Get to know Atlanta’s LGBTQ candidates before Tuesday’s vote

In a world where queer-identified people are under attack in every arena — be it in the courts, in state Capitols, in Congress, in the workplace and more — LGBTQ representation matters now more than ever.

The stakes for our equality have rarely been higher nationally, as well as here in our home state and right here in Atlanta.

The silver lining amid those attacks is the number of people who are stepping up to run for office to combat them. A saving grace locally is that Georgia is one of the nation’s leaders in producing dynamic, unquestionably qualified LGBTQ candidates.

A dozen of them are running for office this year, and here we spotlight six of those 12 who are running in metro Atlanta. Starting with this week’s Q cover models, state Reps. Park Cannon and Sam Park, they tell us why they want to serve, how being LGBTQ affects their politics, and more.

Even if you already know some of these candidates, we bet you learn something new.

Take special note of the ones facing opposition on May 22, and make sure to show up, cast your vote and claim that “I’m a Georgia Voter” peach sticker to help put a stop to the attacks on us once and for all.

Park Cannon

parkcannon58.com

The incumbent state representative and Q’s co-cover model is running in Georgia House District 58 (D-Atlanta) and is facing primary opposition on May 22.

What’s the top issue in your campaign?

Advocating for equity and inclusivity has been a top priority of my legislative agenda during my service at the Capitol, and remains at the helm of our re-election campaign. A better Georgia is a Georgia that works for all of us. I believe we are laying the groundwork to ensure every Georgian is able to take full advantage of the full promise our state has to offer by working to keep housing affordable and our neighborhood development community-driven, protecting and increasing access to quality affordable healthcare (especially for those living with HIV) and securing necessary funding for our schools as we invest in Georgia’s future — our children.

How does being queer affect your politics?

I had the honor of meeting the first-elected LGBTQ U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin last week, and a quote from our conversation comes to mind — “If you’re not in the room, the conversation is about you. When you are at the table, the conversation includes you.”

As a black queer woman, my sheer existence in certain spaces where our community has been underrepresented is a political statement of resistance and a call to progress. When I am in the room, I bring with me the hard conversations the stories of trans folks, intersex colleagues and two-spirit individuals because their stories deserve to be heard. I have seen firsthand how giving voice to their experience challenges pre-conceived perceptions across the aisle, changing things in powerful ways.

What’s something people don’t know about you that would surprise them?

Dance has been an integral part of my story since I can remember. What started as a natural progression stemming from my love of music and movement has grown into a form of healing practice for me.

A lifetime of dance has taught me the importance of tenacity when tackling difficult things. Progress as a part of a small though powerful Democratic caucus can be grueling and slow, but dance has shown me through years of commitment to repetition in pursuit of better, often that tenacity is necessary for growth.

What’s your elevator pitch to a prospective voter?

I ran for this seat because I represent what is lacking at the Capitol. Women are dramatically underrepresented. We make up 54 percent of the state’s population, yet are only 23 percent of the elected officials. The statistics involving African-American women are even worse.

I have locked hair. I identify as queer. I grew up in a single-parent household that was shaped by domestic violence. I love my middle class multi-generational home. I grew up with celebrities’ kids and kids who went home to no lights. I was even homeless for a semester in college. I think that where you come from and what you have seen along the way matters, as we are made of these experiences.

There is not one District 58 — there is a rainbow of experiences and needs. There is not one Georgia — there is a sea of working families and small businesses that need a voice. It is my honor to bring that voice to the Georgia House on behalf of the constituents of District 58.

 

 

Sam Park

samforgeorgia.com

The incumbent state representative and Q’s co-cover model is running for Georgia House District 101 (Lawrenceville) and is facing general election opposition in November.

What’s the top issue in your campaign?

I ran for office in 2016 to expand Medicaid because access to healthcare is a matter of life or death. Because of Republican obstruction, however, more than 500,000 Georgians still do not have health insurance.

