Jon Ossoff taps talents of diverse set of LGBTQ staffers

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With a week until the final day of voting in Georgia’s runoff elections for the U.S. Senate, nine LGBTQ staffers on Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign talked about what makes their candidate the man for the job.

“Jon is an incredibly kind boss, a compassionate leader and an ally who cares deeply about understanding and fighting for LGBTQ issues,” said Elias Duncan, digital director for the campaign.

Ossoff is running to unseat incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue in one of two Jan. 5 races that pit LGBTQ allies against equality foes. Ossoff pledged  “unwavering” LGBTQ support early in the campaign. The Human Rights Campaign endorsed him in July.

Raphael Warnock is in an equally tight race with an equally inclusive campaign for the other Senate seat held by U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. The stakes have rarely been higher for LGBTQ residents to help turn Georgia blue in both races, Duncan asserted.

“It means having leadership in Georgia and in the Senate that will defend and expand the rights of LGBTQ Americans,” Duncan said. “Many LGBTQ people across Georgia and America, especially LGBTQ people of color, still face discrimination in employment, housing, heath care and policing.”

“It’s important to have leaders that’ll call it out and do something about it,” he continued.

Shayna O’Reilly, the Ossoff campaign’s deputy operations director for community mobilization, agreed. She said that being part of inclusive campaigns is as personal as it is political for her.

“As a queer black woman, I’ve found my experience working on campaigns to be very affirming,” O’Reilly said. “I’ve been very lucky to work for candidates and organizations that not only care about the lived experiences and struggles of various demographic communities, but make them central to their policy positions and campaign rhetoric.”

“Feeling not only seen by my employer, but also encouraged to voice my specific perspectives, has been extremely fulfilling,” she added.

Shayna O’Reilly, deputy operations director for community mobilization on Jon Ossoff’s U.S. Senate campaign

Equality rising

The chance to flip the Senate for the Democrats could mean passing the Equality Act. The measure would add LGBTQ protections to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It passed the House last year but failed to gain traction in the Senate.

Duncan pointed to Ossoff’s commitment to the measure, and Ossoff himself included the Equality Act on his list of priorities in a September episode of Q Conversations. He doubled-down on his commitment during an appearance earlier this month at My Sister’s Room, the popular lesbian bar in Midtown.

That’s exactly the kind of personal allegiance that drew O’Reilly to the campaign, she said.

“The team I am working with on this campaign has been so welcoming, kind and passionate, and I really believe that stems from our candidate’s character,” O’Reilly said. “Jon Ossoff is on a mission to fight for the welfare and prosperity of everyone, not just the wealthiest and most privileged, and I’m so proud to be doing what I can to help.”

Voter participation could play a definitive part in the election result. Overseeing digital fundraising, organizing and content programming, 25-year-old Duncan sees the role of younger voters as key. He encouraged people of his generation to do more than just vote.

“Young voters, especially young LGBTQ folks in Georgia, will be instrumental in getting out the vote this January,” Duncan said. “So don’t just vote but text and call your family and friends, post on social media. Do anything and everything you can to raise awareness about this election and voting.”

At 24, O’Reilly tracks the campaign’s hiring, employees and internal processes. She also manages a team of administrators to support community mobilizers. For her, motivating others to vote is a cut-and-dry case.

“We can’t afford to continue giving power and influence to someone who refuses to look out for us and affirm our humanity as equal citizens in this country,” O’Reilly said. “Jon Ossoff has proven he will fight for equal rights and protection under the law for all of us, and that’s the kind of representation we need.”

Visit Jon Ossoff’s campaign website for more information, to donate or to volunteer.

U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff (left) with campaign Data Analyst Bryant Moy

LGBTeamwork

Among a deeply diverse slate of identities working on the Ossoff campaign, Duncan and O’Reilly are just two of nine LGBTQ supporters who jumped at the chance to tout their candidate. There are even more LGBTQ team members, from leadership and staff on down volunteers, who we did not interview.

Keith Edwards is senior digital advisor, and Bryant Moy is a data analyst. Rachel Pinto serves as deputy community mobilization director, and Grace Smith is regional mobilization manager. Kenneth Gonzales is deputy director of out-of-state volunteers, and Kelly Barr is virtual program director. Kevin Lowery is Ossoff’s chief photographer.

