I am not sure the daughter or cousin of a homophobe would have reached out to apologize and separate themselves from that rhetoric.