Meet Georgia’s LGBTQ and queer-friendly candidates for 2018

Socially progressive voters may never be more motivated to hit the polls for a prophesized Blue Wave than in the 2018 midterm elections. It could be a Queer Wave as well.

With the empowerment of some far-right politicians and their supporters after the 2016 presidential election, some candidates in Georgia are out to turn the tide on Trumpian politics.

Project Q Atlanta has interviewed hopefuls in key races who have the backs of LGBTQ Georgians. Here they are in their own words for your Q-sideration leading up to Election Day on Nov. 6.

Click the links to read even more from each candidate.

 

 

Stacey Abrams

Georgia Governor

The progressive Democrat running to be Georgia’s first female governor and first governor of color is already making LGBTQ history as well. The former state House minority leader also became the first major party gubernatorial candidate in Georgia to sit for an LGBTQ Policy Roundtable Discussion, the first to speak to Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and the first to speak from the stage at Atlanta Pride.

From her years as a Spelman College student leader through her tenure as a state legislator, Abrams’ entire career is based on inclusion and diversity as an LGBTQ ally. She told LGBTQ supporters that it’s time to bury “religious freedom” efforts “in the grave.” She backed that sentiment, and her potential LGBTQ constituents, in multiple, extensive interviews with Project Q during the campaign.

"It's about protecting communities, the LGBTQ community, from being able to be fired and denied access to housing, access to services. It's about fighting back not only locally but nationally and letting the State of Georgia be a voice not of discrimination but of defense," Abrams said. "It's about making sure that discrimination of any kind, that from the beginning, the governor is the face of what discrimination will not happen in the state of Georgia, and that's why I'm running.”

Abrams runs a diverse campaign as well, with a staff of some 40 people, a third of whom are LGBTQ.

“Allyship requires lifting up voices from every community,” Abrams told Project Q. “I strive to ensure that my campaign staff reflects the diversity of our state — and thus have hired LGBTQ Georgians, immigrants, women and people of color for critical positions on the campaign. As governor, I will remain committed to hiring a diverse staff and making appointments to ensure that Georgians from all walks of life can see a government that reflects their priorities.”

 

Sarah Riggs Amico

Georgia Lieutenant Governor

This corporate chair of a sprawling family business touts her Christian faith and LGBTQ equality as platform foundations in her run for lieutenant governor. 

“I know that confuses a lot of people to be a pro-labor, pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, pro-gay rights Christian,” Amico told Project Q Atlanta. “I personally think it’s quite consistent with my beliefs.”

The Democrat faces Republican former state Rep. Geoff Duncan, who supports “religious freedom” legislation and voted for it in 2016. Amico leaves no questions about where she stands.

“I think it’s inexcusable,” she said. “This is not who we are as Americans. It’s not who we are as human beings. And candidly, I think it’s a huge black mark on the Georgia state Senate. I would say to my fellow Christians, it’s time for you guys to get up and do the work too. If you don’t like gay marriage, fine — don’t have one. But, civil rights is a thing that we need to be vocal in protecting.”

 

Charlie Bailey 

Georgia Attorney General

This candidate traces his opposition to anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bills back to the African-American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. 

“It attempts to enshrine into law the discrimination of individuals, and I think we found a long time ago that you can’t use commerce to say, ‘I don’t want to serve this kind of person, I don’t want to sell to this kind of person,” Bailey told Project Q.

The Democrat faces Republican incumbent Chris Carr, who in April joined a group of 17 state attorneys general in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services voicing support for “religious freedom” rights.Bailey has made clear, should he be elected, that he would not defend any “religious freedom” bill that might pass in Georgia.

“When you do unto others as you would have done onto you, that wasn’t a talking point out of D.C,” Bailey said. “It was about human decency and how we treat our brothers and sisters. So yes, it is moral to me and it is personal as well.”

 

John Barrow 

Georgia Secretary of State

The Democrat opened up to Project Q about why he says "religious freedom" bills are discriminatory, as well as his support of marriage equality after voting to ban it while in Congress in the mid-1990s.

The Athens native and former five-term member of Congress evolved on LGBTQ issues and came to support a statewide LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination law and opposed anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bills. 

His current stances are a departure from those as recent as 2014, when as a U.S. House member running for re-election, he refused to co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which he chalked up to a bogged-down legislative process that left the bill unready to pass.

