Three gay incumbents will be on the Nov. 6 ballot for the Georgia General Assembly, as well as two gay Democrats seeking spots in the state House and Senate.
State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), who became the first out African-American lesbian state legislator in the nation when she won a seat in the Georgia House in 2009, prevailed in a heated July primary for House District 58 against another Democratic incumbent, Rep. Ralph Long, after the two were drawn into the same district by Republicans.
Bell is endorsed by Georgia Equality and the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. She is a co-sponsor of the State Fair Employment Practices Act, a bill that would make it illegal to fire state employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill languished in committee this year, but LGBT advocates and Georgia Equality hope to get the bill out of the Judiciary Committee and onto the House floor in the upcoming session.
Bell faces a Republican challenger on Nov. 6 ― entrepreneur Earl Cooper.
State Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) held off challenges from four candidates in July to secure enough votes to win the House District 60 race outright and without a runoff. She faces no Republican opposition on the November ballot. She won the seat during a special election in 2012.
State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), who in 2000 became the first openly gay person elected to Georgia’s General Assembly, faced no opposition in July for House District 85 and has no Republican challengers next month. She is the lead sponsor of the FEPA bill to provide protection to LGBT state employees.
Taking his first stab at state office is openly gay Timothy Swiney, an associate real estate broker who lives in Lawrenceville with his partner and their two adopted children. Swiney faces an uphill battle for House District 101 against Republican incumbent state Rep. Valerie Clark in a fiscally and socially conservative part of the state that includes Gwinnett County.
Swiney, who once was a Republican but said he became disgusted by the state’s current administration and decided to change parties, believes he can work for all people.
“The single most important issue facing all Georgians is our economy,” Swiney said. “Georgia has been consistently ranked as one of the top states in the nation for our pro-business environment, yet we are ranked dead last in the financial stability of our citizens and workers. In May of this year Georgia had more foreclosures than any state in the county.”
Swiney is also fearful of the “personhood movement” shaping up in Georgia and the anti-abortion law passed in the last session. He is a strong supporter for same-sex couple adoptions and wants to make this easier through state law. Currently Georgia has no law specifically addressing same-sex parent adoptions.
“As a recent adoptive parent, I know first hand the road blocks and outright discrimination against gay couples in the adoption process,” he said.
“Georgia law does not address same sex adoptions, but in our state, unless laws are written that specifically include the LGBT community, we are denied those rights,” he explained.
“This is not simply a LGBT rights issue, but it is a children’s rights issue … We need legislation that specifically allows same-sex couple adoptions and as state representative I will work to see this corrected,” Swiney added.
Swiney said he is a strong supporter of FEPA and if elected would work “to educate, negotiate, and if needed, twist arms in order to insure that LGBT workers get a fair shake in the workplace.”
Tim Riley, who has sought a seat in the state Senate three times before, was recently married and his opponent and incumbent has publicly stated Riley is “not his cup of tea.”
But Riley, who lives in Athens, wants to focus on education and bringing more jobs to Georgia if elected to represent Senate District 47.
“I have been fighting for equal rights for all citizens of Georgia for many years and will continue to fight for equality,” Riley said. “We all deserve a place at the table. We the people means everybody.”
Brad Ploeger, a gay Libertarian, is running for the Public Service Commission, also on the November ballot for all voters. Ploeger is running against Republican incumbent Chuck Eaton and Democrat Steve Oppenheimer.
“An LGBT voter should be interested in every race on the ballot,” Ploeger said.
“Many of the so-called ‘down ticket races’ have a significantly larger effect on your life. In addition, these races involves candidates you can actually contact and express your opinions …
“While some voters may choose to vote for or against me based on my sexual orientation; it my sincere hope that most Georgians will choose to support my campaign based on my ideas,” he said.
Running in Rome
Also on the ballot, but only in Floyd County which includes the city of Rome, is gay Democrat Garry D. Harrell, 27, who hopes to unseat Republican incumbent Garry E. Fricks for the Floyd County Commission Post 2 seat.
Harrell said he is running on a platform of fresh ideas ― supporting small businesses, balancing the county’s budget thoughtfully and using new green and clean technology to move Floyd County forward.
“I’ll serve my community and be the voice for ordinary citizens on the Floyd County Board of Commissioners. Listening to the needs of the entire community is critically important, and I’ll do that,” he said.
His sexual orientation doesn’t seem to be playing any significant role in his campaign, he added.
“I don’t know if ‘most people’ know I am gay, but I have lived an ‘out’ life as an adult for many years in this community. Other than an initial couple of conversations with the local media, this issue has not been raised. While I can’t say it’s not a significant issue, it’s not an issue that is being openly discussed,” Harrell said.
“Frankly, I have been surprised by the friendly and supportive conversations I’ve had with voters across the county,” he said.
Photos (Clockwise from top left):
State Rep. Karla Drenner
Unopposed for House District 85
State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta)
Faces Republican challenger
Earl Cooper for House District 58
State Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta)
Unopposed for House District 60
Tim Riley (D-Athens)
Challenging Republican Rep. Frank Ginn for Senate District 47
Timothy Swiney (D-Lawrenceville)
Challenging Republican Rep. Valerie Clark for House District 101
Gary D. Harrell (D-Rome)
Challenging Republican incumbent Garry E. Fricks for Floyd County
Commission Post 2
Brad Ploeger (Libertarian-Atlanta)
Running for Public Service Commission against incumbent Republican Chuck Eaton and Democrat Steve Oppenheimer