Five frontrunners for Atlanta mayor talk LGBTQ issues

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With less than two months before Atlanta elects a new mayor, LGBTQ and allied voters face a crucial decision about who leads the city through 2026 — and possibly 2030.

From a whopping 14 candidates, five have emerged from the scrum to lead the race to replace Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Project Q asked the frontrunners about LGBTQ issues, from HIV to hate crimes in the city, from their own experience level to community connections and beyond.

Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens, attorney Sharon Gay and a spokesperson for former Mayor Kasim Reed fielded email questions. Out LGBTQ City Councilmember Antonio Brown and City Council President Felicia Moore previously addressed the same issues in one-on-one interviews.

Here’s how Atlanta’s next mayor would tackle one of the worst HIV rates in the U.S., violent crime (especially against Black transgender women), LGBTQ representation at City Hall, a commitment to LGBTQ equality and more.

Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens (Photo courtesy Dickens campaign)

Atlanta City Councilmember Andre Dickens

Voters elected Andre Dickens to the Post 3 At-Large post in 2013. That makes him one of three mayoral candidates to have won a citywide election. The Atlanta native is a businessman, nonprofit executive and engineer.

Equity and inclusion have been “core principles of mine throughout my life,” Dickens said.

“That applies across the board regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity,” he added.

He was an early supporter of the LGBTQ Institute at the Center for Civil & Human Rights.

“I have witnessed first-hand so many parallels between the experiences of the African- American community and the LGBTQ community,” he said.

Dickens said that as mayor he would hire a director of HIV prevention to collaborate with health departments, community leaders, nonprofits and service providers to address the epidemic.

He met with the co-chairs of Bottoms’ LGBTQ Advisory Board earlier this year to “understand what has and has not been done” on the city’s long-troubled HOPWA program. The federal program provides the city with rent subsidies for low-income people with HIV.

Dickens said he’ll assign a lawyer from the city’s legal department to the HOPWA Advisory Committee.

“This person will be tasked with identifying other legal resources that can help do a deep dive into the HOPWA regulations and processes to determine where the bottlenecks are and how to fix them,” he said.

Dickens vowed to continue the tradition of a full-time LGBTQ liaison in his administration. He would also expand the work of the LGBTQ Advisory Board and add more autonomy, authority and funding to the city’s Human Relations Commission.

The City of Atlanta “must acknowledge” the disproportionate incidents of violence against Black trans women, Dickens said. He vowed to include violent crimes against Black trans women in the work of the new Office of Violence Prevention.

“Improving economic opportunities and reducing homelessness will help reduce violence by allowing trans people, and in particular trans youth, the opportunity to live in safe housing conditions,” he said.

Attorney Sharon Gay (Photo courtesy Gay campaign)

Attorney Sharon Gay

Sharon Gay was executive counsel and deputy chief of staff to former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, and former vice president of governmental affairs for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. She is now a senior counsel in public policy practice for Dentons, the world’s largest law firm.

Gay said her commitment to LGBTQ equality comes from early in her life.

“My sensitivity was first honed while growing up in a small town with classmates who were scared to come out and were sometimes bullied,” she said. “I tried to be a friend and protector for them.”

Gay said the city’s high HIV rate and its HOPWA program are both a “travesty.” She would work with public health officials and use her mayoral platform to “inform, educate and advocate” for renewed attention to HIV, she said.

“I went to too many funerals in the 1980s and early 1990s of young men who died of AIDS,” Gay said.

If elected, she would also reorganize and streamline HOPWA’s management process and ensure training and tools for grant recipients.

Gay vowed to continue the established traditions of a full-time LGBTQ liaison and an LGBTQ advisory board during her administration.

“Our vibrant LGBTQ population is part of the rich fabric of Atlanta and part of what makes our city special,” she said.

To address the city’s violent crime, Gay would improve the crime data collection process and develop a crime prevention strategy.

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (Photo by Matt Hennie)

Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Kasim Reed is vying for a second stint after serving as Atlanta’s mayor from 2010-2018. Before that, he served in the Georgia legislature from 1998-2009.

During his time in the legislature, Reed sponsored an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill, defended LGBTQ adoption, co-sponsored the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and voted against a same-sex marriage ban.

His spokesperson, Anne Torres, pointed to Reed’s five consecutive perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index during his time as mayor.

