Gov. candidate Karen Handel dogged by past gay support

At the time, Handel was running for Fulton County Commission chair.  The quote has dogged her in her race for governor, with Deal — a former congressman and one of Handel’s five opponents in the July 20 GOP primary — using it to paint her as not a true conservative.

As the G0P gubernatorial primary heats up, Nathan Deal is attacking Karen Handel on her previous stands on gay issues — positions Handel and her campaign are trying to refute. (Handel photo from campaign Facebook page)

“Records prove Handel’s support of gay adoption, domestic partner benefits,” reads a May 11 press release from Deal’s campaign.

Handel’s camp now says the comment from Yeager was inaccurate, but she never asked Southern Voice for a correction or retraction.

Yeager told the Georgia Voice on June 7 that Handel, with whom he had frequently talked and emailed, never told him that it was wrong, either.

“As closely as I was working with her at the time, I certainly would not have made any statement like that if it had not been expressed from herself and clearly understood that that was her position,” Yeager said.

Yeager said at the time he had personal reasons for being concerned about gay adoption, adding to his certainty about Handel’s position.

“I had friends who are same-sex parents, and at the time my partner and I were also considering adoption, so it was a personal issue,” he said. “Certainly if she had the position she is affirming now, I would not have been as active in her campaign as I was at the time.”

Yeager also confirmed that Handel was a dues-paying member of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, noting that the LCR database shows she became a member in July 2002 and he remembers receiving a check for the membership from Handel at the LCR booth at the Atlanta Pride Festival, held at the end of June.

“She definitely was a member of Log Cabin and she was for at least two years,” said Yeager, who is no longer a leader in the group.

Neither Handel nor Deal’s campaigns responded to interview requests by press time.

Emails show relationship between Handel, Yeager

Handel lost her bid for an at-large seat on the Fulton County Commission in 2002, then won the Fulton County chairmanship in a special election in 2003 after Mike Kenn resigned.

Handel’s outreach to gay voters in her Fulton County races included seeking endorsements from Log Cabin and Georgia Equality, the state’s largest gay political group.

This week, Yeager provided copies of three email exchanges with Handel from 2002 and 2003. They show the two had a friendly as well as political relationship, with Handel inquiring about Yeager’s vacations while also telling him about gay endorsement interviews and seeking advice on the Georgia Equality survey.

The first exchange, from July 2002, shows Handel sending Yeager a draft of her answers to Georgia Equality’s candidate survey, and Yeager responding with recommendations.

“As I’ve told you, I do support domestic partner benefits, and confirm my position here, although I do have concerns about a domestic partner registry,” Handel writes in the email. “Bottom line is that I will work with you and other GLBT leaders to develop workable legislation. Give me a call if you have questions.”

In an exchange in mid-October 2002, Handel and Yeager discuss her interview for Georgia Equality’s endorsement and her stand on domestic partner benefits. Handel said she supports the benefits for county workers, but has privacy concerns about a DP registry open to all Fulton residents.

The third exchange, from September 2003, came after Yeager’s comment to Southern Voice about Handel’s support for gay adoption, and shows Handel continued to seek his advice after that interview. In these emails, Handel responds positively to Yeager’s invitation to join Log Cabin in the Atlanta AIDS Walk, and recounts more discussions with Georgia Equality.

As part of Southern Voice’s election coverage, the newspaper invited political candidates to submit statements from a gay supporter. The Oct. 31, 2003, issue included a statement submitted by Handel’s campaign. In it, Log Cabin member Mike Horton noted that Handel “has long supported domestic partner benefits” and was a member of Log Cabin.

Changing stands

Handel has tried to disavow her outreach to gay voters in her bids for state office, including her successful 2006 campaign for Secretary of State and her current gubernatorial race.

In 2006, Bill Stephens, one of Handel’s GOP primary opponents for Secretary of State, also made an issue of her past stands on gay issues.

On June 7, her current campaign spokesperson, Dan McLagan, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that despite being written in the first person and signed “Fondly, Karen,” the email with the draft of the Georgia Equality survey was sent by her campaign manager, not Handel, and did not accurately reflect her positions.

He did not comment on the veracity of the other email exchanges, which also showed Handel actively courting gay votes.

Handel would not speak directly to the AJC. McLagan also told the daily paper that the Georgia Equality survey was never submitted.

However, the same August 2003 Southern Voice article that included Yeager’s comment on gay adoption included a quote from then-Georgia Equality Executive Director Allen Thornell, who referenced the survey that Handel submitted the year before.

Reads the article: “In the candidate survey Georgia Equality distributed last year, Handel indicated support establishing a domestic partner benefits policy, but opposed creating a domestic partner registry, citing privacy concerns, Thornell said.”

Thornell passed away last year.

McLagan also noted that “the one opportunity [Handel] had to vote on the issue, she voted against them.”

The Fulton County Commission approved domestic partner benefits for county employees in 2003, when Kenn was chair. The issue Handle voted against was whether to also expand the county’s pension plan to include domestic partners — and that vote came in 2006, the same year she ran for Secretary of State.

Log Cabin leader welcomed by Deal’s congressional office

Asked about Handel’s past stands on gay rights, the current president of Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, Jamie Ensley, focused on Deal’s decision to attack Handel on the issue.

“I’m extremely disappointed with former Rep. Nathan Deal using the same tired old gay boogeyman scare tactic against Karen Handel, and I think it reflects a losing campaign,” Ensley said. “I would rather former Rep. Deal address his corruption accusations instead of this nonsense, it really makes his campaign appear to be a few clowns short of a circus.”

Deal consistently opposed LGBT issues in Congress, but Ensley noted that Deal’s U.S. House office “was very helpful to me” when he attended the national Log Cabin conference in April 2006.

“His office staff gave me a private tour of the capital, and arranged a tour of the White House for me, so I’m totally baffled by his new bipolar political affliction,” Ensley said.

Other GOP candidates for governor include Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who tried unsuccessfully to bar private insurance companies from offering domestic partner benefits; Eric Johnson, who opposed gay issues in the Georgia General Assembly; Jeff Chapman and Ray McBerry.

Log Cabin does not plan to make an endorsement in the primary, Ensley said.


Note: Southern Voice shut down on Nov. 16, 2009, when its parent company filed for bankruptcy, causing its archives to no longer be available online. A separate company purchased the assets in bankruptcy court in February 2010 and sporadically publishes a new newspaper with that name.