We asked each of them about working for the campaign. Here are their responses:

Bryant Moy
Data Analyst, 29
Gay, He/Him

What are your duties within the campaign?

I work with the data team to develop and validate voting behavior models, such as when a person will vote and whether people will mail in their ballot. I also help analyze early voting statistics and make recommendations about how we can increase turnout.

Why were you interested in participating in Jon Ossoff’s campaign?

Jon Ossoff has the opportunity to be a pivotal vote in the U.S. Senate in favor of coronavirus relief, criminal justice reform, and a new civil rights act that will protect my community. I joined the campaign because I want to do my small part in helping Georgia turn blue.

Now that you’re on board, what’s it like working there?

I found this campaign to be unique in its inclusion and affirmation of various identities. As a young black gay man, I spend much of my time navigating through the world with caution. I am usually one of the only black or LGBTQ-identifying individuals in the workplace.

But my experience here has been different. Ossoff’s campaign is filled with a diverse set of people from all different sexual orientations and ethnicities. It’s more than just feeling safe. I feel empowered working for this campaign. I am honored to say I work with this diverse community of like-minded people who want to improve everyone’s lives here in Georgia.

What would it mean to you as an LGBTQ person to flip Georgia to blue with a win for the Democrats?

We have made a lot of progress toward LGBTQ equality. But as we have seen with Trump’s presidency, progress can be interrupted, slowed, and even reversed. Helping Georgia turn blue means electing politicians who will prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and fight against efforts to roll back the rights of transgender Americans. Playing an active role in this campaign means a lot to me.

Why should someone vote for Jon Ossoff?

Jon Ossoff will be a strong ally for the LGBTQ community in the Senate. He will be a fierce advocate for equal protection under the law and will fight to end discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.

But supporting Jon Ossoff means more than just protecting LGBTQ rights. I do not believe we are all single-issue voters. There are so many other reasons to vote for Jon Ossoff. From criminal justice reform to much-needed coronavirus relief, Jon Ossoff is a voice we need in the Senate.

What else?

This is the fight to control Congress. Sending Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate ensures Congress will get things accomplished. If you want a new civil rights act that protects LGBTQ folks and people of color, if you want to see criminal justice reform, if you want President-Elect Biden to get anything done in his term, we must elect Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

Rachel Pinto
Deputy Community Mobilization Director, 27
Pansexual, She/Her

What are your duties within the campaign?

We’re coaching thousands of Georgians to make plans to vote with their friends and family, which as a community organizer turned political campaign worker is my dream come true.

Why were you interested in participating in Jon Ossoff’s campaign?

Some of my favorite candidates are people who seem like policy nerds at their core. When I heard Jon Ossoff answer questions, I knew he was someone who genuinely wants to serve, and he describes with great intelligence not only how we got here, but where it’s possible for us to go.

Now that you’re on board, what’s it like working there?

My partner is a trans man, and so I try to be actively critical of whether we’re making a norm of sharing pronouns during introductions, in email signatures, slack names, and all our documents.

I have heard from friends how tough it is to enter a space and feel like the culture has to shift in order for you to have your pronouns known and used, so I try really hard to make sure that non-binary folks don’t feel this coming into my teams.

The campaign has been really responsive to using pronouns in introductions which I think is a good first step.

What would it mean to you as an LGBTQ person to flip Georgia to blue with a win for the Democrats?

I remember waking up with my partner the morning that marriage was legalized and the immense feeling of pride, joy, connectedness and harmony with the world around me. I remember the night we realized that Trump was winning and feeling that harmony crash around us. Winning this year feels to me like we refused to be erased, and we’re restoring that joy.

What would you tell an LGBTQ friend to get them to vote Ossoff?

He is humble, smart and is going to work for us. He doesn’t have it twisted.

Keith Edwards, senior digital advisor for Jon Ossoff’s U.S. Senate campaign

Keith Edwards
Senor Digital Advisor, 35
Gay, He/Him

What are your duties on the campaign?

I work with our insanely talented digital team to ideate on ways to make sure Jon’s message reaches as many Georgians as possible.

Why were you interested in participating in Jon Ossoff’s campaign?

