Her past runs for office:
• In 2001, Waites – who went by Sean instead of Keisha on the ballot at that time – ran for the at-large Post 1 seat on the Atlanta City Council.
• In 2002, she ran for State Senate District 36, placing fourth in the Democratic primary.
• In 2004, she was one of four candidates who applied to temporarily fill the Atlanta City Council District 12 seat, but council members did not pick her for the post.
• Waites then ran for the Atlanta City Council in 2005 and ran for Fulton County Commission chair in 2006.
• She ran for State House District 61 in 2008 and received the endorsement of Georgia Equality in that race. Waites again ran for Atlanta City Council in 2009.
• In 2010, she ran against lesbian Joan Garner to become the first openly gay person to serve on the Fulton County Commission and received more votes in the primary but lost in a runoff with Garner. Georgia Equality endorsed Garner in that race.
“When you ask about my multiple races I just think it’s a no brainer [to keep running for office],” Waites said. “When you take the LSAT and you don’t score a decent or favorable score, do you stop practicing?
“I think [past races] are strategically mentioned to undermine my efforts. I think that it’s done to take away from my credibility. And for those who read that and believe that, they will perceive me as a joke,” she said. “That’s why we are here. It’s not about setting the record straight, it’s about healing.”
Waites said she asked Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, for its endorsement in this race. GE Executive Director Jeff Graham said today the organization is not getting involved in the special election because it is focusing its resources on the passage of HB 630 and working to ensure adequate funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
HB 630, the Georgia Fair Employment Practices Bill, was introduced last year by the state’s first openly gay state lawmaker, Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates). The bill calls would ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for Georgia’s 174,000 state employees.
Waites said if elected she would obviously support HB 630.
“During my conversation with Georgia Equality, I spoke of my commitment to being a co-sponsor and supporter of this bill. It’s a no brainer. Certainly I am going to support and actively work for the passage of legislation that is in my own interest and for the good of the community at large,” she said.
‘My work speaks for itself’
Waites is a contract employee with the Federal Emergency Management Association who helps people during disasters, such as the BP oil spill, and served on FEMA’s Katrina Long-Term Recovery Planning Team where she traveled to the affected areas to help those displaced by the storm. She is a business owner who owns four houses and rents to low-income families. She got a degree in political science from Georgia Perimeter College and was a track star at Lakewood High School.
Some organizations she lists that she participates in or has participated in include: alumni of the Atlanta Leadership Institute, a former member of the Atlanta Planning and Advisory Board, board member of the Atlanta chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus and a member of the Sierra Club.
“My work speaks for itself. It is who I am,” Waites said. “When people question my motivation, my thought is if someone didn’t run again, I would question do you really, really want to do this?”
And while she has run for offices at the city, county and state level, that doesn’t mean she is not dedicated to serving in a particular office, she said, because she has continually talked about the same issues in each race.
“Regardless of the races, my platform has never changed. I have spoken about the significance of protecting Grady Hospital and MARTA. Today, the residents of Clayton County are feeling firsthand the effects of losing MARTA. Clayton County makes up 1/3 of the district,” she said.
Public safety is part of her platform, too, she said, and caring for the elderly.
“I think my multiple offices reflect my commitment and passion for being engaged in the process. I am proud of each of my campaigns.”
But constant questioning of her political motives by the LGBT media and community members causes her grief, Waites said with more tears in her eyes.
“When I’m in my own community, the place where I should feel safest …. the place where I should be embraced in,”she said tearfully, “It blows my mind that I’m having a conversation about the fact I have ran for multiple offices.”
‘I need to prove to them’
At one point, openly crying, Waites said the stories she reads about her unsuccessful runs for office actually hurt her family, friends and supporters more than they hurt her.
“When my family hears about this kind of stuff, it’s extremely painful for them,” especially her mother, she said.
“When she reads those types of things,” Waites said, tapping her finger hard with tears running down her face, “I relive it over and over and over and over again.”
With tears continuing, Waites went on to say, “When I told her I was going to run this race, she asked, ‘Why are you doing this? You have embarrassed the family, you have embarrassed yourself. Why are you taking us through this again?’
“Those are the reasons why I hate when people print that type of stuff,” Waites added. “It’s not me you are hurting. I am tough as hell, I can take this. But when you do this you hurt my mom, the people who knock on doors with me, who give me money, who believe in me, because they lose confidence.
“You hurt them, you hurt every person who lives in the closet because you confirm that if you run openly gay, if you are associated with those queer people, those weird people over there, life is not going to be good for you.
“And that’s why I need to keep running,” she said, still crying.
“I need to prove to them that is not true. You can be successful. You can do anything you want to do.
“And I will win this race,” she added. “So that’s the fire. I’ve got to prove something to me too … It’s so painful. It’s exhausting. People ask why can’t you close the deal, Keisha…”
At this point, Ward interrupted Waites to say that her continuing to run for office is foremost about serving the public.
“These races are about what are the needs of the public,” Ward said. “At end of day you can see Keisha is very candid, very frank. She’s a real person and you can trust real people. She has been characterized too much by past mistakes.”
Top photo: Atlanta lesbian Keisha Waites running in the upcoming Georgia General Assembly House District 60 special election (by Dyana Bagby)