At least 12 LGBT Georgians will be part of the state’s 117-member delegation heading to the Democratic National Convention on July 25-28 in Philadelphia. The Georgia Democratic Party claims this is double the amount of LGBT delegates they sent to the 2012 convention in Charlotte.
Among the contingent going to Philadelphia who self-identify as LGBT and agreed to be be named publicly are Hillary Clinton supporter James Dustin Baker of Athens (who is making his second trip as a delegate after going in 2012) and Bernie Sanders supporters Michael David Smith of Columbus, Khalid Kamau of Atlanta (an organizer for the Atlanta chapter of Black Lives Matter), Javier Brown of Atlanta (legislative assistant to state Sen. Vincent Fort [D-Atlanta] and state Sen. Curt Thompson [D-Tucker]) and Andrew Niquette of Albany (a student and the state’s youngest delegate to the Democratic convention). Georgia Democratic Party spokesman Michael Smith also identifies as LGBT and will be a convention page.
The prevalence of LGBT delegates is a result of affirmative action goals set by the Georgia Democratic Party that covered LGBT individuals, African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, people with disabilities and youth (defined by the party in this instance as being 36 years of age or younger). GOP spokesman Ryan Mahoney confirmed to Georgia Voice that the Republican Party of Georgia set no such affirmative action goals, and there don’t appear to be any self-identified LGBT individuals among the 76 Georgia delegates going to the Republican National Convention on July 18-21 in Cleveland.
“Having the opportunity to witness history is indescribable, and there are moments where it’s a little overwhelming,” Smith said of being named a delegate. “It’s not lost on me that I and my fellow LGBTQ delegates are the beneficiaries of decades’ worth of battles fought by the generations that came before us. Their work is the reason why we have the privilege of representing our state in a welcoming environment, and in an open and honest manner. I’m proud of my party—the party of inclusiveness and diversity and equality. It’s just such a shame that the folks headed to the GOP convention in Cleveland probably won’t experience that kind of embrace.”
Mahoney did not respond when asked for a response to Smith’s comments.
Clinton racks up most of Georgia delegates
Of the 117 Georgia delegates to the Democratic convention, 102 are pledged delegates. Those 102 include 67 elected at April caucuses in each congressional district, 13 state and local leaders and officeholders, and 22 at-large delegates that were elected by the state party committee last month. All have signed pledges to support either Clinton or Sanders—the former Secretary of State racked up 73 pledged delegates from Georgia to the Vermont senator’s 29 on the March 1 presidential primary.
The remaining 15 are superdelegates—Democratic Party insiders who can support whichever candidate they choose, but those 15 going to Philadelphia are largely are reported to be lining up behind Clinton.
Sanders delegate fights for minimum wage increase
Kamau, who identifies as bisexual, is one of the six delegates from Georgia’s 13th Congressional District and the only Sanders supporter in the bunch.
“I think at some point I just realized delegates are real people and that I could be one of them, so I investigated the process,” he says of his path to Philadelphia. “Every step of the process just got me more engaged.”
Kamau acknowledges that there are some delegates going to the convention who will disrupt or do anything they can to make Sanders (who endorsed Clinton on Tuesday) the nominee, a notion Kamau calls “dangerous.”
“One is I think it’s not an effective strategy. Hillary is probably going to win on the first ballot. And part of this ‘Bernie or bust’ campaign is trying to convince superdelegates to switch and that’s not going to happen,” he says. “And the more important, impactful reason is that by doing that you alienate the Hillary Clinton delegates and you spend all of your political capital on this impossible goal when there is this a very real goal in play specifically on the $15 minimum wage.”
A draft of the party platform released on July 1 includes a call for raising the minimum wage to “at least $15 an hour.” That draft went to the full Platform Committee for a meeting in Orlando on July 8-9, and a locked-in party platform will be published before the convention and ratified in Philadelphia.
Kamau was in Orlando for that meeting, where he pushed for that increase of the minimum wage and other issues of importance to Sanders supporters. But he says it’s not just because it’s something he supports, it’s about Clinton being effective should she win the presidency.
“The only way that Democrats can take back control of Congress is by keeping that 2008 Obama coalition together, and a significant portion of that are Berniecrats. And they’re not going to show up at the polls if there’s nothing in the platform for them to show up for. Some won’t show up at all if Bernie’s not the nominee, but the majority of them will show up if they believe that Hillary is going to fight for a $15 minimum wage and maybe not universal health care but universal child care. You have to give people something to stay engaged with the process. That is my entire goal as a delegate.”