Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood pledged to help curb Atlanta's HIV rates and reduce the number of homeless LGBTQ youth during a forum Tuesday, just a week before they face off in a runoff for Atlanta mayor.
The two candidates made the pledge during a 90-minute forum at the Carter Center hosted by Cathy Woolard that covered a range of issues, including transit, affordable housing, ethics, race and criminal justice reform.
Woolard – the first LGBT person elected to office in Georgia – also pressed Bottoms and Norwood on gay issues, asking them to name three LGBT issues they would work on as mayor. Woolard placed third in the Nov. 7 general election, grabbing more than 14 percent of the vote.
Woolard's loss – coupled with three other LGBT candidates who lost their races for Atlanta City Council – means the council could be without an LGBT member for the first time since Woolard was elected in 1997. Alex Wan, the only LGBT member of the council, is in a runoff for City Council president.
Woolard made that point when she pressed Bottoms and Norwood on LGBT issues.
"I want to talk a little bit about LGBT issues because I need to," Woolard said. "If Alex Wan isn’t elected in the runoff election, it’s going to be the first time since I won election 20 years ago that there will not be a gay person on the Atlanta City Council. And that’s big because, as we all know, representation matters and I think that we have been well served by having all kinds of diversity on the City Council."
Woolard added that Mayor Kasim Reed has an LGBT liaison in the City Attorney's office and asked Bottoms and Norwood to name three LGBT issues they would champion as mayor.
'We need to get very focused on HIV/AIDS'
Norwood said she would focus on HIV prevention, homeless LGBTQ youth and a statewide civil rights bill.
"One of the things we need to do is to get very focused on HIV/AIDS," Norwood said. "I talked about this at the LGBTQ forum with PrEP and Truvada and decriminalizing the notification. So I think that is of great importance, and working better with Fulton County.
Norwood discussed HIV prevention, PrEP and the state's HIV criminalization law during a candidate forum in August hosted by Rainbros.
Norwood said she also wants to see state lawmakers pass a measure that protects LGBT citizens and pointed to Atlanta's non-discrimination ordinance as an example.
"I want to see a state civil rights bill. We have the city’s civil rights bill that Cathy passed many years ago but I want to see that done in the state level," Norwood said. "That's critically important."
Norwood also said that she would focus on the work of Lost N Found Youth, which cares for homeless LGBT youth.
"I am very, very focused on Lost N Found and our youth that are wandering our streets. So I would want to make sure that we’ve got a concerted effort as far as there," she said.
Norwood also said she would appoint a "cabinet level" LGBT liaison in her administration.
"As far as a liaison, I would have that cabinet level. I think when you have a community that is important to our city as the LGBTQ – gay – community, that that person should be at the cabinet and so that would either be a special assistant to the mayor but certainly would be cabinet level," Norwood said.
'Atlanta should be a safe haven'
Bottoms said she and Norwood found common ground on approaching LGBT issues as mayor.
"In some communities, we still have people dying of AIDS in a way that they did in the 1980s and it is really incredible that that’s happening in the City of Atlanta. But we know that when there’s access to medication, that you can become undetectable and you can go ahead and go on to live a complete and full life," Bottoms said.
Bottoms added that HIV is impacting more than just LGBT people and that it's a citywide problem. Beyond increased HIV testing, Bottoms said the city must ensure resources are available to people if they test positive.
"What I’ve heard repeatedly as we’ve been throughout the course of this campaign and just throughout serving on City Council, obviously the HIV rates in the city are extremely concerning and it’s not just impacting our gay community, it’s impacting people throughout Atlanta," Bottoms said.
"It’s not just about being tested and being diagnosed, but also that we are working to make sure there’s access to medication," she added.
In the August forum, Bottoms said she would appoint a public health director so the city can take a more active role in public health issues, including HIV.
"We know that when there’s and access to medication, that you can become undetectable and you can go ahead and go on to live a complete and full life," Bottoms said during Tuesday's forum.
She also said that Atlanta should be a "safe haven" for homeless LGBT youth and called for more housing to help.
"People look at Atlanta as a place that should be a safe haven and just in the same way we’ve tried to work to make sure that we have supportive housing for our veterans, and that we work to try and achieve zero as it relates to our veterans on the streets, we have to make sure that we are doing it the same way with our LGBTQ youth. I don’t think that we have enough supportive housing available," Bottoms said.
As mayor, Bottoms said she would also continue to make the city "the voice of reason" for the state on LGBT issues.
"It is of extreme concern that we can do all the things right in the City of Atlanta, that we can achieve great scores, and that we can be considered a great, inclusive city and then the state goes and completely does something that makes absolutely no sense," Bottoms said.
"We have to continue to be the voice of reason in the State of Georgia and we also have to make the case as to why it matters to the entire state. It’s a common sense case, you would think, but it’s also an economic case as it relates to our ability to attract any number of conventions, any number of businesses to the City of Atlanta and to the state as a whole. And it really is about treating people with dignity," she added.