Queer Athens commissioner tests positive for coronavirus

Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker tested positive for coronavirus earlier this month after leading a protest for racial justice that attracted thousands.

Parker (photo), the commission’s only openly LGBTQ member, was asymptomatic after the May 31 event but wanted to be cautious.

“I’d been around a couple thousand people, so I figured before I go out protesting any longer that I should get tested,” she told Project Q Atlanta.

Parker took the June 3 diagnosis hard.

“It was fear and sadness with everything happening in the country right now,” she said. “I have a lot of work to do and want to be out in the streets with people.”

Parker said she's experienced some chest pains since then while self-quarantining at home.

“Other than that, I’ve been feeling pretty fine,” she said.

Parker has stayed busy. She teamed up with Commissioner Tim Denson to propose reducing the Athens-Clarke County police force by 50 percent in the next decade and replacing them with social work and mental health first responders, according to Parker.

The 50/10 Plan to Reimagine Public Safety calls for a $50,000 allocation in Athens-Clarke County’s fiscal year 2021 budget to study how to make that transition. The proposal would also give raises to public defenders, add a second social worker in the public defender’s office and add a mental health response team within the police department, according to Parker.

“I’ve long been committed to transitioning resources from law enforcement into more compassionate and holistic forms of community crisis response and prevention, but in the aftermath of the recent police violence across the country, I saw an opportunity to harness our collective outrage and take a bold step in that direction,” she said.

The commission – which has been meeting virtually since the pandemic started – will vote on the annual budget on June 16. 

Parker also found another way to protest police brutality. 

“I organized a car caravan this Saturday for folks who are vulnerable to COVID or folks who are sick to be able to raise their voices in a safe way,” she said. “Our plan is to drive around the city. We’ve partnered with a local radio station to play some revolutionary jams and have our little self-isolated block party of sorts.”

“I’m looking forward to giving folks a safe option to participate and to getting back out there myself,” she added.

Attendees will meet at 7 p.m. at the parking lot on the corner of North Chase Street and Prince Avenue. 

Parker won a special election for the District 2 seat in 2018. She was sworn in with one hand on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and the other raised in a fist. She ran unopposed in Tuesday’s election and won her first full four-year term in office, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. 

Parker backs a proposal to install permanent rainbow crosswalks in downtown Athens. She’s also leading an effort to pass a broad, LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. 

“We can do symbolic acts of solidarity with the LGBTQ community all day, but if we don’t do comprehensive LGBTQ antidiscrimination protections, then we aren’t doing anything for folks,” she said in January. 

Both the crosswalks and the ordinance are still under consideration, according to Parker.

I just tested positive for coronavirus. More in comments.

Posted by Mariah Parker on Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Parker is at least the second LGBTQ elected official to test positive for coronavirus. Chamblee City Councilmember Brian Mock contracted the virus in early May.

Read more coverage of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting LGBTQ Atlanta.

This story is made possible through a grant from Facebook Journalism Project's COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund.

Photos courtesy of the Mariah Parker campaign