Election Preview: Gold Dome races pit gay vs. gay-friendly

Thanks to redistricting, Bell and Taylor’s races are particularly hard, as they face fellow Democratic incumbents who have been supportive of LGBT issues. The decision is so difficult between Taylor and state Rep. Pat Gardner, a longtime LGBT ally, that gay political group Georgia Equality chose to sit the race out, believing that both would be equally strong on LGBT rights.

Of the openly gay candidates hoping to join the LGBT caucus in the state legislature, political advocate Ken Britt is the best known and best funded. He too is locked in battle with a politician who has supported LGBT rights, “Able” Mable Thomas.

Gay veteran William Phelps faces an uphill battle in the Democratic primary against LGBT-friendly incumbent Rep. Margaret Kaiser, who was endorsed by Georgia Equality.

Two other openly gay hopefuls — state House District 101 candidate Tim Swiney in Gwinnett County and Senate District 47 candidate Tim Riley in Athens — are unopposed in the Democratic Primary but face Republican opposition in November.

GA Voice sent surveys to each of the candidates facing off on the July 31 ballot.

House District 56

Campaign opponents are Ken Britt and ‘Able’ Mable Thomas. Both are Democrats and the winner of the July 31 primary will win the seat because there is no Republican opponent in November.

Georgia Equality, Atlanta Stonewall Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign, and the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed Britt.

Ken BrittKen Britt is a longtime veteran of Atlanta’s LGBT scene, serving on such boards as AID Atlanta, Georgia Equality and also as co-chair of the national Human Rights Campaign. He was the executive director of the Alston & Bird for nearly 30 years before taking early retirement.

Politically, he worked behind the scenes on successful campaigns for gay candidates Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan and Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner before deciding to run for District 56 seat left open when Rep. Kathy Ashe decided not to seek reelection. Ashe has endorsed Britt in the campaign.

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

My top three priority issues, among many pressing issues, are economic development including community/neighborhood revitalization and preservation (particularly in the southern areas of District 56); jobs (employment, wages, benefits, opportunity for fair and equal advancement); and improving the quality of education including job training and Vo-Tech-type programs.

Other important issues are transportation, affordable housing, affordable quality healthcare, seniors, civil/human rights and public safety, not necessarily in that order.

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

I have dedicated most of my adult life working to improve the lives of LGBT people; therefore, it’s difficult to pick my “top three accomplishments” as they are all equally important and meaningful to me. My personal mission statement includes serving people who are living with HIV/AIDS, gaining full equality for LBGT people, including marriage equality, and helping LGBTQ youth.

Nevertheless, as my top three accomplishments, I would include my leadership as the chair of the Board of Directors of AID Atlanta, co-chair of the Board of Directors of Georgia Equality, and co-chair of the National Board of the Human Rights Campaign “HRC.” Selecting these three accomplishments in no ways diminishes my other involvement, such as helping to open the Rainbow Home at CHRIS Kids for LGBTQ youth, or being one of the founding members of the Atlanta Executive Network.

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

I have dedicated most of my adult life to serving the LGBT community …

During the 2011 session of the General Assembly, I served as a full-time volunteer lobbyist representing Georgia Equality and Planned Parenthood, working with former City Council President Cathy Woolard.

I have been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign (which does not typically endorse political candidates in local races), Georgia Equality (I received an early endorsement), The Victory Fund, District 56 incumbent Representative Kathy Ashe, as well as Representative Karla Drenner, Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan and Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner.

I believe it is important for LGBT voters to know I am not just a gay candidate. I have the experience and a proven track record in business, the community and politics to get the job done. I believe in the strength of building consensus and coalitions. I also believe we must use the political process to gain our full equality while winning hearts and minds one by one.

We must have a place at the table. As someone once told me, “If we’re in the room they are talking with us, if we’re not in the room they are talking about us.” We must be “in the room and at the table” to keep diversity and equality at the forefront of the discussion.

‘Able’ Mable Thomas, a Democrat, entered Georgia’s political scene in 1984 when she won a seat in the Georgia House where she served two terms. In 1997, she won a seat on the Atlanta City Council before seeking a return to the General Assembly in 2000, winning and serving six years.