Barrow also voted to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, but told Project Q Atlanta that he now supports same-sex marriage and supported civil unions as a viable alternative at the time.

“I’ve always believed that the law should treat people equally when it comes to providing benefits or classification of people for some government purpose,” he said. “When the government’s going to classify folks, they have to give people the right to participate on equal terms.”

Barrow faces Republican state Rep. Brad Raffensperger for the post on Nov. 6.

 

Jen Slipakoff

State House District 36, West Cobb

The first-time candidate and PFLAG mom decided to run to protect the rights of her transgender daughter and other LGBTQ people across Georgia. 

She served as co-president of PFLAG Atlanta and she was a member of the Atlanta Steering Committee for the Human Rights Campaign. Her opponent has labeled her a one-issue candidate, but Slipakoff told Project Q that her work extends into all areas of state business.

“Yes, my impetus for getting involved in politics definitely did stem from my advocacy work for the LGBTQ community,” Slipakoff said in her Project Q interview. “But it’s not the only thing that I stand for. I can multi-task. If I’m willing to fight for these controversial issues, I can certainly fight for things like healthcare, like equal pay for equal work, I can fight for improvements to traffic.”

Slipakoff and her opponent, staunch conservative Ginny Ehrhart, are running to replace Ehrhart’s husband Earl Eherhart, the longest-serving Republican in the House and its most outspoken anti-LGBTQ member.  Rep. Ehrhart represented the district for nearly 30 years, and the seat has been uncontested for a decade.

 

Ben Ku

Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, District 2

The board hasn’t had a Democratic member in over 30 years. This gay civic activist aims to change that. The 36-year-old first-time candidate hopes to unseat Republican incumbent Lynette Howard and become the commission's first openly gay member.

“Part of the impetus for running was that I do not feel that minorities are well represented in the county that has never had a minority — other than women — on the board of commissioners,” Ku told Project Q. “And there isn’t even a diversity of thought when a county that voted for Hillary and Obama hasn’t had a Democrat on the board in over 30 years.”

Ku is a Georgia native and grandson of Chinese immigrants who came to Georgia to help engineer the original MARTA rail. Ku wants to connect that family history on the commission by improving transportation. He said he would also work to beef up the county’s nondiscrimination ordinance by adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

 

Matthew Wilson

State House District 80, Brookhaven et al.

The openly gay attorney and Democrat hopes to unseat a Republican incumbent in this competitive race. District 80 includes Brookhaven in DeKalb County.His high-profile endorsements include Barack Obama and the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

With wide-ranging issues including education as top-tier concerns, Wilson expressed his personal commitment to LGBTQ issues when speaking with Project Q.

“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,” he said. 

Wilson faces GOP incumbent Rep. Meagan Hanson, who has a mixed record on LGBTQ issues. Hanson narrowly won her seat with just 50.52 percent of the vote.

 

Julie Jordan

State House District 179, St.Simons

The lesbian school administrator Julie Jordan faces incumbent state Rep. Don Hogan. St. Simons has been represented in the House by a Republican every year going back to 1976, and Jordan will be the first Democrat to challenge the Republican incumbent in House District 179 since 2010. 

Economic development, a living wage and expanding Medicaid are her key campaign issues. She’s also strongly opposed to the “religious freedom” bills that have roiled the Capitol for the last five years, including state Sen. William Ligon’s failed anti-LGBTQ adoption bill from earlier this year.

“I’m against religious freedom bills because gay people have every right to be treated equally and not discriminated against for adopting children and for any reason,” she explained in her Project Q interview. “Unfortunately, Ligon … is in my area and so it’s really disappointing to see that he continually brings that up when it’s such a dividing issue, and most people in Georgia and Glynn County don’t agree with it.”

She says being out should not affect her race, but that some people living in her district haven’t enjoyed the same respect.

"We still have a lot of work to do down here. But there’s pockets of people that are so supportive and accepting, so we’re going to keep fighting and keep pushing forward,” she said.

 

Richard Keatley

Georgia Labor Commissioner

With a goal to be “the voice for the working people” of Georgia, this Democrat considers LGBTQ people a vital part of the state’s economic engine.

Keatley told Project Q that an Economic Policy Institute ranking the places the state at number 42 in opportunity as his reason for running.