Not only are we talking about the health of Georgians. Access to healthcare has broad implications for every community in Georgia, and has an enormous economic impact in Georgia. When we expand Medicaid, Georgia would receive billions of federal dollars to create tens of thousands of jobs, save our struggling hospitals and help keep all Georgians healthier.

How does being gay affect your approach to politics?

Growing up in Georgia as a minority within a minority of a minority (gay, Korean American, Christian) has allowed me to be open-minded to different perspectives and opinions, and fostered a desire to be a voice for the voiceless and underrepresented communities.

Being different has also helped me fearlessly advocate for positions that may be unpopular, because I've learned that right is right, and wrong is wrong regardless of who may be in the majority or minority at that time. In addition, my experiences have taught me to seek common ground to build coalitions with others to make progress through our political process.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I'm a natural introvert, so I get nervous before I give a speech, and I don't like taking pictures if I don't have to. However, the fire in my belly based on my desire to expand Medicaid and enact comprehensive civil rights protections to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations has allowed me to overcome a lot of those introverted tendencies. Taking time to recover in peace and quiet is still very much needed for me to recharge, keep fighting and stir up good trouble.

What’s your elevator pitch to a prospective voter?

Though I may not look it, I'm a native Georgian, born and raised, and I'm running to be your voice in the Georgia State Legislature. I'm running to ensure all Georgians have health insurance, because access to healthcare is a matter of life or death. After my mom was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in 2014, public health insurance, Medicaid and Medicare gave her a fighting chance, and the opportunity to live her final years in peace and without pain. Every Georgian should have that same opportunity. I'm also running to ensure all Georgians are treated with equal dignity and respect because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Anything to add?

I encourage all of my LGBTQ sisters and brothers to register to vote, vote in every election and actively participate in our democracy. The vote is the great equalizer. You can be a billionaire or have a dollar in your bank account, be 18 years old or 88 years old, everyone's vote counts the same. Use the power of your vote to determine the direction of your community, state and nation. And if you don't like who you can vote for, run for office yourself and pave the way and inspire the next generation of LGBTQ leaders.

 

Steven Knight Griffin

stevenknightgriffin.com

This former CDC policy coordinator is running for Georgia 6th Congressional District seat and is facing primary opposition on May 22.

What’s the top issue in your campaign?

I’m passionate about all public policy. My website's detailed policy section proves it. Instead of doing a disservice to the importance of these issues by compressing them, I will refer you there. Professionally, I am most familiar with healthcare and public health policy, but I have a background or interest in most facets of contemporary political discourse.

How does being gay affect your politics?

I'm not one of those people who has long dreamed of or aspired to run for public office, though I have spent an enormous amount of time researching and considering the political and policy problems our nation faces. Recently, it has become personal — I have been in a committed, loving relationship with a man I hope to make my husband, and so I asked myself a simple question: What kind of world, what kind of nation, would I like to raise a family in? While there is cause for optimism in some areas, I am also convinced we have a considerable amount of work to do, especially on kitchen-table issues that affect gay and straight families alike.

Earlier in the week, I received a well-intentioned but blunt message on Facebook where the sender feared any LGBTQ candidate would be unelectable in the 6th district. Rather than discouraging me, this made me all the more determined. Not only can we win — we must win.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

My boyfriend and I adopted an orphaned baby elephant named Murit through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. They're an incredible organization doing important work to preserve African elephants and other endangered wildlife.

What’s your elevator pitch to a prospective voter?

I am the only one in my primary with the substance to be an effective legislator from Day One. I worked at CDC as a policy coordinator and with Deloitte as a federal government consultant. Having worked with and in government, both from private and public-sector perspectives, I am familiar with how it works — and how it doesn't. That matters, because the Trump administration is now, and the threat to our rights is real, as evidenced by the establishment of a “religious liberty” division at HHS and attacks on transgender service members in our military. There is no time for a learning curve.

Anything else you’d like to add?