She gave up her post in the legislature in 2008 to run for Congress against U.S. Rep. John Lewis and was defeated. In 2010, she tried to gain back her seat in the state House but lost to state Rep. Rashad Taylor.

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

Education reform, jobs and economic development.

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

1) Hate crimes legislation (voted in favor); 2) was on the Judiciary Committee and voted in favor of Georgia Health Care Directive Act of 2007; 3) voted in favor of domestic partnership legislation for the City of Atlanta.

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

As your next representative for District 56, I pledge to continue to fight for freedom, justice, and equality for all Georgians including support for public funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and treatment facilities; free access to HIV/AIDS testing at jail and prison facilities; and support HB 630, the State Fair Employment Practices Act, a bill introduced by Georgia Rep. Karla Drenner (D-86) that would amend state labor laws to add safeguards from discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

House District 57

This race is between two incumbents, Rep. Rashad Taylor and Pat Gardner, and has become heated with Taylor alleging anti-gay tactics used against him in the race and Gardner denouncing the alleged tactics, saying she had nothing to do with them. This race will also be decided July 31.

Georgia Equality has not endorsed in this race but the Atlanta Stonewall Democrats endorsed Gardner. The Victory Fund, which only considers openly gay candidates, endorsed Taylor.

Rashad TaylorRep. Rashad Taylor became the first openly gay man in the Georgia General Assembly after coming out at a press conference in May 2011 after the ex-boyfriend of his current partner sent out emails to legislators alleging he is gay and also accusing him of misusing his office. He is the co-founder of a political consulting company and a founder of Atlanta Jobs with Justice.

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

My hate crimes legislation: This year I introduced fully inclusive legislation to combat hate crimes. I will continue to push for its passage.

My constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage: Not only is it a social issue to make sure that every Georgian receives a wage that they can live off of, it is an economic stimulus. Raising the minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of the people who have no choice but to spend it, which creates jobs and tax revenue for our government.

Regional transit governance of which I am the third co-signer. If the July 31 T-SPLOST referendum passes or fails, we must complete regional transit governance to save MARTA and help it grow and succeed.

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

Prior to being elected to office, I was a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. One of my proudest accomplishments was working with Cathy Woolard to defeat a last-minute effort that would have banned the ability of gay individuals to adopt.

As a legislative aide for Sen. Vincent Fort, I rolled up my sleeves and did the necessary groundwork to pass the first hate crimes law in Georgia.

I continue to fight to pass another hate crimes law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity to make sure that all Georgians are protected.

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

Even before I publicly stated that I am a gay man, I have been an aggressive advocate for equality for LGBT Georgians and Americans. As a legislator, I don’t just vote the right way. I attend rallies, forums and fundraising events that support the cause of equality.

I distribute condoms at my senior citizen living facilities, because of the rise in sexually transmitted diseases among the elderly. I have been active and aggressive in trying to reverse retail policies that don’t have condoms readily accessible for customers, particularly in low-income communities.

As a legislator, I have tried to stand up for what is right, and fair, and just, even against great opposition. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered voters should vote for me not because I am gay, but because I have been and will continue to be an aggressive champion for equality.

Pat GardnerRep. Pat Gardner has served in the General Assembly for 11 years. She is a former teacher and businesswoman. In her work in the legislature, she has focused on women’s issues, healthcare and public transportation.

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

Implementation of the Affordable Care Act including a Georgia Health Insurance Exchange to help small business and the expansion of Medicaid to include adults and bring significant federal dollars to our health care system; a regional transit governance structure for the metro area; and the elimination of the state controls on MARTA spending.

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

This past year I spent significant time with the state public health leadership to ensure that the HIV/AIDS funding went to the groups for which it was intended.

As a member of the Health Appropriations Subcommittee, I actively lobbied my colleagues on the committee to ensure all possible state support for HIV/AIDS funding be made available.

I remain proud of my role in enabling the development of a LGBT Division of the Georgia Psychological Association in my role as executive director albeit quite a few years ago.

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

LGBT voters need all kinds of advocates for the legal challenges facing the community in the coming years; gay folks and gay friendly folks, advocates across the cultural and racial spectrum, advocates who shout the loudest, and advocates who dig in and find solutions.

My legislative style provides consistency, reliability, determination, and an ability to work persuasively with others toward the goal.

