How Georgia’s LGBTQ lawmakers are soldiering through coronavirus

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LGBTQ members of the Georgia Legislature are sheltering in place and helping anxious constituents while twin toddlers, a helpful niece and a happy labradoodle join them at their side.

The lawmakers should have completed this year’s legislative session by now and be heading into primary elections on May 19. But the coronavirus pandemic caused the legislative session to be indefinitely suspended in March, and the May primaries were moved to June 9.

In the meantime, four of the state's five LGBTQ lawmakers opened up to Project Q Atlanta about how they’ve adjusted to the changes, what they’re telling their constituents and what inspires them to keep going.

State Rep. Karla Drenner

A lot in my family life has remained the same as when the legislature is not in session. Both my wife and I work from home. So, we are used to being inside.

But there is one thing that has been a major shift for us and that is having our 19-month-old twins at the house during working hours. Since daycares are closed, we have been adjusting our work schedules to care for and entertain twin toddlers. They have been helping us make masks for ourselves and others.

On some days, the emails are overwhelming with concerns from [constituents] who need support or who are scared and wondering how this could have happened and when will it be over. I do what I can to help, but in many situations, it feels like it is not enough. The concerns range from food stamps, to unemployment benefits, to general safety issues and updates from our governor.

My personal message is to detach from watching the news as much as you can. I have drawn comfort and hope from the message presented in the song from the ‘80s, “We Are the World.” The lyrics capture where we are today and how we are going to get through this. Watch the video!

Drenner represents House District 85 in Avondale Estates

State Rep. Sam Park

I have been in self-quarantine since March 17 after multiple Georgia state legislators tested positive. Thankfully I have not exhibited any symptoms, and I am in good health. Over the past few weeks, I have stayed busy working from home. While the adjustment has been difficult at times, I plan on continuing to do my part by staying home to help save lives.

I've received a lot of emails from constituents who are worried about their ability to pay rent and their bills after they either lost their jobs or have seen a pay cut. Along with providing resources to apply for unemployment, I have encouraged people not to give up or lose hope; to reach out to me if I can be of any service to them during these difficult times; and to stay home, stay safe and save lives, because the only way we will make it out of this crisis is by working together.

Park represents House District 101 in Lawrenceville

State Rep. Renitta Shannon

I’m spending my time doing all that I can to prevent economically vulnerable constituents from falling through the cracks due to Covid-19. Fighting for them to get access to resources and testing has become all consuming, but that’s the job and I love being able to make a difference and in many cases resolve their issues.

We will get through this and I’m committed to seeing my constituents all the way through this crisis. On a personal note, sheltering in place with my family has been restorative and it doesn’t hurt to have a super smart niece to “help” me keep going.

Shannon represents House District 84 in Decatur

State Rep. Matthew Wilson

As much as possible, I’ve tried to maintain a regular work routine. I’m fortunate to still be able to do legal work from home, although my days are pretty evenly split between legal work and legislative work. I spend a lot of time each day answering constituents’ concerns and updating them on the latest developments at the state and local levels. Of course, my two-year-old labradoodle Henry is getting many more walks than normal, too!

A lot of my constituents have expressed their concern that Gov. Kemp did not implement a statewide shelter-in-place sooner. I have been a vocal critic of his on this point, but I am glad that we finally have restrictions in place at the state level.

For now, the best we can all do is stay home to protect each other until this outbreak subsides and remain vigilant as we enter an election season like none we’ve ever seen before. We’ve also got to continue to be patient and kind to one another and not forget to unplug every now and then for mental health.

Wilson represents House District 80 in Brookhaven

Read our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.

Top photo by Patrick Saunders, other photos courtesy Karla Drenner, Sam Park, Renitta Shannon and Matthew Wilson

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