Rarely do you get to work for a candidate like Jon that walks in step with what he believes and rarely are elections as clearly determinative as this one. Taking the offer to help was a no-brainer.

What is it like working for the campaign?

We’re lucky to have a man like Jon leading us who truly believes in equality for all and the freedom to express yourself in whatever way makes you feel the most actualized. I feel lucky to be able to help a man like that get into the Senate.

What would you tell an LGBTQ friend to get them to vote Ossoff?

Jon has been an outspoken ally of the LGBTQ community his whole life — even when it wasn’t politically expedient. Having him in the Senate would be huge.

What else?

I am so grateful to be here, spreading Jon’s optimistic vision for America of health, jobs, and justice for the people. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

Kevin Lowery
Chief Photographer, 31
Queer, He/Him They/Them

Why were you interested in participating in Jon Ossoff’s campaign?

I’ve been a fan of Jon since he ran for the House back in 2017. I lived in District 6, and that loss felt devastating. It was actually at that point that I decided to try to work in politics. Working on his campaign now is like coming full circle — like a great way to right that loss.

What is it like working for the Ossoff campaign?

After working in several campaigns, I’ve found that the candidate really does set the tone for staff and office, and luckily I have worked for some really amazing, inclusive campaigns. Jon’s campaign isn’t any different, and I’ve felt at many times seen and appreciated not just for the skills I bring to the job but for my lived experience as a queer Georgian.

What would it mean to you as an LGBTQ person to flip Georgia blue with a win for the Democrats?

I grew up in rural Georgia long before LGBTQ issues were as mainstream as they are now. In my lifetime, I’ve seen my home change for the better more than I ever thought possible. This victory in Georgia would mean so much for the human rights of all Georgians, but I would be especially happy for the young queer kid in me from Dublin, Ga., that never would’ve thought all this was even possible.

What would you tell an LGBTQ friend to get them to vote Ossoff?

Jon Ossoff cares about LGBTQ folks and sees that they are often disproportionately affected by so much of the harm bad public policy causes.

He supports the Equality Act, which would provide anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ folks in many areas of life including employing, housing, and education. That alone would mean that LGBTQ Georgians could no longer marry their partner over the weekend and get fired on Monday for who they love.

With control of the Senate in balance, we can have the Equality Act and so much more, but only if Jon and Rev. Warnock win.

Grace Smith, regional mobilization manager for Jon Ossoff’s U.S. Senate campaign

Grace Smith
Regional Mobilization Manager, 25
Queer, She/Her

What are your duties within the campaign?

I coach and manage paid community mobilizers to engage their local communities intentionally and turn out the vote for Ossoff and Warnock.

Why were you interested in participating in Jon Ossoff’s campaign?

I was interested in joining this campaign because the urgency of this moment is undeniable, and it made me realize that the best home for my energy is in another righteous fight.

What’s it like working for the campaign as an LGBTQ person?

This campaign has been a welcoming space for my identities, and it has been really meaningful to be part of a staff that centers communities of color. I’ve felt supported, and I’ve really valued being part of a campaign community where I feel like my experiences are shared and my identities are understood.

What would it mean to you as an LGBTQ person to flip Georgia blue with a win for the Democrats?

Beyond anything else, it means that we have a lot of work to do. When our progress to liberation feels tied to only one state and its elections, it means that our queer identities and who we are are not overwhelmingly, irrevocably deemed worthy. It means that if and when we win, that justice is at best a photo finish, with the right side of history just barely victorious. …

But that’s not to diminish what it means, because ultimately a blue Georgia means that our fight for queer liberation will be recognized and supported that much more. I hope that winning Georgia for the Democrats means we get to be more in love — with ourselves, with our queer community, with who we dream to be — and less afraid of what that means.

What would you tell an LGBTQ friend to get them to vote Ossoff?

For all the times the world seems against us, voting for Ossoff means there’s one more person in our corner, one more politician who’s committed to our growth and not our demise. In a year that’s torn us apart in every way imaginable, being able to imagine and create more solidarity and more progress feels so needed. So let’s make it happen.

Kenneth Gonzales
Deputy Director for Out-of-State Volunteers, 27
Gay, He/Him, They/Them

What are your duties on the campaign?

