It was a great Election Day for LGBT equality across the nation, but in the red state of Georgia there is still much work to be done to move forward.
Lesbian candidates ruled the night in Georgia. State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) easily coasted to victory Nov. 6 by defeating Republican challenger Earl Cooper to retain her District 58 seat.
State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) and state Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta), both openly gay, return to the House after having no challengers in the general election. Drenner represents District 85 and will serve her seventh term in the legislature. Waites represents District 60 and will serve her first full term after winning a special election in February.
Three lesbian representatives return to Ga. General Assembly
Gay candidates Tim Riley of Athens and Timothy Swiney of Lawrenceville, both Democrats, were unable to defeat Republican incumbents.
Bell, the first out African-American lesbian in the nation elected to a state legislature, thanked her supporters for entrusting her to another term in office.
But she also stressed the seriousness of LGBT communities becoming more involved in state politics after Democrats were able to narrowly defeat a GOP constitutional majority in the House and Senate.
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 had won a constitutional majority, similar amendments could be sent to voters without needing any Democratic support.
“We’re going to have to be diligent watching what legislating comes forward, what bills are filed,” Bell said. “We have been talking about strategies, such as about adoption. We need to remain vigilant as a community and continue to show up at the capitol.”
‘Perilous times in Ga.’
There has been talk for years about state Republican leaders working to ban adoption by gay couples. There is currently no law on the books in Georgia that addresses the issue.
“I think specifically for LGBT issues, I would really like to see LGBT communities across Georgia really focus on our local politics because that will focus on our everyday lives,” Bell said. “And I know a large portion already does that, but we need more to get involved in the local politics of the state.”
Drenner said while a super majority was blocked in the House and Senate, the LGBT communities and other marginalized communities face tough times in the upcoming session.
“A lot of conservative Democrats will vote with Republicans. I think as a gay community we have more to lose than any other community except for women,” she said.
Drenner acknowledged she even feared backlash in Georgia from LGBT equality issues that were passed nationally, including marriage equality in three states, the first lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate and the re-election of President Obama.
“I’m thankful the president won. But that does not mean we won’t get the shit kicked out of us at the state level,” she said. “I think we live in perilous times in Georgia.”
Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, worked with other groups to block a GOP constitutional majority. Executive Director Jeff Graham was more hopeful about Georgia’s future, but noted that serious issues remain.
“People need to be mindful of why we were concerned about the constitutional majority — the vast majority of Republicans have taken a pledge from Georgia Right to Life to pass a Personhood Amendment. The LGBT community needs to recognize that if they look at the wording by Georgia Right to Life, [the pledge] also restricts in vitro fertilization for couples seeking to have children,” Graham said.
This directly impacts gay families who want to use in vitro fertilization to have children.
Incumbent State Sen. Doug Stoner, a Democrat, lost his race to Republican challenger Hunter Hill for District 6. Graham said it is imperative constituents hold Hill to his promise that he would not work to pass a Personhood Amendment.
Graham said he also believes this election shows that moderate Republicans can embrace LGBT issues. Georgia Equality will continue to seek fair-minded candidates, Republican and Democrat, to support while also working with numerous other coalitions.
“This year we worked with a broad coalition and that is part of building inroads with Latino and Asian-American voters in the northern suburbs,” Graham said.
The hard-fought re-election of state Rep. Pedro Marin, a Democrat in Gwinnett representing District 96 and a strong ally of LGBT equality, points to a hint of the tide turning in Georgia to becoming more progressive, Graham said.
“We hope this election shows that moderate Republicans can embrace LGBT issues,” he said. “It is important to work with other communities to find candidates we can all support and how we begin to change the political landscape in Georgia.”
Graham was optimistic about President Obama’s win and the marriage equality victories and how they will impact state politics.
“Last night was not a fluke. It was really a phenomenal election night and bodes well … we will see greater change on our issues in Georgia,” he said Wednesday.
State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) House District 85 Percent of Vote: 100 (unopposed)
Georgia’s first openly gay state lawmaker, first elected in 2000, was unopposed in both the July primary and the November general election.
State Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) House District 60 Percent of Vote: 100 (unopposed)
Keisha Waites won a special election in early 2012 to join the General Assembly, then battled a crowded field in the Democratic primary. She had no opposition Nov. 6 and wins her first full term.
State Rep. Simone Bell (D-Atlanta) • House District 58 Percent of Vote: 87.1
Simone Bell won a special election in 2009, becoming the first openly lesbian African-American state lawmaker in the country.
In July, she won a tough Democratic primary against Rep. Ralph Long after Republican-led redistricting placed the two incumbents in the same district. On Tuesday, Bell easily defeated Republican challenger Earl Cooper, who received 12.9 percent of the vote on Nov. 6.
Timothy Swiney (D-Lawrenceville) House District 101 Percent of vote: 43.7
Lawrenceville’s Timothy Swiney lost his challenge to Republican Rep. Valerie Clark, who received 56.3 percent of the vote.
Brad Ploeger (Libertarian-Atlanta) Public Service Commission Percent of vote: 4.8
Brad Ploeger lost to GOP incumbent Chuck Eaton, who got 52.1 percent of the vote. Democrat Steve Oppenheimer took 43.1 percent.
Gary D. Harrell (D-Rome) Floyd County Commission Post 2 Percent of vote: 34.6
Gary Harrell fell short in his bid to unseat Republican incumbent Garry E. Fricks, who got 65.3 percent of the vote.