As a young, gay man growing up in the South, there were few similarly-situated role models for me to emulate. One of the most important charges of gay candidates and elected officials is providing moral leadership and a good example for young people — in other words, striving to be the change we wish to see in the world.

In particular, I want to show them that there is a better way to build a better world, one in which decency and humanity prevail. And I also seek to prove a point: ideas should be the currency for our legislators rather than money and fame — and to that end, I will serve as a stepping stone to a better future for all Americans.

 

Keisha Waites

keishawaites.com

This former state representative is now running for Fulton County Commission Chair and is facing general election opposition on May 22.

What's the top issue in your campaign and why?

Property tax relief and transparency! The largest property tax increase in Fulton County history will take place under the leadership of the current seat holder. Fulton County taxpayers will experience a 50 percent increase in their property tax bills.  The current chair’s lack of action reflects a failure to protect seniors and working families, violating his campaign promise. Under the guidance of the current chair, Fulton County property tax bills are being withheld until the May 22 primary election. This act is both deceitful and betrays the trust and confidence of every Fulton County homeowner and small business owner. One of the most significant challenges will be finding long term solutions to provide homeowners and small business owners with property tax relief where many families saw huge spikes in their tax bills.

How does being a lesbian affect your politics?

I have a unique understanding and sensitivity for the challenges and needs of the LGBTQ community. Most significantly, the loss of the late Commissioner Joan Garner creates a massive void in having a voice at the table to champion the concerns of the LGBTQ community such as: RFRA legislation, HIV/AIDS funding and restoring the HIV/AIDS task force.

For the last two decades, I have worked tirelessly to remove the disparities and barriers that our community faces and de-stigmatize the misperceptions that exist. As a triple minority, I am no stranger to social alienation, familial rejection and denial of services.

What's something most people don't know about you?

I am a nerd and actually play the violin! However, I also offer extensive experience and knowledge in crisis management and disaster preparedness at the local, state and federal levels of government. I have supported 27 presidential federally-declared disasters and provided management oversight during the following large-scale domestic and international incidents: Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Harvey, Flint water crisis, Hurricane Sandy, BP oil spill, Haiti earthquake, H1N1 pandemic, Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Katrina.

What's your elevator pitch to a prospective voter?

I believe that my business acumen, civic and professional experience — which includes decades of community involvement throughout Fulton County — service in the state Legislature and my proven background in crisis management and problem solving combine to make me uniquely qualified to serve as chair of Fulton County. During my three terms in the Georgia House of Representatives, I had the privilege to work on several pieces of legislation that I care deeply about.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I would become the first LGBTQ African American elected to the role of chair to the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. I am most proud of the legislative track record I earned in fighting to protecting marginalized and vulnerable populations. This included supporting policies to ensure seniors and working families can age in their homes and improving the quality of education for our youth.

 

Nicholas Smith

nicholasforjudge.com

This attorney isrunning for Superior Court judge in DeKalb County and is facing general election opposition on May 22.

What’s the top issue in your campaign?

Adding a judge to DeKalb Superior Court with a deep understanding of civil and business law is important to the continued growth of our county. So many people assume that Superior Court judges only handle criminal cases; however, they handle a wide variety of cases, including complex business disputes, real estate disputes and neighbor disputes.

Business laws and property laws are complex. We need to increase the diversity on the bench to include judges who have a background and interest in these areas to produce good rulings and allow the county to continue to attract businesses and new residents by providing a reliable forum to resolve disputes.

How does being gay affect your approach?

Being gay has made me appreciate the need for the legal system to provide for the fair application of objective laws without bias or prejudice. We all come from different backgrounds and have different beliefs, but we should all be treated equally before the courts. If this critical branch of government did not exist, my life and rights would be significantly different.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I enjoy making pickles and jam. It's a great way to decompress, and it connects me to my childhood where I would see my grandmothers and aunts pickle and preserve and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

What’s your elevator pitch to a prospective voter?