I manage volunteer coordinators to execute voter contact efforts. Our team provides trainings, resources and real time support to ensure volunteers have successful events. Our voter contact efforts include traditional phone banks, relational organizing efforts, bilingual outreach (Spanish & AAPI languages) and text outreach.

Why were you interested in participating in Jon Ossoff’s campaign?

Prior to joining this team, I worked on the Iowa Coordinated Campaign. Seen as one of the most critical races to flipping the Senate, and falling short of that goal, I was extremely disappointed. Given a second opportunity to flip the U.S. Senate, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to continue building off of the amazing work Georgians accomplished in the general election.

From COVID relief, to ensuring everyone has access to affordable and accessible health care, to fighting the climate crisis, the Georgia Senate races are incredibly important to advancing legislation that positively impacts working families across Georgia and the rest of the country.

Finally, as a millennial, it is also incredibly important for me to start seeing a new generation of leadership in Congress. Jon represents an entire generation of people who have been impacted by the failed leadership of Republicans in the last two decades, and with this new leadership could see a changed investment in supporting millennials who are now well into adulthood bounce back from the economic recession of 2008 and the one we’re currently experiencing amidst the COVID pandemic.

What would it mean to you as an LGBTQ person to flip Georgia blue with a win for the Democrats?

When Justice Ginsburg passed away this year, the first thing I thought was, “Does that mean my rights as an LGBTQ immigrant will be stripped away from me?”

This continues to still be a major fear, especially with a conservative-leaning Supreme Court. However, with Jon Ossoff flipping a historically Republican Senate seat and flipping the U.S. Senate, I would sleep better at night knowing that a Democratic majority would be fighting to make sure that my right to marry, my right to workplace protections, and my right to raise a family would be maintained, fought for and expanded.

I trust that Jon believes and understands the importance of ensuring LGBTQ Americans have equal access to rights afforded to all Americans, and I believe that he will fight especially for LGBTQ immigrants and LGBTQ people of color, who continue to still continue to experience workplace discrimination and homelessness across the country.

What would you tell an LGBTQ friend to get them to vote Ossoff?

Jon will fight for and alongside LGBTQ communities. He has committed to defending marriage equality and the right for LGBTQ Americans to raise a family, to expanding federal anti-discrimination statutes, and strengthening anti-bullying programs for LGBTQ youth.

Jon has proven to be a thoughtful, empathetic leader. He will ask tough questions of his colleagues in Congress and fight to make sure that the needs of LGBTQ Georgians are prioritized and heard. That’s who we need in the U.S. Senate.

Kelly Barr
Virtual Program Director, 25
Lesbian, She/Her

What are your duties on the campaign?

I handle our virtual direct voter contact to mobilize support.

Why were you interested in participating in Jon Ossoff’s campaign?

Working on this campaign is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not only bring change to the lives of Georgians, but it will also bring in a generation of progress in Washington that’s never been so needed as it is now.

And it’s personal, too. I got involved on my first campaign after my mom was denied insurance coverage after a health scare, and that’s definitely a reason why I’m still involved now.

What is it like working as an out member of the Ossoff campaign?

LGBTQ issues are addressed at every level of every platform, and I have the opportunity to work with a lot of wonderful activists from incredibly diverse backgrounds who are LGBTQ. There’s a welcoming culture here that allows for authenticity without a second thought.

What would it mean to you as an LGBTQ person to flip Georgia blue with a win for the Democrats?

It would mean everything to me. Especially as a lesbian who grew up on a soybean farm in a rural community, my heart goes out to all the LGBTQ folks in small town Georgia. I think of what a win like this could mean to them.

What would you tell an LGBTQ friend to get them to vote for Jon Ossoff?

Jon is fighting for health care for every American, a higher minimum wage and to rebuild our economy so small businesses and working families thrive. We need Jon Ossoff ​and​ Raphael Warnock in the Senate to get COVID-19 under control and pass immediate economic relief for small businesses and working families.

We can’t afford partisan obstruction when lives are on the line and people are suffering. With only a week left, it’s time to make a plan to vote for Ossoff and Warnock.

This story is made possible by a grant from the Election SOS Rapid Response Fund.

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