LGBT political group fights GOP majority in Georgia legislature


Georgia Equality

Georgia Equality is a bipartisan organization and has a Fair Majority campaign, Woolard added. But with Republicans so close to completely controlling the General Assembly, it is time to ensure Democrats are voted back in office or to office for the first time.

“Our strategy is to find more supportive Republicans,” Woolard said. “But the nature of this presentation is to show … the dangers to the community that a constitutional majority represents, so we can be unabashedly partisan in this presentation.”

A constitutional majority, or two-thirds of the members of the House or Senate, is the vote threshold required to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in Georgia.

In 2004, it took Democrats crossing party lines to vote with Republicans to put the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the ballot. If the GOP wins a constitutional majority, similar amendments could be sent to voters without needing any Democratic support.

Also, the state Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA), which would make it illegal to fire state workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity, would be in danger of stalling. In the past session it stayed stuck in the House Judiciary Committee.

“There is a lot at stake — the presidential race, a constitutional majority and sponsors for FEPA,” Woolard said of the upcoming election.

In the state House, Georgia Equality believes four out of five key races must have Democrats win to block a GOP constitutional majority. The races are:

• Kimberly Alexander(D) vs. Bob Snelling (R). This is the newly drawn District 66 in the Douglasville area west of Atlanta. Snelling has name recognition because he was a state representative in 2002, Woolard said.

• Rep. Carl Von Epps (D-LaGrange) vs. Gene King (R) in District 132. Von Epps is a long-time incumbent and a sponsor of FEPA.

• Renita Hamilton (D) vs. Joyce Chandler (R) in the new District 105 that includes Lawrenceville and Grayson of Gwinnett County. Hamilton also received an early endorsement from GE.

• Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) vs. Chris Boedeker (R) in District 81 that includes North Central DeKalb and a section of Gwinnett. Holcomb is the incumbent and a sponsor of FEPA.

• Rep. Pedro Marin (D-Duluth) vs. Mark Williams (R) in District 96. Marin is also a long-time incumbent and FEPA sponsor.

“These are all very tough races,” Woolard said, recommending GE supporters donate time and money to Democrats in these races.

‘Firewall’ needed in Senate

On the Senate side of the General Assembly, there is one crucial race to keep the Republicans from gaining a constitutional majority — the race between incumbent Rep. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna) and Republican Hunter Hill for District 6, which includes Sandy Springs, Buckhead and South Cobb.

Woolard described Stoner as the “firewall” to block a constitutional amendment in the Senate.

The district has been redrawn and includes a lot of new territory which makes Stoner essentially a new candidate for many voters, Woolard explained.

Stoner is also actively seeking Georgia Equality’s endorsement while Hill has not responded to requests for information from GE, she said.

But Hill is a tough opponent because he is a native of the area, an Iraq War veteran and a Westminster graduate. A major dividing issue in this district is women’s reproductive rights.

Crucial in this race is the number voters who are LGBT or support LGBT equality. Using a new software program, Georgia Equality identified 5,300 registered voters in the district who are either LGBT or supportive of LGBT issues. However, 2,500 of these registered voters are infrequent voters, Woolard said. The goal this year is to make sure to get them out to vote.

“You can imagine the impact if we could get the other half of voters to show up … and they understand what’s at stake,” she said.

Other races to watch

Early endorsed candidates who face opposition on Nov. 6 include state Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta), the first out black lesbian elected to a state legislature and a strong advocate for LGBT equality in the General Assembly. State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), who is openly gay and the lead sponsor of FEPA, faces no opposition.

In the 2013 legislative session, GE plans to sign up more sponsors for FEPA by educating lawmakers on the issue and to get the Houe to vote on the measure, Woolard said. Plans also include introducing FEPA in the Senate and hosting a town hall meeting or house party in state Rep. David Ralston’s district.

Ralston is the House speaker and lives in Blue Ridge, which has the third highest percentage of LGBT residents in the state, according to U.S. Census results.

Getting the vote ‘out’

This year Georgia Equality joined with other grassroots organizations including the Georgia Association of Latin Elected Officials and the Asian American Legal Advocacy Center of Georgia to form Pro Georgia and work together on voter registration.

Pro Georgia is on its way to becoming an independent organization in the state and is part of the State Voices network, a group of statewide grassroots organizations that share resources.

As part of Pro Georgia, Georgia Equality gained access to a software program that identifies registered LGBT supportive voters, said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality.

GE doesn’t have the resources to reach out to 150,000 voters but is going after approximately 40,000 voters it believes can make a difference in this election, he said. The group is especially targeting infrequent voters who are believed to be supportive of LGBT issues in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. The numbers of voters:

• Cobb — 7,938
• Gwinnett — 7,041
• Fulton — 12,829
• DeKalb — 9,907
• Clayton — 1,995

“I think we’re the 17th state to [use this software] and the first heavily red state to do it,” Graham said. “We don’t know who identifies as LGBT but the information is that these voters are supportive of LGBT issues so there are sure to be many straight allies.”

Graham said the organization is also reaching out to transgender voters to point out the advantages of absentee voting.

The Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank, estimates 38 percent of Georgia’s transgender voters will run into problems at the polls.

“Yes, you can change your gender marker, yes you can use provisional ballots, yes you can argue” if a poll worker makes an issue of gender, Graham said.

“But you can avoid all that by voting absentee.”


Top photo: Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham (center) talks with Anthony Kreis (right), political co-chair of the Human Rights Campaign, and Cathy Woolard, lobbyist for GE. Kreist said HRC is making an effort to become involved in statewide campaigns. (by Dyana Bagby)