Reed also appointed the city’s first-ever openly LGBTQ chief of the Atlanta Police Department, served as honorary co-chair of the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry campaign and authorized the permanent installation of Midtown’s rainbow crosswalks.

Reed supported former President Obama’s order to ensure trans people have access to the bathrooms that match their gender identity. He also amended the city code to include gender identity in the city’s nondiscrimination provisions.

As mayor this time around, Torres said Reed would leverage at least $10 million from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Minority HIV/AIDS Fund to fight the city’s HIV epidemic. He would also extend and expand the city’s HIV Executive Fellow position and work closely with the Fulton County Department of Health to increase HIV testing and access to treatment.

“Access to PrEP medication has to be made easier for populations that are difficult to reach,” Torres said.

Issues with the city’s HOPWA program go back to Reed’s tenure as mayor, which Torres acknowledged.

“The city’s approach of having the Office of Grants Management administer this program — as one of many — failed during Mayor Reed’s second term,” she said.

The new Department of Grants & Community Development now manages HOPWA. Torres said Reed would make leadership and operational changes to the program, streamline the grant reimbursement process and create a new position that would work with HOPWA agencies on compliance. In addition, Reed would reimburse agencies within 30 days of submitting invoices, Torres said.

Reed would also create a unit in the Atlanta Police Department to investigate crimes against LGBTQ citizens, including hate crimes, Torres said.

“The unit would be empowered to operate as a full investigative unit,” she said.

Reed would also continue the tradition of a full-time LGBTQ liaison and LGBTQ Advisory Board in his administration.

Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore (Photo by Matt Hennie)

Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore

Felicia Moore backed marriage equality in 2012, when it was still banned in Georgia. She has 23 years of experience on city council, including four as council president. Moore attends LGBTQ events, and marches in the Atlanta Pride parade.

She launched her mayoral campaign in January, saying she would advocate for the city’s LGBTQ residents and others who “fight to be seen.”

Moore noted the problems with the HOPWA program and she pledged to make fighting HIV a priority in 2018. She continued that message during her mayoral campaign, telling Project Q that HOPWA reform and HIV would be her top LGBTQ priorities if elected.

Moore said the HOPWA program lacks “transparency and accountability.”

“We shouldn’t have situations that keep reoccurring where providers are saying hey, you know, we’re in trouble, we’re waiting on money that we’re not getting,” Moore said.

Moore’s commitment to LGBTQ issues comes from her connections and experiences, she said. Queer supporters and volunteers and LGBTQ family members informed her views, she said.

“I know the challenges of the community,” Moore said. “I care for people, period. I’m just a people person.”

Moore greeted LGBTQ supporters at a campaign fundraiser at X Midtown in May.

Listen to a Podcast Q interview with Moore here.

Atlanta City Councilmember Antonio Brown (Photo by Matt Hennie)

Atlanta City Councilmember Antonio Brown

If elected, Antonio Brown would be Atlanta’s first-ever LGBTQ mayor. He launched his mayoral bid in May.

Brown pulled off a surprise victory in 2019, winning the District 3 seat by 82 votes to become the first Black LGBTQ member of the Atlanta City Council. Since taking office, he stayed at the center of a flurry of progressive proposals, called for reforming Atlanta police and closing the city jail. Brown also organized racial justice protests last summer as he helped launch the People’s Uprising.

Among his campaign projects, Brown plans an expert roundtable discussion to figure out how to cut HIV rates and deaths in Atlanta by 40-percent.

“The discussion will be happening during my campaign so that when I’m elected, there’s a plan in action already in place to move forward,” he told Project Q in July. “The research has already been done and there are cities that have already been successful in doing this work.”

Brown also wants to transfer management of the HOPWA program from the Office of Grants & Community Development to the Office of Housing & Community Development.

“We’re just still experiencing some issues, and I believe that at this point we’ve got to do something different,” he said. “We’ve got to take accountability for some of the programs that aren’t working.”

Brown would create a tiny homes development to house vulnerable residents, including LGBTQ youth. He also wants to create a new LGBTQ community center in Atlanta.

“I think it’s time that we have a community center for the LGBTQ+ community where they can have an environment that is conducive of success where they can have access to resources and opportunities housed in this center,” Brown said.

A federal grand jury indicted Brown on seven fraud charges in 2020, and Brown maintains his innocence. The coronavirus pandemic slowed the case, but there was an evidentiary hearing in April. There is no trial date yet.

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