Gay candidates and other state and local races to watch

Georgia’s two openly gay state lawmakers remained unopposed for new terms. State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Georgia’s first openly gay state lawmaker, is running for her sixth term. State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), the first openly lesbian African-American state legislator in the nation, seeks her first full term after a special election last fall.

Other races of interest include three gay men seeking seats in the state legislature, two lesbians running against each other for Fulton County Commission, and several gay rights allies seeking to remain in or return to politics.

General Assembly

Senate District 47: Tim Riley, a gay mental health counselor who lives in Athens, is running as a Democrat for the same seat he sought in 2008. Four GOP candidates qualified to run for the seat; Riley will face the winner of the July 20 Republican primary in November.
• Senate District 39: State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) is one of the strongest LGBT rights allies under the Gold Dome. Graham Balch qualified to run against Fort in the Democratic primary. Balch, who became an award-winning teacher at Grady High School after a career in business, is well-funded and has drawn support from several gay politicians.
Senate District 42: Democrats Jason Carter and Tom Stubbs, Independent Steve Patrick and Libertarian David Montane faced off May 11 in a special election to fill the state Senate District 42 seat. Carter, Stubbs and Montane all reached out to gay voters, and Patrick is openly gay. Results of the May 11 vote weren’t available by press time, but the race appears headed for a rematch: Carter and Stubbs qualified to run in the Democratic primary, Patrick says he will also run for the full term, and Montane said he will run again if he wins the special election.
House District 81: Gay business owner Keith Gross hopes to challenge gay-friendly Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Atlanta) in November, but will first face Sandy Murray in the July 20 Democratic primary. Gross ran against Jacobs in 2008, but was pulled off the ballot after a residency challenge. Jacobs sponsored an anti-bullying bill that was backed by LGBT groups and passed in the final hours of this year’s General Assembly session.
House District 59: Brad Ploeger was nominated to run for House District 59 at the Libertarian Party state convention on April 24. He is challenging gay-friendly Rep. Margaret Kaiser (D-Atlanta). Ploeger, who is gay, is an attorney and lives in Grant Park with his partner. Ploeger must collect 1,600 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
House District 81: Rep. Jill Chambers (R-Atlanta), the only Republican to vote against the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, faces Democrat
Elena Parent. Parent held a March 31 “Celebrate Equality” fundraiser that featured lesbian Q100 radio personality Melissa Carter and several gay political activists.
House District 89: In this DeKalb-based district, Rep. Earnest “Coach” Williams (D-Avondale) faces Rev. Kenneth Samuel in the Democratic primary.
Samuel, pastor of Victory for the World Church, is a longtime, vocal supporter of LGBT equality.

Fulton County Commission

District 1 (Chairman): Incumbent Chair John Eaves, a Democrat, was endorsed by Georgia Equality in the past. Former Atlanta City Council member Mary Norwood, who drew strong support from LGBT voters in her bid for mayor last year, is running for the post as an independent. She must qualify by petition and is holding a “Sign One and Take One” event at 5 p.m. May 19 at Amsterdam, a gay bar. Republican Steve Broadbent is also in the race.
District 6: The race for the District 6 seat on the Fulton County Commission includes two out lesbians. Joan Garner, a longtime social justice and LGBT activist, is running as a Democrat and has already been endorsed by Georgia Equality. Also qualifying for the Fulton District 6 post as a Democrat is Keisha Waites, a lesbian who works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and has a long record of unsuccessful bids for elected office. Also qualifying are Democrats Sally A. Smith and David Holder. The four candidates will face off in the July 20 primary.


Dyana Bagby contributed

Top photo: Joan Garner (left) and Keisha Waites, both lesbians, face off for Fulton County District 6. (Courtesy photos)