Georgia Equality celebrates its heroes, supporters

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Georgia Equality celebrated 20 years by toasting its donors and volunteers on Saturday, but warned that even with gay marriage on the horizon that the fight for LGBT equality is far from over. 

“Marriage equality is on the horizon but we've been working diligently for the last year to prepare Georgia for the freedom to marry,” Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality executive director, told the crowd at Evening for Equality, the group's annual fundraising dinner.

“But marriage is not the only issue we've worked so tirelessly on over the last year,” he added. 

Graham told the crowd of hundreds at the InterContinental Buckhead that the group also led a fight against “religious freedom” legislation that threatened LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies in 59 municipalities across the state. LGBT activists helped stall the measures for a second year, but anti-gay supporters have pledged a return next year. 

“We know it's coming back. We know the challenge will be before us,” Graham said. 

Graham also said that Georgia Equality launched its largest-ever Get Out the Vote campaign, an effort reaching 20,000 likely LGBT voters and supporters with direct mail outreach and follow-up phone calls to get them to the polls last fall. 

And those efforts were made possible by the group's donors and volunteers, people that Graham called “the backbone and the foundation of our work.” Organizers of the dinner said it raised more than $25,000 for Georgia Equality.

“This is the future and we can do it with your support to give us the resources to reach the voters who will change the politics of Georgia for decades to come,” he said.

Graham (second photo) also gave dinner participants a sneak peek at the group's latest campaign, “All Things Being Equal,” which will launch in July. That effort is a collection of videos of “everyday Georgians who faced and overcome discrimination,” he said. 

'It's critical to have Georgia Equality'

 

The evening, emceed by lesbian radio personality Melissa Carter from B98.5, also awarded allies of the group for LGBT equality efforts. The Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association received the Guiding Star award for speaking out against the “religious freedom” legislation earlier this year, the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity received the Phillip Rush Community Builder Award and Waycross Mayor Clarence Billups was named Champion for Equality for being among mayors in the state who support gay marriage.

Evening for Equality also attracted several LGBT and gay-friendly elected officials, including state Rep. Simone Bell, Atlanta City Council members Alex Wan and Mary Norwood, Fulton State Court Judge Jane Morrison and Fulton Probate Judge Pinkie Toomer. Toomer is among the plaintiffs being sued in federal court to overturn Georgia's gay marriage ban.

Bell said she's watched as Georgia Equality and its lobbying efforts have grown in the years since the state's first lesbian African-American state lawmaker took office.

“What's most important to me is that in the last five to six years that I've been at the Capitol I've seen this organization grow,” Bell said. “Georgia Equality understands the magnitude of the work that not only has to be done but that is important.”

And when LGBT issues are debated at the Gold Dome, Bell said it's critical to have Georgia Equality there fighting against anti-gay activists.

“When I'm there at the Capitol, it's a crazy place y'all. I spent more time this last session having one-on-one conversations, fighting for our humanity. I spoke with preachers on both sides of the aisle trying to get them to understand why discrimination of any kind is discrimination that we cannot write into our laws,” Bell said. 

Several candidates also attended the dinner, including Atlanta mayoral hopefuls Cathy Woolard, the gay former City Council president, and state Rep. Margaret Kaiser. LGBT candidates Josh Noblitt and Rafer Johnson, both running for the Georgia House, and gay-friendly attorney Shelitha Robertson were also on hand. Robertson faces a July 14 run-off against Robinson Metza for the state House District 55 seat. Kyle Williams and Bob Gibeling, gay men who ran unsuccessfully for the state House last year, also attended.

Grady CEO John Haupert, who is gay, joined Bell on stage to discuss the future of LGBT equality efforts in Georgia. DuBose Porter, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, also attended.

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