I am running because I am frustrated. On the campaign trail, I have heard from numerous attorneys who tell me that they are not taking cases in DeKalb because it is too unpredictable and disorganized. That is an access-to-justice issue that should concern all of DeKalb's citizens and businesses.

I have practiced in a lot of different counties and districts and have seen judges implement creative solutions to manage their docket, organize their courtrooms and tackle tough issues, such as recidivism. I want to build on that and bring that kind of innovative and creative problem solving to DeKalb.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Superior Court Judges are some of the most powerful elected officials in the state. They can have a direct and immediate impact on your life, family, home or business. Even though this is a down-ballot race that does not get much attention, it is incredibly important to make a good choice. I believe that I am a good choice because I want to fix what I see is broken and work hard to ensure DeKalb's citizens and businesses have access to a well-functioning court system.

 

Matthew Wilson

An attorney, he is running for Georgia House District 80 (Brookhaven) and is facing general election opposition in November.

What's the top issue in your campaign?

Education. I know there is so much more we can do in our public schools to empower students to achieve their full potential, and that starts with prioritizing education in our state government. We need to expand pre-K by making it universal to get more kids reading on grade level early, reallocate the resources schools need for capital projects to get students out of trailers and bring back the fully-funded Hope scholarship including grants for technical colleges to keep our best talent in-state and give everyone the opportunity to get a 21st century education for the 21st century economy.

Education is the silver bullet — Georgia's public schools allowed me to be the first member of my family to earn an advanced degree, and the near-billion dollars the Legislature has shorted K-12 education each of the last 10 years coupled with the gutting of the Hope scholarship means that it's unlikely I would be able to accomplish that if I were in school today. Parents shouldn't have to think of sending their kids to their local public school as a last resort, and if elected, I want to work to strengthen our schools so that's never the case.

How does being gay affect your politics?

A lot, if not most, people in my community have friends and neighbors who are openly gay and in committed relationships like myself, married and raising kids down the street and sending them to the same schools. It's great to see how accepting people are, because I definitely recall that not being the case not too long ago.

Obviously, north Atlanta isn't necessarily reflective of the state as a whole, and one thing that I always keep in mind is that representation matters. The more LGBTQ legislators we have under the Gold Dome, the harder it will be for GOPers to push discriminatory bills that — and this is how I make the case to folks, because even if you have positive feelings about equality it doesn't have the same amount of weight if you're not LGBTQ — will hurt our economy by driving out our business community. So it's part of my approach in that sense, but more often than not I'm just a neighbor and not the gay neighbor.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I have a twin sister!

What's your elevator pitch to a prospective voter?

I'm running because I think our state politics are going in the wrong direction, and I think my experience as a teacher, trial lawyer and product of Georgia's public schools is needed to help right the ship. If anyone has the time to chat a little longer, I tell them what I think we can accomplish together for better public schools, healthcare and transit. At the end of the day, this campaign is just neighbors talking to neighbors, and I'm really proud of that.

 

Need to Know

In addition to the six Atlanta-area candidates profiled in this issue of Q, here are other LGBTQ candidates running across Georgia this year.

Karla Drenner

Incumbent state representative in Georgia House District 84 (Avondale Estates) facing no opposition.

 

Bob Gibeling

bobgibeling.com

Marketing consultant running for Georgia House District 54 (Atlanta) facing primary opposition on May 22.

 

Julie Jordan

juliejordanforgeorgia.com

Public school administrator running for Georgia House District 179 (St. Simon’s Island) facing general election opposition in November.

 

Richie Knight

richieforathens.com

Entrepreneur running for Athens mayor facing general election opposition May 22.

 

Renitta Shannon

renittashannon.com

Incumbent state representative in Georgia House District 85 (Decatur) facing no opposition.

 

Valerie Vie

vote4vie.com

Family and criminal law attorney running for Georgia House District 62 (East Point) facing primary opposition on May 22.

 

A version of this article originally ran in Q magazine. Read the full issue below, and pick up your hard copy around town.