Gay supporters of Democrat Jason Carter flooded a fundraiser on Thursday and raised nearly $90,000 for his campaign for governor, though Carter offered no specifics on his positions on LGBT issues.
Hosts described the evening as packed and an event that inspired the crowd of LGBT supporters, which ranged from elected officials including Fulton Commissioner Joan Garner, to business and civic leaders, and political activists. The event was organized by gay politico Ken Britt; hosted by Tony Conway, the gay founder of A Legendary Event, which held the event at its upscale Estate on Piedmont Road in Buckhead; and supported by a dozen hosts that included LGBT advocates Glen Paul Freedman, Colin Wright, LeeAnn Jones, Michael Grover, Dino Thompson-Sarmiento, Paul Horning, John-Paul Griffin and Jim Taflinger.
Britt applauded the full crowd and the event's fundraising prowess, along with Carter for his comments on equality.
"I was thrilled," Britt says. "Of all the events I have done over the years, this one was the most well attended and for me, the one that we've raised the most money for. The response from the community was really strong and people were really energized around Jason."
Organizers surprised Carter by inviting his mother, Judy Lankford, to introduce him. Lankford worked on some of the first HRC dinners in the 1980s and has been involved in LGBT issues for years, Britt says. Lankford and Carter attended the HRC Atlanta dinner in early May (third photo).
"He is very, very charismatic and well spoken. He has found his voice and he talked a lot about equality and the fact that it will be a big change and a welcome change for our community to have a governor in the state of Georgia who believes in equality," Britt says.
'He hit a home run'
More than 225 people attended the event and helped raise $87,150 for Carter's campaign, a number that will near $90,000 after outstanding pledges are collected, says Britt (second photo).
"To me, he hit a home run and it energized me even more," says Taflinger, who chairs the LGBT Caucus of the state Democratic Party. "I thought it was a great event from a variety of different perspectives. I thought the turnout was good, the diversity of the people was good and the people who were there – young people, more senior people like myself – represented a wide spectrum of ages."
Griffin, a nurse with TV chef desires, says Carter delivered an "honest approach" at the event.
"I donated and asked friends to donate and attend because I really believe in Jason and his vision for a Georgia that all people who live in the state can be proud to call home," Griffin says.
In his remarks to the crowd, Carter talked in general terms about equality and how he believes that all people should be treated fairly in the workplace, Griffin says.
Taflinger says Carter's comments were sincere.
"We're all human beings and we're all here for the same purpose and we all need to be equal, which I thought he expressed very eloquently and very, very sincerely. You could tell it was coming from his heart. It was not a boilerplate that someone handed him 15 minute before. It was incredibly sincere," he says.
Carter did mention the "religious freedom" bills that anti-gay lawmakers proposed during the last legislative session, Griffin says, pointing to their defeat as a hopeful sign that the state's political environment is slowly shifting away from its anti-gay hostilities. The bills died in February and during one contentious hearing by a state House subcommittee, Carter made an appearance to wave at LGBT activists packed into a room at the State Capitol (top photo).
But Carter didn't address gay marriage or other LGBT issues at Thursday's event, even though the state is being sued in federal court over its same-sex marriage ban. In a March interview with Huffington Post, Carter deflected a question about gay issues. Britt says he didn't expect Carter to hash out specific policy positions at the fundraiser.
"I've always known him to be a very open and accepting person. I think he'll do the right thing and has it in his heart to do the right thing. I don't have the need to hear him say the exact right words, because I know he will do the right thing," Britt says.
Hot button issues
Even though gay marriage is gaining support among Georgia voters, it's still a hot button issue that opponents will throw back at Carter during the campaign, says Taflinger, who lives in conservative Hall County in northeast Georgia.
"The Republicans will very much politicize social issues up here. Unless you are up here in that environment, you really wouldn't understand the scope of it," he says. "But I feel very, very comfortable with Jason and where his positions are and I would have no hesitation in expressing that same comfort to other people."
Carter's Republican opponent, Gov. Nathan Deal, turned his 2010 campaign into one of the most anti-gay seen in Georgia politics.
Britt says Carter has to be cautious about how he approaches LGBT issues on the campaign trail, even though he's privately expressed support for them. The campaign website does not include any mention of LGBT issues.
"In Georgia, we have to be smart enough to understand they can't use us as a leading issue if they want to get elected statewide. As far as I'm concerned, I'm more pragmatic about this," Britt says.
"I wish every candidate would come out fully for marriage equality and every other issue we deal with every day. We've made so much progress in the last 20 years and we'll continue making progress by electing fair-minded candidates like Jason. Do I wish he could have gotten up and answered every question the way I and the community would like him to? I don't think it's realistic at this point," Britt adds.
A spokesperson for the campaign did not respond on Friday to questions about Carter's remarks at the event or his position on gay marriage, the state's defense of its same-sex marriage ban, funding for HIV issues, and hate crimes. The campaign banned media from attending Thursday's LGBT fundraiser.