State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), the first openly gay African-American woman to serve in a State House in the United States, is resigning from office effective November 13, 2015.
Bell has accepted a position with LGBT legal organization Lambda Legal as Regional Director in their Southern Regional Office. It’s a homecoming of sorts as Bell joined Lambda Legal in 2006 as Community Educator in the Southern Regional Office before leaving after being elected to the House District 58 seat in a special election in 2009.
“I am honored to have been given the opportunity to serve District 58 and the State of Georgia in the House of Representatives, and I’m proud of the work I’ve accomplished alongside my colleagues to help move Georgia forward,” said Rep. Bell in a statement. “I have truly enjoyed working with representatives on both sides of the aisle and all of the hardworking individuals who are committed to creating laws and policies that reflect the needs of all Georgians. I am looking forward to continuing to improve the lives of people in our state and across the south during this new chapter.”
State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estate) and state Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) are the other two openly gay members of the Georgia legislature.
Drenner had just heard the news when we spoke to her Thursday morning, saying, “I was surprised in one sense but not surprised in another because it’s hard to make a living and make a difference [in the legislature]. I know that having a potential job present itself like that…it’s very hard not to accept it, so I could see that.”
Bell coasted to victory in a Democratic primary battle with Erica Long last May, winning by over 25 points. She was named to a leadership position in the Georgia House Democratic Caucus last November, serving as House Minority Chief Deputy Whip.
“We’re all saddened to hear of Rep. Bell’s decision to resign her seat, Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham told Georgia Voice. “She has been a strong champion of the LGBT community while in office. Her efforts to fight against discriminatory legislation and work for great understanding and legal protections for the LGBT community have been unwavering. However, we would also like to congratulate her on her new position with Lambda Legal and look forward to continuing to work closely with her in this new role.”
Lambda Legal Executive Director Kevin Cathcart issued a statement shortly after Bell’s resignation was announced, saying, “We are very pleased to welcome Simone back to Lambda Legal and look forward to the exciting work ahead. Simone has never stopped being a fierce advocate for LGBT people and those living with HIV, and we are delighted that she’s chosen to continue that work with Lambda Legal by leading our Southern Regional Office.”