Top Democrats – including former Gov. Roy Barnes—mingled with LGBT politicos during a reception Monday, urging them to donate money and support them in the closing days of the campaign, but they did so without talking much about gay issues.
Barnes (top photo) was joined by state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, who is running for U.S. Senate; Carol Porter, who is campaigning for lieutenant governor; former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; and Jane Kidd (second photo), chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, during a reception hosted by the state party’s LGBT Caucus at the upscale Peachtree Club in Midtown.
With a week left until Election Day, the candidates and party officials hope to motivate LGBT voters to the polls next Tuesday. But when Barnes, Thurmond, Franklin and Kidd addressed the gay and straight crowd of about 70 people, none of them mentioned the word “gay” or discussed LGBT issues.
But all four did address gay and lesbian issues when pressed by reporters during the reception, with Thurmond outpacing the others on issues of equality. The former state lawmaker hopes to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, though polls show he faces steep odds. Libertarian Chuck Donovan is also in the race.
Thurmond (third photo) expressed support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and efforts to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“I am categorically opposed to any type of discrimination, particularly discrimination based on sexual orientation and as the next U.S. Senator, I will stand and do and fight however I need to ensure that that type of discrimination is removed from America and that all citizens are treated equally,” Thurmond said.
Though he supports only civil unions, Thurmond said he doesn’t back efforts to add an amendment banning gay marriage to the U.S. Constitution.
“The U.S. Constitution is our most sacred public document, and I think it would be inappropriate to attempt to change or amend the constitution in that regard, and I will not support it,” Thurmond said.
Barnes backs hate crime measure, but not marriage
Barnes was the first sitting governor in Georgia to appear before a gay organization—his talk in July 2000 to the Atlanta Executive Network—and later met with Georgia Equality and the Human Rights Campaign in the 2002 campaign. During his losing re-election campaign that same year, he also interviewed with the gay press a week before the election – a move similar to his facing LGBT reporters on Monday.
In August, Barnes reiterated his stance against gay marriage, affirming in an Associated Press interview that marriage “is between a man and a woman.” He also said that he doesn’t favor overturning Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. On Monday, Barnes said he would have supported the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage had he still been in office when it passed the General Assembly in 2004 and later was overwhelmingly approved by voters.
“I voted when I was in the General Assembly that a marriage was between a man and a wife,” Barnes said. “I was not in the legislature in 2004 and neither was I governor, but I probably would have supported it in all candor.”
Barnes did come out strongly in favor of a passing a new hate crimes law, but stopped short of supporting a statewide ban on protecting LGBT people in the workplace.
“I think that you will never get [employment non-discrimination legislation] passed in Georgia right now, so there is no use in burning a bridge before you even get there. I think what we have to do is concentrate on what is accomplishable and that is to encourage folks not to be discriminatory,” Barnes said.
“I was a big advocate, as you recall, of the hate crimes statute that included any kind of gender orientation discrimination. It was difficult, but we got it passed, and I think those are accomplishable deals,” he added. “I supported the hate crimes law last time, and I would support it again.”
Barnes faces former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who ran a bitterly anti-gay campaign during the GOP primary, and Libertarian John Monds, who appeared earlier this month in the Atlanta Pride Parade. The former governor criticized Deal for the tenor of his campaign.
“I will tell you this: Whether it is sexual orientation, whether it is women, whether it is some of the derogatory statements that he has had to make on African Americans, I don’t think it is a way that a governor should run a campaign and I deplore it,” Barnes said.
Barnes said that LGBT voters should look at his record as governor when they consider who to support.
“The way that I have always stated these issues is that there shouldn’t be discrimination against anyone. I believe that was shown while I was governor. I did not ask anyone whether they were gay or straight, I chose the best person, and some of those happened to be gay. So I intend to do the same thing,” Barnes said.
Porter has little to say on LGBT issues
Porter (fifth photo), who has never held elective office, faces Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Libertarian Dan Barber. When pressed by a reporter about LGBT issues including hate crimes and workplace discrimination, Porter hesitated to take a stand. She recognized that “there is a huge gay population in Atlanta” but later questioned if workplace discrimination is “an issue now.”
“Right now what I tell all of my friends that are Democrats is that we have all got to come together under a big tent that’s got ‘the economy’ written all over it,” Porter said. “Because if we can’t get this economy turned around, it doesn’t matter who you are or how you self-identify, we are not going to move forward.”
Franklin: Democrats ‘want big tent’
Franklin (bottom photo), the city’s former mayor who supported LGBT issues and marriage equality during her two terms in office, offered a more blunt explanation of why gay voters should back statewide Democratic candidates.
“The future of Georgia hangs on this election in many ways,” Franklin said. “We’ve had a very, very hateful set of discussions in this state about immigration, about gay issues, about African Americans, as if any of us are not rightfully Georgians, are not rightfully Americans. I think if Georgia is ready to claim its place as a progressive state, this is an important election.”
“Even if the candidates are not exactly where you wan them to be on your issues, the Democratic ones are saying we want a big tent, we want everyone in the tent and the doors are open. You are not hearing that from the other side,” she added.
Franklin also said that Barnes would be open to LGBT issues as governor.
“He is not hateful, he is not spiteful, he recognizes that gay people live in Georgia, that black people live in Georgia, that Latino people live in Georgia and all of us have a right, number one, to decent government, and fair access to the leaders and number two, that we have a right to have our issues discussed. So I think he will stand for equality including the gay and lesbian community,” she said.
Kidd said that the reception is part of an outreach effort to LGBT voters by the state party, which last week also co-hosted a candidate mixer with the Atlanta Stonewall Democrats.
“Every group is important and especially groups that tend to be Democratic and support progressive issues and work for progressive candidates,” Kidd said. “We are really trying to reach out to every group we can.”