A pastor, neighborhood activist and gay Atlanta man launched his bid for the Georgia House this week, hoping his years of work on social justice, public safety and planning issues will convince voters to send him to the State Capitol.
Nevermind that Josh Noblitt could also offer state lawmakers an added dose of pastoral patience – he's a social justice minister at Saint Mark United Methodist Church – and conflict resolution – he's a licensed marriage and family therapist. Noblitt, a 37-year-old Democrat, is running for the District 59 seat. State Rep. Margaret Kaiser, the gay-friendly incumbent, says she won't seek re-election in 2016 and instead will run for mayor in 2017.
Noblitt says the open race provides a "launching pad" to continue his decade of community activism in his southeast Atlanta neighborhood as a state lawmaker.
"I have been involved in the community for a long time, in this particular south Atlanta neighborhood for 10 years," Noblitt said. "I have a good appreciation for the issues folks in this area face, having lived here myself, and I want to take those conversations and issues to the state level."
The legislative seat includes an eclectic swath of Atlanta, including Poncey-Highland, Little Five Points, Inman Park, Reynoldstown, Grant Park, Lakewood Heights and East Point. Noblitt says he feeds off that diversity.
"We do live in one of the most diverse districts in the state, which is really energizing," he says. "Building relationships will all those folks is really the foundation of new policies that work. That is the key to all of it – relationship building."
Noblitt created a campaign page on Facebook this week and will formally announce his candidacy on Saturday at the opening of the Carver Community Market. But with nearly a year until the primary election, Noblitt says it's never too early to get started meeting voters, pressing the flesh and raising funds.
"I just feel like I'm in a good place in my life and career to throw my hat in. These seats don't become available that often. When the opportunity presents itself, I want to be there to be a part of that. It's an exciting time to be in this district," Noblitt says.
'All voices belong at the table'
Noblitt became enmeshed in public safety issues after he and his then-boyfriend were robbed at gunpoint while picnicking in Piedmont Park in 2010. Noblitt forgave his assailants and held a rally in the park after the incident. The robbery helped spur a town hall meeting with police officials and Mayor Kasim Reed, who later invited Noblitt to deliver the invocation as he re-opened several recreation centers that serve the city's youth.
Noblitt was later appointed to the police department's LGBT advisory committee and helped organize the first-ever NOH8 campaign shoot in Atlanta. In 2012, he was named a grand marshal of the Atlanta Pride parade. He has also served as a volunteer chaplain for Atlanta police and worked for more than eight years in the federal public defender's office.
"I've seen the criminal justice system from the perspective of being a victim of violent crime and serving as a chaplain for the Atlanta Police Department has given me a unique perspective," Noblitt says.
Pair that experience with his leadership role in civic groups – he's served as president of the South Atlanta Civic League and vice chair of Neighborhood Planning Unit Y – and as a gay man, and Noblitt says that gives him the experience to help make Georgia "more hospitable and economically feasible for everybody."
"All voices belong at the table," he says. "I know and have relationships with a broad group of people and I see that as a strength."
But the path to the Georgia House is littered with the failed campaigns of gay men. The House includes just three LGBT people – all lesbians – and no openly gay man has ever won a General Assembly race, though several have tried – Bob Gibeling, Timothy Swiney, Christopher Deraney, Kyle Williams, Tim Riley, Randy New, Ken Britt, Keith Gross, Rashad Taylor and Allen Thornell.
Two other gay men – William Phelps in 2012 and Brad Ploeger in 2010 – have run and lost in District 59. But they ran against Kaiser, a strong incumbent with a lengthy track record of supporting LGBT issues.
Noblitt says that each race is different and his blend of experience and advocacy of neighborhood issues will help crack the code of a gay man winning a seat in Georgia House.
"Each race is unique and has its own flavor. I'm in the unique position to be the best representative of this district and that will come across when I meet with folks that I hope will be my constituents. I feel like I'm a strong leader and have demonstrated that in my neighborhood. I want to take that to the state level," Noblitt says.