Record number of LGBTQ lawmakers take office in Georgia House

Matthew Wilson was sworn into the Georgia House on Monday, making him the fifth LGBTQ member of the legislature — the largest number of openly LGBTQ members the Georgia legislature has ever had.

Wilson (top photo, far left) — whose mother stood with him on the House floor during his oath of office — called it “a very exciting day.”

“I’m just taking it all in. We’ve already started voting on some stuff,” Wilson said. “So, it’s just an incredible honor. And to have my family here and friends — we had about 10 volunteers and supporters up in the gallery to watch it — it’s an honor to have them here and to be here.”

Wilson beat Republican incumbent Meagan Hanson in November to take this hotly contested House District 80 seat in Brookhaven. 

Wilson was sworn in alongside fellow LGBTQ state Reps. Karla Drenner, Park Cannon, Sam Park and Renitta Shannon.

Georgia now has the most openly LGBTQ state legislators of any state in the South, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

“Georgia is leading the entire South in LGBTQ representation in the state legislature — and you would need to travel 520 miles north or 900 miles west to find a state with the same number of out LGBTQ state legislators,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

“With a larger LGBTQ legislative caucus comes more influence and more political power. We know that when LGBTQ elected officials are in the room, it humanizes our lives, changes political debates and leads to more inclusive legislation. Georgia is behind most states in pro-equality laws and policies, but this army of five will undoubtably begin to change that," Parker added.

Drenner (top photo, middle) entered her 10th term representing House District 85 in Avondale Estates. She became the first-ever openly LGBTQ person in the Georgia legislature when she was sworn in in 2001.

“It’s nice to have friends,” Drenner said.

“It’s exciting. It was lonely for the first 10 or 12 years. The world has changed a lot since 2001. I welcome all of them. I think they’re an amazing group of individuals and I’m honored to serve with them,” she added.

Cannon (top photo, second from right) entered her second full term representing House District 58 in Atlanta. Cannon, who identifies as queer, won a special election to replace former state Rep. Simone Bell in 2016.

Park (top photo, far right) entered his second term representing House District 101 in Lawrenceville. He became the first openly gay man elected to the Georgia House in 2016. He is also the first Asian-American Democrat elected to the House. 

Shannon (top photo, second from left) entered her second term representing House District 84 in Decatur. She came out as bisexual on the eve of National Coming Out Day in 2017. Shannon is the first openly bisexual member of the Georgia legislature.

One issue the five House members will likely face this session is anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bills. Some House and Senate members appear ready to reignite that fight, which has been dragging on for years under the Gold Dome.

But House Speaker David Ralston has made clear his opposition to such bills. He spoke of having “serious concerns” about the legislation in December. And he said on Jan. 10 that the bills are “a solution in search of a problem” and that they could “tear at the fabric of the state.”

Ralston was re-elected House Speaker on Monday with a vote of 162 to 10. All five of the LGBTQ caucus members voted for Ralston.