LGBTQ liaison blazes trails under the Gold Dome

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Much has changed for the better since state Rep. Park Cannon first made Jennifer Barnes-Balenciaga her LGBTQ liaison – a unique role at the Georgia Capitol. Still, a lot hasn’t.

“The change that I have seen is certainly a still developing one,” Barnes-Balenciaga told Project Q. “Georgia flipping blue is an amazing sentiment — if legislators use this movement as a bipartisan signal to unify to better help their constituents.”

As a longtime member of the ballroom house of Balenciaga, she is also director of the commemorative Crystal La’Beija Organizing Fellowship (CLOF). As a trans woman, Barnes-Balenciaga said her perspective was part of the conversation from Day 1 of meeting Cannon.

First elected in 2016, Cannon is one of seven LGBTQ lawmakers at the Gold Dome. As Cannon’s LGBTQ liaison, Barnes-Balenciaga personally helped Cannon spearhead an effort to officially recognize Trans Day of Visibility and Trans Day of Remembrance in Atlanta.

“I was a previous graduate of the Youth HIV Policy Advisors at Georgia Equality, and I was paired up with Rep. Cannon as her advisor on HIV policy development in 2017,” Barnes-Balenciaga said.

“It’s absolutely amazing working with not only state Rep. Park Cannon, but our whole team is amazing.” she added. “She’s a trailblazer.”

Jennifer Barnes-Balenciaga at the Georgia State Capitol in 2019 (Photo by Russ Bowen-Youngblood for Project Q)

Work to do

Three years and multiple conversations, proposed bills and official policies later, Barnes-Balenciaga is especially proud of advancements she helped shape for trans people as well as people with HIV.

“Georgia has a lot of work to do on inclusion of all transgender persons in documentation,” she said. “DMVs still have by-laws that discriminate against gender marker changes.”

Barnes-Balenciaga also counts the 2019 creation of wider access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis as a big win during her tenure at the Capitol.

“Now onto making sure all persons of trans experience receive adequate research and dissemination of forthcoming PrEP medications,” she said. “So we can end this HIV pandemic still plaguing our communities, especially those of black and brown people so intensely.”

The 2021 session includes a bill to do just that. It also includes a wave of anti-transgender bills that need fighting. It’s the kind of challenge and responsibility – “countless resolutions for so many awesome constituents of District 58 and Atlanta” – that keep Barnes-Balenciaga coming back to the Capitol, she said.

She and Cannon work intentionally on inclusion and to get other policymakers to embrace equity, Barnes-Balenciaga said.

“We have to get other politicians to be equitable to all persons,” she said. “The atmosphere in Georgia and beyond has got to reflect all the persons they are due to serve.”

Barnes-Balenciaga also encouraged LGBTQ voters to stay engaged in politics beyond each election cycle. It’s as simple as identifying your representatives, making contact and showing up for the process.

“Visit your state Capitol after finding out your legislators in your district,” she said. “Your presence is needed. Volunteer!”

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