Georgia Equality makes early endorsements of gay candidates in state House races

State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) has served 12 years in the House as she seeks re-election and so far faces no opponent. This past session she pushed for a bill to end discrimination in the workplace for state employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity. One hearing on the bill led to very anti-gay testimony from Tanya Ditty, the state director for Concerned Women of America, who compared gay people to pedophiles and necrophiliacs. The bill, however, died in the past session but plans are to bring it back next session.

State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) was elected in a special election in 2009 and has served three sessions representing District 58. Her district underwent major changes under the Republican leadership this past year and now she faces a challenger, Ralph Long, who is also an incumbent. She spoke passionately at a recent LGBT rally about the importance of this election.

Keisha Waites was elected in a special election this year to represent District 60 and did not receive the Georgia Equality endorsement at that time because Georgia Equality was heavily involved in working to pass Drenner’s bill for state workplace equality.

Britt is running for the District 56 seat being vacated by LGBT ally Kathy Ashe, who decided not to seek re-election this year after more than 20 years in the General Assembly. He faces opponent “Able” Mable Thomas, who in 2008 ran for Congress against U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

“I am thrilled about the early endorsement; it means a lot to me,” Britt said of the Georgia Equality endorsement.

“I was a co-chair of the organization some years ago and have worked hard for them and lobbied for them in the General Assembly with Cathy Woolard when Karla Drenner introduced the State Fair Employment Practices Act [HB 630],” he said. “This is very meaningful for me.”

Bell and Drenner also talked to the some 30 people attending the LGBT Caucus meeting that included speaker House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams.

“For most of the metro seats the decision will be made on July 31 [the primary],” Abrams said as she stressed the need to support LGBT incumbents and candidates.

The districts were divided on racial lines designed to weaken the black vote, Abrams added, and it was important to ensure all candidates reach out to all allies to reach voters in perhaps new areas of their districts.

Drenner said that it was the fact she is gay that is so intrinsically part of who she is and being gay plays a significant role in how she serves in the House.

“I feel like as… the more experienced member in the General Assembly with regard to the LGBT community we have to get Simone re-elected. That is a top priority,” Drenner said.

It is also important to elect Ken Britt, she added. Britt is holding an LGBT campaign kickoff on Wednesday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the home of Harry Harkins, 91 Avery Drive. Read more about the event here.

“My job I believe is to not only help Democrats get elected but to ensure LGBT candidates get elected,” she said. She added that the presence of State Reps. Rashad Taylor and Keisha Waites are also important to support.

Bell pointed out that all of the districts have been redesigned and “this is not going to be election.” But she also makes it clear in the General Assembly that she is a gay representative who ensures she represents all constituents — whether it comes to healthcare, women’s issues, poverty and education.

“It’s important I go back because as an out lesbian I fight for women’s right if she wants to or doesn’t want to have an abortion,” she said. “If I am fighting for women’s rights, I know I’m fighting for lesbian rights.”

Waites and Taylor were not in attendance at today’s LGBT caucus meeting.

Photo: House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams spoke to the LGBT Caucus of Georgia’s Democratic Party on Saturday. (by Dyana Bagby)