“We do a really good job at inviting businesses here and giving them a really big tax cut and then just letting the cards just fall where they may, and end up usually hiring people from other states to fill those good-paying jobs,” he said.

Keatley also said that as labor commissioner he will form inclusive advisory boards that will act as a sort of task force.

“I would be very proactive in putting people on my advisory boards and councils that are reflective of the diversity that we have in this state,” Keatley added. “That includes sexual orientation, gender identity, all of the LGBT issues.”

The job of labor commissioner is an executive position, and therefore he would not responsible for making policy. Instead, his office would provide the data that helps lawmakers shape those policies.

 

Fred Swann 

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner

The Democrat says his push to get more LGBTQ people into the agricultural field will help alleviate Atlanta’s LGBTQ homeless youth problem.

Swann said that getting more LGBTQ people – as well as women and minorities – into the agricultural field will increase their chances of staying in their communities.

“They’re leaving these rural communities and heading into areas, wherever they can get to, and that often ends up being a place that has very limited resources for them,” he told Project Q. “And that’s why so many LGBT youth end up on the street, in metro areas, in trouble because they’re just fleeing a place that has a lack of acceptance to a place that has a lack of resources.”

Swann saw the problem up close when a farmer and family friend near his Macon home was concerned about his lesbian daughter being socially marginalized if she took her girlfriend to the prom. Swann said she ended up doing it but only because she would be leaving town soon for college anyway.

“It was great that she found the courage to live her authentic truth, but it’s sad that it came down to, ‘I won’t be around these people anyway.’ And that’s the true reality, not that, ‘I’m going to find acceptance and love in the place that I call home,’” he said. “That was a concrete example to me of a thing that we’re dealing with every day that I would personally love to see changed.”

 

Sally Harrell

State Senate District 40, Northeast Metro Atlanta

This equality ally reentered politics in 2018 driven in part by the urge to protect her teenage daughter, who recently came out as LGBTQ. 

“So [LGBTQ rights] issues have hit us personally at home,” Harrell said in her Project Q Atlanta interview. “I would support these issues anyway, but it makes it that much more intense to have a family member who is and will be affected by the decisions that are made on these issues.”

Harrell served in the House from 1999 to 2005. She was one of only a handful of Democrats in 2004 to vote against a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

“I felt strongly that voting against SR 595 was the right thing to do and consistent with my values. I cast my vote proudly, knowing that it might cost me my re-election. Though I ended up not running for re-election due to redistricting issues, I wanted to be on the right side of history.”

Harrell is one of a slew of female candidates nationwide inspired to run after the election of President Donald Trump and is well versed in multiple issues dear to LGBTQ voters.

Harrell faces Republican incumbent Sen. Fran Millar, who is seeking a fifth term. 

 

Adam Bridges

State House District 161, Rincon

When an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill passed in the state Senate this year, it became personal for this business owner. 

“I am married to my husband and we have four beautiful foster children,” the gay veteran told Project Q. “These children don’t care who you are. They just want to show that the parent can give unconditional love and consistency and structure to a home.”

“These kids just need love. And my children are a prime example when they came into my husband and I’s home – they have done a 180. Why? Because we show them unconditional love and give them the structure that they need to succeed and to grow up and be good stewards to society,” he added.

That bill failed to pass before the legislative session ended, but it was one of several anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bills under consideration over the last five years at the legislature.

Bridges (top photo), 42 and a Marines veteran, said the arguments made by proponents of such bills don’t hold water.

“This is just another form of discriminating against a minority,” he said. “And we all must stand up against any form of discrimination, whether it’s from your religion, your race, your sexual orientation. We all must stand up against it, and that is one of the reasons why I’m running.”

He faces incumbent Rep. Bill Hitchens on Nov. 6.

 

Sam Park

State House District 101, Lawrenceville

The incumbent state representative originally ran in 2016 to expand Medicaid with healthcare as his top campaign priority. He became the first openly gay male state legislator in Georgia. He faces Republican opposition, and he told Q in May that growing up queer in Georgia does color his approach to his position.

“Growing up 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,” Park told Project Q in May. “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.

Park is also an advocate for queer voter turnout and participation in politics in general. 

“I encourage all of my LGBTQ sisters and brothers to register to vote, vote in every election and actively participate in our democracy,” he said. “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,” he added.

Just last month, Park gave another extensive interview about his tough race as Election Day neared.

 

This feature originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue below:

 

 

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