Gay civic activist jumps into crowded Fulton commission race

Delta flight attendant Rafer Johnson wants to become Fulton County’s sole openly LGBTQ commissioner and its first-ever openly LGBTQ male member.

Johnson (photo) entered the nine-member field to fill the unexpired term of Emma Darnell, Fulton’s District 6 commissioner who died in May. The election is Sept. 17 and a runoff, if necessary, would take place Oct. 15.

Johnson ran for Georgia House District 62 in 2016 (placing fourth in the Democratic primary) and for South Fulton mayor in 2017 (placing third).

Johnson said he couldn’t resist a third run for public office.

“I had the bug,” he told Project Q Atlanta. “It’s really that, as much as I pulled away from it — and I did that for the last year or so. Service is a calling. It’s something that just keeps pulling at me.”

“This fits into delivering the service and passion I care about, and making the difference that I think could be made,” he added.

Johnson wants to address quality of life issues, infrastructure and economic development if elected. 

“District 6 has huge opportunities,” he said. “We’re the most underdeveloped. We have the land. How do we develop that right and not make mistakes that some of the other areas have dealing with challenges around infrastructure?”

Johnson, who is an AID Atlanta board member, also wants to tackle Fulton’s HIV epidemic. The county has the second highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in the country in counties with 100,000 people or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

“I’ve worked with community leaders around this,” he said. “We have so much more work to do. We should be ashamed to be in the situation we’re in where we have not invested enough up front to take care of this.”

Johnson wants to shift the conversation to being about “the whole health person.”

“If you’re talking about that, it’s not just about HIV,” he said. “Let’s talk about it in a different way as opposed to negatives and positives.”

Fulton Commissioner Natalie Hall spearheaded a request for $670,000 in funding to fight HIV. It was approved in February. Johnson said he wants to be Hall’s “brother commissioner” on tackling the county’s HIV epidemic.

In 2018, Johnson founded Black Wave America, a political advocacy organization for black LGBTQ people. The organization hopes to organize a political forum during Atlanta Black Pride in August. 

“There’s a huge population of black LGBTQ people in Atlanta that have not been activated,” he said. “That can be the difference in any race.” 

Johnson’s husband, Kelly, is serving as his finance director and co-campaign manager. District 6 includes Chattahoochee Hills, Palmetto, Fairburn and Hapeville, as well as portions of College Park, South Fulton and Union City.

If elected, Johnson would be only the second openly LGBTQ member of the Fulton commission. Joan Garner became the first in 2010. She died in 2018.