While three out lesbians have been elected to the state legislature — Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) and Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), an openly gay man has never been elected to serve under the Gold Dome.
Former state Rep. Rashad Taylor came out while in office amidst a scandal but lost last year in a re-election bid to Democrat Pat Gardner. Last year two other gay men sought a seat in the Georgia legislature — Tim Riley and Tim Swiney — but both were unsuccessful.
Gibeling hopes to break this streak and right now appears to be the only Democrat who has announced his candidacy for House District 54. The district is considered a Republican stronghold. Republican incumbent Ed Lindsey is stepping down from the House District 54 post after five terms to seek the nomination for the 11th Congressional District seat in 2014.
Gibeling is a Georgia Tech graduate with an MBA. He is also a lifelong Lutheran who was elected four times to the governing council of Redeemer Lutheran Church, the largest Lutheran congregation in the South. Gibeling states he took an early retirement from Lutheran Services of Georgia to organize his campaign for the Georgia legislature.
“Don’t let my cooperative spirit mislead you. I’m not afraid to tackle tough issues like traffic calming to preserve our neighborhoods, advocating for women’s health and safety issues, working to pass a fair employment policy law in Georgia that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, support for public schools and being a champion for seniors,” Gibeling remarked.
“The people of this district are some of the most reasonable, rational and good hearted people you can find. The extreme positions we see in Georgia politics are not representative of the people of the 54th District,” he said in the statement.
“I was once an active Republican many years ago, but have seen that party become dominated by its radical voices. That’s one reason I am running as an independent thinking Democrat,” Gibeling said.
Gibeling serves as secretary of the LGBT Caucus of the state Democratic Party.
While this is his first run for elected office, Gibeling notes on his website he was very involved in writing national and local policies for the Lutheran Church, including national endorsement of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (yet to be passed by Congress), anti-bullying legislation, AIDS education and local Lutheran support for the state Fair Employment Practices Act that prohibits discrimination against state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“People sometimes ask about my legislative experience. I have been very successful in writing and getting legislation passed at assemblies of the Lutheran Church for 16 years, which is far more political than you might think,” he states.
In his adolescence, Gibeling’s own political aspirations faced an internal opponent: his sexual identity. He had been aware “of something different about myself at a very young age,” and when he began to feel attraction to other men, he thought, “Uh oh. To be identified as gay is the kiss of death to any thoughts of political office.”
An only child, Gibeling came out to his parents at age 15, in the mid 1960s, when homosexuality was considered a mental illness. His father Robert, an architect, and mother Naomi, a housewife, arranged psychotherapy.
“It was a dark secret that we had to keep and not tell anyone,” Gibeling said. “We were all under the impression that this is something we can change, but psychotherapy did not do anything to change that.” He sought help from his community of solid, dependable Lutherans – a Southern outpost of Garrison Keillor’s people of Lake Woebegone.
As a lifelong member of the Church of the Redeemer on Peachtree Street in Midtown, Gibeling prayed for God to change him. The divine answer surprised him. “It wasn’t a voice, but it was a revelation that came partly from a sermon at my church, and it was that God had made me this way and it wasn’t to change me,” Gibeling said.
“I was made the way God wanted, and knowing that, I still didn’t know where that would lead me, especially politically.”
From Gibeling’s press release:
Mr. Gibeling, a Georgia Tech graduate and MBA, has a unique combination of business success and faith based organization experience. His marketing background includes creating highly effective communications for Georgia- Pacific and Siemens Energy & Automation.
Gibeling served as the first Director of Advertising for the Weather Channel when it was a start up television network. He also wrote and produced the video presentation that helped win the contract for local Georgia firms to design and build the Georgia Dome.
A lifelong Lutheran who was elected four times to the governing council of Redeemer Lutheran Church, the largest Lutheran congregation in the South, Gibeling took an early retirement from Lutheran Services of Georgia to organize this campaign. Working in faith based non profit organizations has given him keen insights into helping the most vulnerable in our society while advocating for policies that help create equal opportunities for all.
UPDATE: Ken Britt lost his bid for the state House in the Democratic primary against “Able” Mable Thomas. An earlier version of this story did not include this fact.