House District 58

The House District 58 campaign pits incumbent Rep. Simone Bell against incumbent Rep. Ralph Long in the Democratic primary due to the Republican redistricting process. The winner on July 31 will face Republican challenger Earl Cooper.

Bell is endorsed by Georgia Equality, Atlanta Stonewall Democrats and the Victory Fund.

Ralph LongState Rep. Ralph Long was first elected to the Georgia House in 2008 and is a licensed real estate broker, owning his own businesses, The District Realty and Mindsweat Properties. He takes a particular interest in trying to rebuild Atlanta neighborhoods, especially Sylvan Hills where he lives.  

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

Education reform, working to remove the 50/50 restriction on MARTA and forming a stronger and more cohesive and modern Democratic Caucus.

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

I was the first elected official on the scene in Pittsburgh after Brandon White was attacked. As soon as I learned about what happened, I recognized that this was a hate crime. All Atlantans, including young gay Atlantans, have a right to safety.

Because I have lived most of my life in Southwest Atlanta, I also recognized that Brandon White’s attack was only able to occur in the manner it did because Pittsburgh is plagued with violence, blight and a lack of code enforcement. We must do a better job of keeping Atlanta safe for all — gay, straight, black, white, young or old — in every quadrant of the city.

I am proud to have co-sponsored my colleague Rep. Rashad Taylor’s hate crimes legislation and cannot wait until it is passed and enacted.

I also showed my commitment to equality by standing up to Georgia Equality for endorsing my opponent without even giving me the courtesy of an interview or a questionnaire.

I am a member of the General Assembly and represent thousands of Georgia. Most importantly, I am a human being with a desire to serve our community. Those facts alone should have made it obvious to Georgia Equality that I deserved equity. Equality must mean equality for all, not just equality when it’s convenient.

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

I hope the members of the LGBT community vote for me for the same reason that all residents of State House District 58 should vote for me — they will always know where I stand and what I believe in. Whether the issue is strengthening our public schools, fighting crime or bringing economic development to our state, I never shy away from my responsibility to highlight the issues that concern my constituents.

Among those issues is the fight for civil rights for all. I have never voted to discriminate against anyone and never will. My father and aunts integrated many of the major institutions in our state: Georgia Tech, Georgia State and the Atlanta City Council.

I have been taught to fight for equality and fairness since before I understood what those words meant. I bring my family’s values to my work as a legislator.

Simone BellRep. Simone Bell was elected to the Georgia General Assembly after winning a special election in 2009 and has now served three terms in the legislature. With her win in 2009, she became the first African-American out lesbian to win an election to a state legislature.

Before she was elected, Bell worked as a healthcare administrator with Emory University, a community educator with The Health Initiative which serves health needs of LGBT people and also with Lambda Legal, an LGBT nonprofit legal organization.

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

1. Access to quality and affordable health care for all Georgians; 2. Comprehensive anti-bullying legislation; 3. Fair employment protections for the LGBT community

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

1. Running as an out lesbian for elected office
2. Working with both the Health Initiative and Lambda Legal to bring important issues related to LGBT health and civil rights to the larger community
3. Obtaining my B.A. from Agnes Scott College with the generous help of ZAMI, Inc. donors who support out LGBT students who wish to attend college.

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

I think the voters in House District 58, LGBT and non-LGBT, should vote for me because I have a proven record of leadership in many areas. I have and continue to work for LGBT rights in the South for more than 20 years, as well as advocate for affordable housing, quality education, senior issues and access to quality and affordable healthcare.

I am also committed to women’s issues, and small business economic development. As a result of my experience in these areas, I have created relationships across many lines of difference in the legislature and serve in several leadership roles.

These positions allow me to actually get work done. I know how to fight for the best legislation and I know when to walk away from the table.

Finally, I believe in collaborative leadership which leads to thoughtful and strategic legislation that moves Georgia forward.

House District 59

Political newcomer William Phelps, an openly gay man, is challenging gay-friendly incumbent Margaret Kaiser in the July 31 Democratic primary. There are no Republican candidates.

Georgia Equality and Atlanta Stonewall Democrats endorsed Kaiser.

