Atlanta LGBT families rally around ‘ally’ Democrat Jon Ossoff at meet-and-greet

Jon Ossoff entered the home of Roswell couple Matt and Barry Levesque on June 9 to a cheering crowd, with parents and children of all ages running up to meet him.

Ossoff, the Democratic candidate running to fill Tom Price’s vacated Congressional seat for Georgia’s 6th District, was the guest of honor at a LGBT families meet-and-greet put on by the Young Democrats of Georgia Stonewall Caucus. Ossoff faces off against Republican Karen Handel in a June 20 runoff.

“You will be able to count on me every day. I will stand up for LGBT Georgians and Americans with everything I’ve got,” Ossoff assured his audience. “I will try to build coalitions to stand with you too, because I believe we have to find common ground, but I will never compromise on your civil rights. Never. I will oppose any legislation that discriminates. I will be an ally. I will be an ally in public. I will be an ally when you need it most, when it counts, and my door will always be open to you.”

Lukis Newborn of the Young Democrats of Georgia Stonewall Caucus said the group wanted to support Ossoff because he’s repeatedly promised to be a voice for the LGBT community, whereas his opponent has not made clear her views on LGBT-related issues.

Handel’s silence speaks volumes

“We have a candidate who, in 2010, said that she is clearly opposed to same-sex marriage; that she would be interested in making it illegal for same-sex couples to adopt kids. That would’ve made many families here today an impossibility,” state Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville) said. “I have not heard her backtrack from those statements.”

LGBT activist Jeff Graham said he spends a lot of time looking at polls and data, and evidence shows that 6th District residents are “pretty darn fair” when it comes to LGBT issues. That’s one reason the Stonewall Caucus supports Ossoff’s campaign.

“We wanted to support Jon Ossoff because, as we’ve all seen, especially recently with Karen Handel’s approach to the LGBTQ community, it’s very difficult to find the support for someone that doesn’t support your community,” Newborn said.

State Rep. Park Cannon (D-Atlanta) told attendees about her recent attempt to speak with Handel following a debate, where Handel walked away without answering questions about her views on LGBT rights — to a fellow elected official, who happens to be queer.

“What I’m really worried about right now is how we will not have leadership that actually understands or cares about our community if Jon is not elected,” Cannon said. “Congress works around the clock and we need someone there who is watching around the clock. I believe that is Jon Ossoff.”

Graham spoke further about Handel’s lack of response to questions about her feelings on LGBT rights. Neither Handel nor her campaign have responded to repeated emails and voicemails from Georgia Voice, though during the first of her debates with Ossoff, she did mention she did not condone discrimination based on sexual orientation — just after she talked about supporting “religious freedom.”

“Over the years, as she has run for office after office after office, she has gotten even deeper with her true colors and her bias against us LGBT people, but more specifically her bias against the loving parents that are raising LGBT kids and the same-sex couples that are forming and raising their own families,” Graham said. “She ran away from the fact that once upon a time she was a member of Log Cabin Republicans because she knows that will haunt her. … What I’m concerned about is in the next week-and-a-half she’s going to try to convince people that she’s not that bad, and you need to go out and remind people that yes, she is. She is bad for the LGBT community. She is bad for our families.”

On the other hand, both Newborn and Park praised Ossoff for attending an Atlanta event honoring the one-year mark of the Pulse nightclub attacks, where 49 individuals, many Latinx, died after a gunman opened fire on the popular LGBT spot.

“We don’t have to make neighbors afraid of neighbors, make us angry at one another, fan the flames of division and fear and hatred and bigotry and drive people to the polls that way,” Ossoff said.

He said he’s confident in the way the campaign is going.

“We are poised to win this thing on June 20, and we can only do it if everyone here and everyone you know who cares about this gives a lot in the next 10 days,” Ossoff said. “It’s about the real human consequences of elections. It’s about the fundamental values that are uniting us here in this community: respect for all, kindness and decency. Values that are not represented today in Washington, but values that are bringing people from across the political spectrum together in Georgia’s 6th District.”

Family values

Throughout the evening, LGBT parents and kids of LGBT parents came to the microphone to speak about their experiences, and what life would be like without their families — for instance, if adoption for same-sex couples was to be banned.

“One day [my mom] said, ‘Jean is my girlfriend and we’re in love and we want you to accept us and be a part of our family,” said Emilio Vincent Coirini, a young man who was raised by his mother and her wife. “I was a very young child and I really did not know that I too was a ‘mo. But they made a home that was so much more loving and accepting for me growing up. … I just want to let everyone know, who is a LGBT parent, that they can raise their children 10 times better if they put in the honest care and love that every parent should because if you don’t, you miss something.”

Overall, the sentiments were how accepting and open the 6th is to its LGBT residents. One Roswell man said he and his husband went from being the new gay couple on the block to being in charge of their homeowners association. Another resident named Keith shared that he and his husband together helped raise his children from a previous marriage to his ex-wife.

“We’ve been disenfranchised. We were considered second-class citizens and we have finally gotten to a place where they can never take it away from us again. Ever,” he said. “We have a 20-year love story and we raised amazing kids in college that have great grades; that did everything correctly, and we have this beautiful, amazing extended family that supports us.”

Matt Levesque, whose home played host for the event, spoke as well. He brought his husband and two of their three children up front.

“Like anybody who is going to be starting a family, we had our fears and our trepidations about raising children. However, as soon as we met, we fell head-over-heels in love with them and we’ve been in love with them every step of the way,” Levesque said. “If we had not been allowed to adopt children, who knows what would have happened to these three. Barry and I were the only ones who offered to take all three children. The others would take one or two or none, and so we offered to keep them together.”

He encouraged fellow LGBT individuals present to consider starting their own families.

“Don’t deny yourself this privilege of making the world a better place by opening your hearts to the many children in need. You will learn so much about yourself and give a child the greatest gift of all, which is a forever family,” he said.

For a full photo gallery from the June 9 event, click here.