Gay man hopes to score upset in Ga. House race

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Gay Democrat Bob Gibeling wanted a rematch, hoping to unseat the LGBT-friendly Republican that raised more cash and trounced him at the polls two years ago on her way to winning an Atlanta seat in the Georgia House.

Gibeling, a former Republican, got the rematch of the 2014 race that he wanted in House District 54, which includes Buckhead and portions of West Midtown. But his second chance at defeating state Rep. Beth Beskin is unlikely to produce a result different than two years ago when she won by a nearly two-to-one margin. Beskin is completing her first term in the state legislature and amassed a campaign war chest that dwarfed Gibeling's fundraising.

In addition to the fundraising disadvantage, Gibeling also faces another hurdle: Some 15 gay men have tried – and failed – to win a seat in the General Assembly. Gibeling wants to become the first and do so in the conservative-leaning Buckhead district.

Beskin, though, has displayed uneven advocacy for LGBT issues.

During the 2016 legislative session, Beskin proposed an amendment to cut LGBT people – and veterans, those with disabilities, and others for that matter – from a public accommodations bill that would have ensured equal access to spaces including hotels, restaurants, and movie theaters for certain protected populations.

Beskin said she wanted to see a passable bill that included protections based on sex, in addition to the original list of race, color, religion, and national origin.

“It was my intention to amend the proposed bill so that it would cover sex discrimination,” Beskin said. “So it was more important to me, knowing what would be possible, to get the protection for sex discrimination into that bill.”

And, indeed that is what happened. The amended bill passed out of committee, with sex added to the original list of protected classes. But it never made it to the floor for a vote. Georgia is one of only a handful of states without any public accommodations and civil rights laws.

“As a Republican in the majority on that committee, I felt that the best I could do to make the bill as good as possible would be to include protection for sex,” Beskin said.

Gibeling criticized the move by Beskin.

“She not only threw the entire LGBT community under the bus, but also the disability community, and I believe that veterans were part of that same amendment,” Gibeling said.

But Beskin also helped fight anti-LGBT “religious freedom” legislation and bucked her party to do it. In March, she pushed for a compromise to an anti-gay bill that later passed the state legislature without it. Beskin was one of 10 House Republicans to vote against the legislation when it passed on March 16.

“Well my decision to vote against [HB] 757 was made in my context not just as a lawyer, but also as a person of faith,” Beskin said. “It was apparent to me that it would allow faith-based organizations to deny good, services, accommodations, and employment to other people. And as a Christian and a lawyer I am not ok with that.”

In 2015, Beskin voted for an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill in a House subcommittee, surprising LGBT activists who had commended her support of the Fair Employment Practices Act.

'The district’s demographics are changing'

Gibeling’s said his own life experiences inform his stance against “religious freedom” legislation.

“I feel uniquely qualified to speak against [RFRA] for a variety of reasons. So I have experienced, personally, job discrimination and bullying because of being a gay man. And I have 25 years of experience in faith-based non-profit organizations,” Gibeling said, citing RFRA advocates reliance on these sorts of organizations to justify the legislation.

Gibeling said that he would bring the perspective of being a former Republican to the debate over the legislation.

“One other additional advantage I have is that I am former Republican and feel no restraint whatsoever in talking to Republicans and trying to find common ground, and point out to them… that this bill does not make sense from any perspective,” he said.

In terms of campaign cash, Beskin raised more than Gibeling did in the 2014 race – $114,271 to his $72,798. But she has dwarfed his fundraising in this year's rematch.

Beskin has raised $280,561.64 and spent $175,822.83, which left her with $104,738.81 for the closing days of the campaign, according to recent campaign financial disclosure reports.

Gibeling has mostly self-funded his 2016 campaign, donating or loaning himself $17,350 of the $26,949 the campaign has collected.

“This is my first re-election cycle, so I knew I had to raise some money to get it in the bank before the session, and I did,” Beskin said.

Gibeling said that since the 2014 election, he has strengthened his ties with the business community.

“Since that last election I have served as vice president of the Buckhead Business Association, and I am still serving as Vice President of Community Alliances there,” Gibeling said. “So I’ve built tremendous recognition and relationships there.”

Buckhead’s demographics are changing, but perhaps not fast enough to shift the electorate for the 2016 election.

“The district’s demographics are changing very significantly. Literally day by day we have more young progressive people moving into the southern side of the district around the Lindbergh Marta station,” Gibeling said.

Beskin said that her views match those of constituents in the district.

“I think [constituents and I] philosophically agree on more than that on which we disagree. So I am pleasantly surprised that almost every vote I have taken has really represented the sentiment of the majority of my constituents,” Beskin said.

The race has split LGBT groups. Georgia Equality issued endorsements in several General Assembly races, but skipped this one. In 2014, Georgia Equality endorsed Gibeling.

Georgia Stonewall Democrats backed Gibeling and Georgia Log Cabin Republicans picked Beskin. In fact, the gay Republican group made Beskin an honorary member when it endorsed her in October.


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