Rep. Renitta Shannon – a Democrat from Decatur – publicly came out as bisexual on Tuesday, boosting the number of openly LGBTQ state lawmakers in Georgia to four.
"I've always been a consistent advocate for LGBTQ issues, but there is a difference between advocacy and visibility," Shannon said. "Visibility is important. There is power in visibility."
Shannon made the public announcement on the eve of National Coming Out Day. It came in part as a reaction to an Oct. 6 vote from the Trump administration against a United Nations resolution that, in part, condemned the use of the death penalty against LGBTQ people.
"This is the first time that LGBTQ people were wrapped into this resolution and it was specifically addressed. For me it was really important because it makes a statement that not all folks in government feel that way that [U.N. Ambassador] Nikki Haley voted on that resolution," Shannon said.
The first-term lawmaker also said that increasing attacks on LGBTQ people and personal freedoms – from President Trump and conservatives – prompted her to come out publicly and urge others to do the same.
"We are at a real point in the U.S. and beyond that it is really important to stand up and say this directly impacts me and I will be counted and be visible," Shannon said.
The community activist and former executive vice president of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women won election to the District 84 seat in 2016 and took office in January. She didn't waste any time in calling out one of the state's most notoriously anti-gay lawmakers, Rep. Earl Ehrhart, during a floor debate in February.
Shannon is now one of four openly LGBTQ lawmakers in Georgia, joining Reps. Park Cannon, Karla Drenner and Sam Park. Rep. Keisha Waites, who also identifies as LGBTQ, resigned her House seat in September to run for Fulton County Commission chair.
Shannon said Waites' resignation also pushed her to come out so that one more LGBTQ lawmaker is visible.
"If I'm sitting right here and I know that I identify this way, it is now time to be public and not let there be a void," Shannon said.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said Shannon's announcement was courageous.
"There is always so much fear of how others will react and treat us. That anxiety grows even stronger when someone lives a life in the public eye like elected officials do. That is why I am so proud of Rep. Shannon for making this decision and sharing her authentic self on National Coming Out Day," Graham said.
Shannon is already a leader on social justice and equality issues, Graham said.
"In her first term she has already begun to distinguish herself as a strong leader who cares deeply about human rights and social justice. To publicly identify as a member of the LGBT community will not only help us to build bridges and foster understanding among her colleagues, it will serve as a reminder to everyone that our sexual orientation and gender identity should not be barriers to pursuing a career in public service," he said.
Shannon said she "absolutely" plans to run for a second term in 2018 and doesn't anticipate that her coming out will impact the race.
"If anything, I think I will have more support. If someone decides to challenge me over it, they should be ready for a fight," Shannon said.
"My constituents know that I care about them and advocate for them. They elected me because I was an advocate for the most marginalized before getting elected and they know I would be once elected," she added.
Shannon is bracing for the likely return of anti-LGBT "religious freedom" legislation during the 2018 session. She called it "bad legislation."
"If that fight comes back up, we will be ready. They need to stop moving forward with that legislation. It's not good for Georgia, most Georgians don't want it and it's a waste of time," Shannon said.
Shannon, who participated in the Atlanta Pride parade in 2016, said she plans to again take part in the event on Sunday by marching with the same organization she did last year – Planned Parenthood.
"We have to stand up and say you will not trample all over my identity and rights that are important to me. Now is the time to stand up and be counted," Shannon said.
This week the #Trump administration voted against a United Nations resolution that condemned governments giving people the death penalty as punishment for blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations. The resolution also condemned the use of the death penalty on people with mental or intellectual disabilities, minors, pregnant women, and expressed serious concern "that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women".
I’m generally a private person and tend to just focus on doing the work for progress instead of talking about myself as a person, but under the #Trump administration proactive visibility seems more important than ever.
I am not only a consistent advocate for LGBTQ issues, I am a member of the LGBTQ community. I am a bisexual black woman.
Visibility is Important, we must all stand up loudly for our values and be counted. My values include the freedom to control my own body, love who I love and to not have the government infringe on that freedom. If you stand with me, I will always stand and fight for Georgians who just want the same! #pride #lgbtq