State Rep. Simone Bell, one of two openly gay lawmakers in the Georgia legislature, delivered humorous, often touching and even entertaining insight into her freshman term on Thursday.
In other words, she didn’t deliver the typically staid and canned comments you might expect from a lawmaker. But then Bell (top photo) — the first elected openly lesbian African-American state legislator in the U.S. — isn’t your typical politician, either.
Her comments came during the monthly meeting of the Atlanta Executive Network, which joined with the Stonewall Bar Association to host the session for about 60 people in the comfy confines of the Alston + Bird cafeteria in One Atlantic Center in Midtown. The large law firm is no stranger to gay issues, after all: It notched a perfect score in the latest Corporate Equality Index from the Human Rights Campaign.
Bell won a special election late last year to take a seat in the Gold Dome and join Rep. Karla Drenner as the only gay members of the legislature. She focused most of her remarks Thursday on walking the crowd through a typical day at the State Capitol. When her first legislative session opened in January, Bell says she was unapologetic about her identity, her partner and her progressive issues. Most often, Bell heads to the Gold Dome on her motorcycle.
“I arrive with my helmet on. I take it off at my desk. I put on my little lipstick. I talk about my partner. I talk about where I’ve worked and what I’ve done,” Bell says. “There are people who respect me for that. It’s my anticipation that that’s going to continue to happen.”
Bell also explained what LGBT activists have known for years: The Gold Dome’s conservative politics keep pro-gay legislation from advancing. For example, a bill strengthening the state’s anti-bullying law passed this year only after being pushed by a Republican lawmaker and being stripped of any LGBT language.
“In my opinion, and I’ve only served like one semester of a term, I think right now we can only be reactive. I think the reason for that is that we don’t have the allies that we need, which means we don’t have the votes we need. We have to think about when is the right time to bring a bill forward,” Bell says.
The lawmaker, who is running unopposed for her first full term, says an environment hostile to progressive legislation isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
“We have to look outside of the city of Atlanta, we have to look outside of the perimeter because the majority of our legislators are from rural areas. They are from south Georgia and north Georgia. We are not getting their votes, y’all. It’s just not going to happen. So when you look at why we aren’t proactive … it just goes back to basic math. We don’t have the number of allies that we need. It’s all about cutting deals,” Bell says.
In addition to Bell, the AEN meeting also attracted Mary Norwood (third photo), who is campaigning for chair of the Fulton County Commission. As a mayoral candidate last year, Norwood wooed LGBT votes and supported several gay and lesbian issues.
Up next for AEN: The group’s annual summer party and networking mixer on July 15; Donna Garland, communications director for the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, on Aug. 15; and partnering with the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce for Fall Madness on Sept. 16. Mayor Kasim Reed speaks to AEN on Oct. 21.