Kris Brown learned a lot running political campaigns, but identifying as queer was their first foray into political awareness. It’s a path that now finds them as a legislative staffer at the State Capitol.
“As queer people, we are hit with policies that infringe on our rights usually before most of our peers start caring about politics,” Brown told Project Q. “It is nearly impossible to be apolitical in a queer body.”
Project Q has met them as both an artist-activist and as part of an LGBTQ Valentine couple,but Brown, 31, got their political feet wet running their partner Liliana Bakhtiari’s 2017 campaign for Atlanta City Council. Bakhtiari missed an upset of council veteran Natalyn Archibong by a razor-thin margin.
But the candidate – and her partner – were just getting started. Four years later, Bakhtiari is in the running for a council post again this year. And now with several municipal, county and state races under their belt, Brown is chief of staff for state Sen. Michelle Au, a Johns Creek Democrat.
“I managed now-Sen. Michelle Au’s campaign, and after her victory, she requested I stay on as her chief of staff,” they added. “I jumped at the opportunity to continue spanning my scope of experience and to keep investing in a Senator I believe in.”
‘That’s the dream, right?’
Au is one of two Asian-American state senators in Georgia. Her eye toward inclusivity at the Capitol comes naturally and extends effortlessly to her staff, Brown said. So much so, they never overtly talked about Brown’s identities as queer, gender fluid or demisexual.
“The conversation around my gender/sexual identity never even came up,” Brown said. “It wasn’t out of a lack of care, there just was never any question around acceptance and affirmation of all identities inside of her campaign and now her Senate office.”
“It is actually super refreshing,” they added. “I mean, that is the dream right? That eventually, our identities as queer people are not our only signifiers, but that we are simply valued for the people that we are, for our work ethic, and for what we bring to the table. I am very grateful to Sen. Au for that.”
Still, being openly LGBTQ under the Gold Dome is a position that Brown does not take lightly.
“It is very empowering as a queer person to be down at the Capitol, working so closely with legislators, and having the opportunity to speak up and provide an LGBTQIA+ perspective to all of the important conversations that we are having,” Brown said.
Those important conversations include some anti-LGBTQ bills, as well as some pro-LGBTQ proposals.
“There are a few pieces of legislation to keep an eye on this session this year, both bad and good,” Brown said.
One on Brown’s “bad” list would ban transgender athletes in school sports from competing on teams that align with their gender identity. Another bill would bar doctors from providing gender-affirming care to trans people under the age of 18. Its key sponsors have been trying it since 2019.
A positive step would come if legislators passed Senate Bill 164, a bipartisan proposal that would decriminalize HIV in Georgia. It’s one of the LGBTQ priorities set forth by Georgia Equality and LGBTQ state legislators for 2021.
In addition to watching for proposals that also include thinly veiled attempts to disenfranchise voters, Brown said LGBTQ voters have a say in what happens and can wield that power.
“I think my biggest encouragement would be to stay engaged in your local and state politics,” they said. “It is easy to get caught up in the hype of the huge federal races, but your state and local government are way more accessible and responsive to their constituency.”
“The issues that directly affect LGBTQIA+ people are often determined in our state and local governments,” Brown added. “Like anti-discrimination policies, adoption laws and gender/name change laws, etc.”
And those governments are easy to access, they asserted.
“The Capitol is open to the public,” Brown said. “You can call and email legislators, and every floor session and committee meeting is live-streamed. It’s easier than ever to access your government. Do not be shy about making your voice heard. It is your government.”