Georgia’s LGBTQ elected officials split on presidential picks

A quarter of Georgia’s 16 openly LGBTQ elected officials have announced their presidential endorsements, with two of them backing the man who could be the first openly gay U.S. president.

The picks come as 10 leading candidates descend on Atlanta for the Democratic presidential debate on Wednesday at Tyler Perry Studios. And Georgia’s presidential primary fast approaches in March.

State Rep. Karla Drenner (photo top left), a Democrat from Avondale Estates, was the first openly LGBTQ member of the Georgia legislature. She told Project Q Atlanta on Monday that she hopes Pete Buttigieg, the gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., makes history of his own by taking the presidency in 2020.

“He has my support. He is a breath of fresh air, he has a plan and our nation needs someone with skills to reunite our divided nation,” she said. “I believe he can be that bridge.”

“And I say this as the highest form of praise — he is very Obama-like in his respect for differences and a willingness to work with others to reunite our country,” she added.

State Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Democrat from Brookhaven and one of the five openly LGBTQ members of the legislature, also supports Buttigieg. Wilson (photo bottom right) hosted a fundraiser for him in June and is hosting a debate watch party for him Wednesday in East Point.

Gwinnett School Board Member Everton Blair (photo top right) is supporting U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris “because she has lived the most xenophilic American story and has built the most diverse team to advance an America that sees and supports all of us,” he sai. Blair announced he was gay on National Coming Out Day in October. 

“At a moment where the current president is dividing us and using harmful rhetoric to terrorize already marginalized communities, I’m standing with the candidate who has spoken directly to our inclusive values as nation, who has never lost an election as the nominee and has fought to reform systems from the inside,” he added.

Blair might have to consider a new candidate soon. Harris has struggled in the polls, dozens of campaign members have recently been laid off and the campaign is beset by internal strife, according to Politico.

South Fulton City Councilmember Khalid Kamau was a delegate for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and he’s doubling down on that pick for the 2020 race.

Kamau (photo bottom left), the council’s first and only LGBTQ member, told Project Q in August that while Sanders lost the 2016 primary, he won the party. Kamau added that Democratic presidential candidates worried that being associated with socialism will turn people off are “out of touch with their own voters.”

Warren, Buttigieg, Yang under consideration

 

Some seven other Georgia LGBTQ elected officials have not made their presidential pick or chose not to announce it yet.

State Rep. Sam Park, a Democrat from Lawrenceville, said he has not decided.

“I am still watching, reading and deliberating,” he said. 

State Rep. Park Cannon (second photo), a Democrat from Atlanta, noted that Wednesday’s debate is in her district. 

“I look forward to being up close with the candidates to hear more about their ideas,” she said. “As of late, any candidate who has reached out to our campaign to hear more about the concerns of Atlanta families has received a response from us.”

She did not respond when asked which candidates have reached out to her.

State Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Democrat from Decatur, has not endorsed a presidential candidate and declined to discuss the ones she is considering. Shannon said she will be at Wednesday’s debate.

Gwinnett Commissioner Ben Ku is mulling his presidential pick. Ku is Gwinnett's first and only openly LGBTQ commissioner.

“I like [entrepreneur Andrew] Yang because I think he has great ideas, isn't a career politician, Asian representation and I love the idea of a freedom dividend,” he said. “I like [U.S. Sen. Elizabeth] Warren because it's high time we had a woman in office and she isn't afraid to go up against the entrenched institutions and add back much-needed transparency and accountability.”

“I like Buttigieg of course because of his push for equality and modern ideas and he's my age and understands the vintage millennial perspective. I like [former HUD Secretary Julian] Castro for his common sense immigration policies,” he added.

Chamblee City Councilmember Brian Mock said he’s “not even come close” to making his pick.

“We have a crowded field of great candidates. Everyone brings something unique to the table,” he said. “I do like Mayor Pete of course — he’s young and has a good head on his shoulders. I also like a lot of the policies proposed by Warren.”

Mock, the council's sole LGBTQ member, said he hopes to see former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams on the ticket as vice president.

“I’m not sure we can go wrong if that happens,” he said. “I also find the idea of two women on a ticket appealing. In the end, I will get behind whomever is selected as I already know the alternative and I’m not sure we can survive four more years of that.”

Doraville City Councilmember Stephe Koontz said she would support whoever wins the Democratic primary. Koontz is Georgia's only openly transgender elected official.

Andy Yeoman won a race for Doraville City Council earlier this month and has not been sworn in yet. The gay IT professional said he’s looking forward to the debate but will not be supporting any candidates or attending any watch parties this week.

LGBTQ elected officials who did not respond to Project Q’s questions include Atlanta City Councilmember Antonio Brown, DeKalb State Court Judge Mike Jacobs, Fulton State Court Judge Jane Morrison, Fulton Superior Court Judge Jane Barwich, Fulton Surveyor Arnaud Huguet and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. 

The Democratic presidential debate is at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Tyler Perry Studios. It will air on MSNBC and stream on MSNBC.com and washingtonpost.com.