Atlanta’s mayoral candidates on LGBT issues

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imageContributing blogger Patrick Saunders is a freelance copywriter and LGBT activist in Atlanta.

As recently as a couple of years ago, a politician in mid-campaign expressing the oft-used “support for the gay community” line would have given us reason enough to vote for them.

But times have changed.

We’re finally at the point where we won’t accept that line anymore. From now on we can, and will, demand every politician’s specific stance on the LGBT issues of most importance to us, and we will hold them accountable to their answers. Case in point is President Obama’s failure, up to this point, to make good on any of his promises to the LGBT community.

Last month, Southern Voice posted an interview with Atlanta mayoral candidate Lisa Borders. Borders expressed support for the LGBT community, but didn’t state her stance on specific LGBT issues. So it was with that SoVo article that I began hunting down specific answers to some important issues facing the LGBT community – including marriage equality, hate crimes law and choice vs. biology — to the three major Atlanta mayoral candidates: Kasim Reed, Lisa Borders and Mary Norwood. (The three candidates also talked with SoVo recently about hate crimes laws.)

imageReed (photo), a state senator, voted in 2004 against the amendment making same-sex marriage unconstitutional. But he failed to respond, after multiple requests, to answer whether he would vote for an amendment making same-sex marriage legal. There’s a distinct difference between voting against an amendment making same-sex marriage illegal and casting a vote to make it legal, and Reed needs to clarify his position.

On hate crimes, he was a co-sponsor of hate crimes legislation in the General Assembly that included sexual orientation, but failed to respond to whether he would support legislation including gender identity. This is also a crucial point that Reed needs to clarify, as it would be careless to leave the transgender community in the dust on this issue when they are the ones that need the most protection when it comes to hate crimes.

But Reed strongly believes being LGBT is biological and not a choice.

“The idea that sexuality (at least preference) is a choice is the concept that underlies the notion that it is okay to discriminate on the basis of sexual preference, since someone could just choose not to be gay too. It also underlies the absurd, insulting, and often violent and invasive attempts to ‘fix’ gay people,” Reed says.

These are encouraging words from Reed, but he needs to eliminate the usage of the outdated term “sexual preference” as it implies the exact opposite of the point he’s trying to make.

To his credit, Reed voted to increase funding for HIV treatment and prevention efforts and authored and helped pass SB 64, which requires mandatory HIV testing for those about to be released from prison.

imageBorders (photo), the Atlanta City Council president, was clear and succinct on her views. She supports same-sex marriage, supports passage of hate crimes legislation including specific protections covering sexual orientation as well as gender identity, and believes being LGBT is biological and not a choice. She also has local LGBT activist Glen Paul Freedman in her corner as her executive assistant.

Mary Norwood (photo), a member of the Atlanta City Council, failed to respond to multiple requests for her views on the LGBT issues that Reed and Borders eagerly addressed. A representative from her campaign stated, “I’m sure you will understand that Mary is in the middle of a major political campaign where the bulk of her time must be devoted to fundraising and attending public meetings; as well as attending to her responsibilities on the Atlanta City Council.”

imageThe fact that Reed and Borders found time in the midst of their own campaigns and professional obligations to address such important issues, yet Norwood failed to, brings into question how seriously she takes the LGBT community.

Roughly 13 percent of Atlanta citizens self-identify as LGBT, a formidable voting bloc ready to put their support behind one candidate or another in a vital race to see who leads our city going forward come November. The mayoral race this year is a great opportunity to bury the tired “support for the LGBT community” line once and for all and compel our leaders to come out swinging for us when it matters.

Meet Borders, Norwood and Reed Thursday (May 21) during the LGBT Community Mayoral Candidate Forum & Meet and Greet. View the full event details.

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