Gay politico jumps into state Senate race in Atlanta

Devin Barrington Ward has launched a primary challenge against longtime state Sen. Horacena Tate, as he looks to become the chamber’s first black openly LGBTQ member.

Ward (photo) wants to tackle gentrification, lack of affordable housing and the lack of due process in the legal system in District 38. The district runs from Southwest Atlanta up into South Cobb.

“Living in 2019 and having the experiences I have had as a black queer man growing up in the South, those [issues] are what’s inspiring me to run for public office,” he told Project Q Atlanta.

It’s Ward’s first run for public office after spending the last 12 years behind the scenes as a political operative, advocating for criminal justice reform and fighting the HIV epidemic.

Tate — a Democrat first elected in 1998 — isn’t doing enough to tackle the district’s issues, according to Ward.

“We see higher rates of HIV, higher rates of criminalization, of eviction, of environmental pollution,” he said. “But we have not seen a higher rate of leadership, and we have not seen leadership that is really interested in fighting and reclaiming our future.”

Tate has not responded to Project Q’s questions asking her reaction to Ward’s comments. Tate fought against an anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bill in 2016 and sponsored an LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights bill in 2017.

Ward calls the lack of employment protections for LGBTQ people “a serious issue.” And he said affordable housing is an LGBTQ issue.

“There was a period where I was not connected with my family and because of the lack of a traditional support system, I found myself on the streets,” he said. “I know how easy that can happen to anybody. When you are black and you are LGBTQ, that possibility increases tenfold.”

Ward said he will continue fighting the state’s HIV epidemic if elected. He criticized Atlanta’s management of a federal housing program for low-income people with HIV in 2018, calling it “just a mess.” And he — along with queer state Rep. Park Cannon and Georgia Equality Deputy Director Eric Paulk — successfully lobbied Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to earmark $100,000 in the city’s budget to fight HIV.

Ward was one of at least six LGBTQ people that Bottoms named to a task force to decide how to repurpose the Atlanta City Detention Center in 2019. He was one of 15 people arrested — including state Sen. Nikema Williams — during a voting rights protest at the state capitol in 2018. 

Ward was chief of staff to state Sen. Lester Jackson in 2012 and 2013, according to Ward's LinkedIn. He served as communications director for Washington, D.C. City Councilmember Mary Cheh in 2013, was a health equity fellow with the National Coalition of STD Directors in 2015, and was communications director for HIV healthcare center Whitman-Walker in 2016 and 2017. He is now the managing director of the Black Futurists Group.

Ward first supported, then doubted the story of a gay man who was attacked and called homophobic slurs in Southwest Atlanta in 2012. He later apologized after an outpouring of criticism.  

The Democratic primary election for District 38 is in May.

Ward is the 13th openly LGBTQ candidate for the state legislature in 2020, including five incumbents who are running for re-election. 

Photo courtesy of Devin Barrington Ward