The silver lining (if one exists) to those tenuous and contentious weeks leading up to last November’s election and subsequent run-off is that the concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Atlantans were front and center in the race for the chief executive of Georgia’s capital city. The candidates aggressively courted the LGBT vote, recruiting community leaders to stump on their progressive credentials and focusing their campaign platforms significantly on the issues that mattered most to our community. Even their snarky attacks on one another’s pro-LGBT records marked a significant tide change in the sea of Georgia politics – non-LGBT media outlets began reporting on the importance of the LGBT vote and LGBT issues in the impending election, and candidates were berated for – get this – not being gay-friendly enough. For a few months, we ruled the school, and the rest of the electorate had to wait their turn to dance.
Fast forward to the present day, and the current political climate couldn’t be more opposite. It seems as eager as last year’s mayoral candidates were to tout their LGBT-friendly accomplishments and persuade as many gay voters as possible to come aboard, this year’s slate of candidates seem content not engaging LGBT people or issues at all.
A quick disclaimer: I’m not a single-issue voter by any means. I care as much about fixing our public education system, making healthcare accessible and affordable, and catalyzing our economy to get people back to work as I do about any item on the gay agenda. But, I do typically wait to hear or establish a candidate’s position on items such as marriage equality and domestic partner benefits, enumerated employment policies that address both sexual orientation and gender identity, hate crime protections, or anti-bullying statutes in our schools before I go out of my way to emphatically support or vociferously condemn them. However, I am slowly, and disdainfully, coming to realize that if this is the litmus test by which I have evaluated my political picks in the past, then I either need to abandon my formula or adjust it dramatically. I feel almost like I’m back in high school: taking my SATs, looking at the question in doubt and trying my damndest to avoid but eventually circling the nefarious “E”: “There is not enough information to answer this question.”
The current slab of candidates, notably our gubernatorial hopefuls, have been avoiding the LGBT community like the plague. Now to some extent, the fair-weathered nature of all of this is to be expected. In a purple state that shows more red than blue on election night, gay rights issues don’t play well across the electoral map, while conversely the rebuke of LGBT people and opposition to gay rights issues plays extremely well. For conservatives, ironically the best you can usually hope for is that they’ll just leave the subject alone entirely (although there are a few GOPers, like State Rep. Mike Jacobs, who have stuck by the LGBT community and risked a lot politically to do so). The current race for governor hasn’t quite brought out the worst in the Republican Party, yet it shouldn’t surprise anyone to witness the anti-gay-baiting offense being used in place of a policy-driven political strategy (cue “The Battle Hymn of Nathan Deal”), or the fervent “deny ‘til you die – or get caught” defense that has former Secretary of State Karen Handel tap-dancing like Baby June. All in all, our Republican primary players have behaved pretty much as expected (but smart money says that the anti-gay rhetoric from the right will get amped up as we slide into the November general election).
The story becomes a bit more nebulous, however, when you turn to the left. The Democratic contenders have been unprecedentedly mum on issues related to the LGBT community, surprising when one considers that the gay community has a long history of engagement with the “big tent” of the Democratic Party, financing candidates that campaign as progressive but often govern differently. Not one submitted a questionnaire for an endorsement from Georgia Equality, the state’s veritable clearinghouse for LGBT politics, nor attended their highly-touted “Evening for Equality” reception – which, in addition to the HRC’s annual spring banquet, is the place to be for showing and shoring up LGBT support. Add to that equation that most of the candidates don’t have a very salient track record on LGBT issues (or that the record of those who do isn’t very impressive), and are competing in a crowded field in a year in which financial contributions to candidates and campaigns are down. So, in these dire and exasperated circumstances, one has to wonder why the current slate of Democratic candidates for governor don’t feel the need to interact with the LGBT community, or even speak on the issues that resonate with queer folk? Where’s the leadership in the Democratic Party admonishing these candidates and their brash neglect of one of its most important constituencies?
The irony of this situation will come to a capstone on Tuesday, when LGBT voters across the state will ultimately have to make a choice between the lesser of two evils: contempt or apathy. But even as we pinch our noses and make our way to the polls, there’s another, more important, question to consider:
How long are we going to stand for this type of behavior from our governmental and political leaders?
Michael J. Brewer is a burgeoning political voice and currently works in the Georgia House of Representatives. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelJBrewer.