Five LGBTQ candidates win in metro Atlanta races

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Two LGBTQ candidates – state Rep. Park Cannon and Ben Ku – won contested primaries on Tuesday, while three others cruised to re-election with no opposition.

Some 11 LGBTQ candidates faced voters on Tuesday, with eight in contested races. In addition to Cannon (top photo) and Ku (top photo) winning their Democratic primaries, three others faced no opposition and won new terms. They included state Reps. Karla Drenner and Renitta Shannon, and Fulton Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick.

Six other LGBTQ candidates lost on Tuesday, including first-time candidates and two seeking rematches with opponents that beat them in prior races. The races spanned a judicial post, Athens mayor, the Georgia legislature and the U.S. House.

In addition, three other LGBTQ candidates – all Democrats – face races in November. They include state Rep. Sam Park, and Georgia House candidates Matthew Wilson and Julie Jordan.

Park faces a rematch against Republican Valerie Clark, whose Gwinnett seat he took in an upset two years ago. Wilson, a gay attorney, faces incumbent Republican state Rep. Meagan Hanson in the House District 80 race in Brookhaven. In St. Simons, Jordan – a lesbian school administrator – is challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Don Hogan in House District 179.

Here’s how the eight contested races involving LGBT candidates went.


Park Cannon, State House District 58


Queer state Rep. Park Cannon won her race against retiree Bonnie Clark in a landslide in the Atlanta-area House District 58, taking 68 percent of the vote to Clark’s 32. No Republicans made a run to challenge Cannon in the heavily-Democratic district, so she will cruise to a second full term.

Cannon won in an early 2016 special election to replace Simone Bell, a lesbian who resigned to take a position at Lambda Legal. She ran unopposed in that fall’s general election to begin her first full term.


Ben Ku, Gwinnett Board of Commissioners


Gay civic activist Ben Ku handily beat restauranteur Desmond Nembhard in the Democratic primary for Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners. Ku garnered 63 percent of the vote to Nembhard’s 37 percent and will now face Republican incumbent Lynette Howard for the District 2 seat.

The 36-year-old first-time candidate is trying to break a 30-year-long streak of GOP dominance on the Gwinnett Commission. And he would also likely be the commission’s first openly gay member if elected.

Ku celebrated his victory in an early Wednesday morning tweet.


Keisha Waites, Fulton County Commission


Former state Rep. Keisha Waites, a lesbian, lost her rematch for Fulton County Commission chair to incumbent Rob Pitts. Waites finished just two points behind Pitts this time around, an improvement over last year’s race where she lost by 10 points.


Richie Knight, Athens Mayor


In Athens, progressive Athens Commissioner Kelly Girtz won the mayoral race in a landslide, beating conservative former Athens Commissoner Harry Sims by 30 points. Gay entrepreneur Richie Knight finished a distant third.

Knight was hoping to become the first openly gay and first Latino mayor of Athens


Steven Knight Griffin, U.S. House


Gay Democrat Steven Knight Griffin lost his bid in a crowded primary in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. 

Gun control advocate Lucy McBath and businessman Kevin Abel are going to a runoff in the metro Atlanta seat that includes portions of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties. Former TV news anchor Bobby Kaple finished third at 26 percent and Griffin came in a distant fourth with seven percent of the vote.

The winner of the July runoff will face anti-LGBT U.S. Rep. Karen Handel in November. Handel beat LGBT ally Jon Ossoff last year in the most expensive House race in U.S. history.

Griffin is a former analyst with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention who was making his first political run.


Nicholas Smith, DeKalb Superior Court


Gay attorney Nicholas Smith lost in his run for DeKalb County Superior Court, coming in fourth place out of six with 9 percent of the vote. Latisha Dear-Jackson and Tunde Akinyele will head to a July runoff that will decide the race.

Smith was a first-time candidate who earned the endorsement of Georgia Equality and was hoping to clean up what he called a disorganized court. The DeKalb native is a partner at employment and business law firm Buckley Beal.


Valerie Vie, State House District 62


Lesbian attorney Valerie Vie lost a rematch bid for House District 62, which includes portions of Fulton and Douglas counties. 

Vie lost to incumbent state Rep. William Boddie by 16 points, an improvement over a 2016 runoff election where Boddie beat Vie by nearly 30 points.


Bob Gibeling, State House District 54


Gay candidate Bob Gibeling lost in his third straight try for the House District 54 seat in Buckhead. 

Gibeling lost to Republican incumbent state Rep. Beth Beskin in the general election in 2014 and 2016, and this time was trying to make it out of a Democratic primary. He came in a distant third with 11 percent of the vote, with civic activist Betsy Holland moving on to take on Beskin in November’s general election.


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