Margaret KeiserMargaret Kaiser was first elected in 2006. She graduated from Emory University and has worked in constituent affairs with the Secretary of State and also The Carter Center. She’s currently president of her family’s business, Kaiser Dough and Pizza Concepts, which owns Grant Central and Grant Central East Pizza.

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

Access to quality, public education; access to quality, affordable healthcare; equal protections for all Georgians, especially anti-bullying, anti-discrimination practices.

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

I have worked across party lines to discuss broadening language in the parent protection act, specifically. I have, always, cast votes in this regard, but unfortunately in a Republican dominated legislature, there are too few opportunities to make real effective change.

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

LGBT voters should vote, again, for me because I am an effective Democrat in a very partisan, racially and geographically divisive environment. I am a trained mediator who is able to work across party lines to push forward issues that are important to voters and my district’s residents. 

I am, and have always been, accessible and pro active and always open to hearing others’ opinions on issues and being open and truthful about my own position.

William PhelpsWilliam Phelps of East Point Phelps served in the Marines from 2002 to 2010, including a deployment to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (helping with logistics) from March 2008 to November 2008. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Operation Enduring Freedom Medal for outstanding military service.

Now as a disabled veteran, Phelps is a mentor for disabled veterans, university students and is a supporter of veterans’ rights, rehabilitation and services.

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

Education, hate crimes law, transportation.

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

Resounding support for the repeal of DADT as a veteran: Being a Marine veteran it was humbling to stand with my sisters and brothers in uniform to help advocate the end of such oppression.

I help promote and advise a new LGBT organization for men and women of color who have worn the uniform named Secret Operations People of Color. This organization has a five-fold mission: mentorship, community service, outreach, advocacy and information.

I’ve also helped counsel numerous LGBT youth on issues that are relevant to our community.

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

I think when people look at our campaign you see someone who has put their money where their mouth is. I think there is no greater sacrifice than to serve our great country, then to have the unique opportunity to represent District 59 is awesome.

Our district is very diverse on every level and it is important for everyone to know that I am willing to fight for everyone. I have always been a fighter and I am willing to fight for every single resident of the 59th District. I will not be a representative who sits back and is never heard or seen, I will be active and very present.

House District 60

Keisha WaitesIncumbent Rep. Keisha Waites faces three challengers in the July 31 Democratic primary.

GA Voice tried unsuccessfully to reach the other challengers — LaTrenka Riley, William Fisher and Antonio Lewis.

Georgia Equality, Victory Fund and Stonewall Democrats endorsed Waites.

What are the top three issues you want to support in the General Assembly?

Community revitalization and sustainable economic development are my top priorities for the 60th district, which includes Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties. However, my focus is to secure and fund viable transit solutions and attract businesses and corporations to the region.

I will continue to support legislation that funds a Regional Transportation System; this must be a collaborative approach at the federal and state levels of government to ensure its success.

Finally, ensuring the financial solvency of Peach Care and preserving Grady.

Please list your top three accomplishments within the LGBT community or on behalf of LGBT equality.

1. I am proud to have made history by being the first minority in the State of Georgia to run for the state legislature openly gay.

2. As a freshman legislator I immediately went to work lobbying colleagues concerning Rep. Drenner’s bill HB630, which would have outlawed discrimination and unlawful termination against state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identify. I also signed the legislation as a co-sponsor

3. As a freshman legislator during the 2012 legislative session, I attempted to recognize and commend the University of Georgia’s GSA organization with a resolution from the Georgia House of Representatives. Sadly, my Republican colleagues decided to insert politics and voted down the resolution. Despite their actions, I visited the UGA campus and met with LGBT student leaders …

Why should LGBT voters vote for you?

Even in my short time as member of the Georgia General Assembly, I have immediately gone to work on important issues that affect every community throughout the state of Georgia.

Within 30 days of being elected, I began actively lobbying my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike, concerning House Bill 630 that would protect state employees from being fired due to their sexual identity, preference or orientation.

I also believe that having this effort to improve my urban district, being led by a proud member of the LGBT community, is beneficial to the LGBT community’s overall goals.

When our heterosexual counterparts see that we are just as passionate about our civil liberties as we are about putting people back to work, improving the quality of life for all people and protecting the rights of all humans, we can build bridges and establish effective partnerships that will be beneficial to LGBT people for generations to come.