LGBTQ support helped fuel historic wins by Ossoff, Warnock

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Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock swept the U.S. Senate runoffs on Tuesday with campaigns that embraced LGBTQ equality issues in ways never seen before in statewide races in Georgia.

Their dramatic wins over anti-LGBTQ incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler also cemented Georgia as a swing state and flipped control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats. That helps pave the way for passage of the Equality Act, which both new senators and President-elect Joe Biden support. The measure would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Georgia, I am honored by the faith that you have shown in me, and I promise this to you tonight: I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia no matter who you cast your vote for in this election,” Warnock said in his victory speech late Tuesday. 

Early Wednesday, Ossoff said he “will give everything I’ve got” to representing the state in the U.S. Senate.

“Georgia, thank you so much for the confidence that you’ve placed in me. I am honored, honored, by your support, by your confidence, by your trust and I will look forward to serving you in the United States Senate with integrity, with humility, with honor and getting things done for the people of Georgia,” he said.

Warnock scored the largest margin of victory, beating Loeffler by 74,611 votes – or 50.84 percent to 49.16 percent. He is the first Black person elected to the U.S. Senate in Georgia and the South, and only the 11th Black person to ever serve in the chamber.

Ossoff defeated Perdue by 36,766 votes – or 50.41 percent to 49.59 percent. At 33, Ossoff is the youngest person elected to the U.S. Senate since Biden in 1972. He is also the first Jewish senator from Georgia.

The men are the first Democrats to win Senate seats in the state since 2000. They will take office after the election results are certified. Warnock will complete the final two years of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term and face election again in 2022. Ossoff won a full six-year term.

Warnock and Ossoff ran campaigns that embraced LGBTQ issues and were staffed by queer people. They appeared at virtual and in-person LGBTQ events, and Ossoff pledged to do it again once he takes office. 

“I look forward to coming right back here in just a few weeks when I represent you in the U.S. Senate to answer your questions, and we’ll make a habit of it,” Ossoff said during a Dec. 23 rally at the popular lesbian bar My Sister’s Room.

Warnock thanked supporters and staff members during his victory speech.

“To our supporters, our incredible campaign team and to my family, thank you from the bottom of my heart. And to every Georgian who marched with us, organized with us, prayed for us, fought for us, believed in us or shared their story and their pain with us, thank you for all of your love and support,” he said.

Warnock’s campaign team runs deep with at least seven LGBTQ people in key roles, along with an LGBTQ advisory council of nearly two-dozen officials, activists and organizers. Ossoff’s campaign includes at least nine LGBTQ staffers. 

Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham

‘This moment is especially meaningful’

The wins were driven in part by massive, well-funded grassroots efforts to turn out voters. Fair Fight led the effort, raising tens of millions of dollars during the runoffs. It doled out grants to organizations, including at least two LGBTQ ones, for voter turnout and education efforts. Georgia Democrats also reached out to LGBTQ voters during the runoffs.

“We and other allied organizations have built and scaled up the necessary infrastructure to help elect these two men,” Andre Fields, Fair Fight’s political director, said during a recent Q Conversations live event. “We have a multi-million dollar investment in local organizations.”

Fields, who is queer, is one of several LGBTQ staff members of Fair Fight, the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams.

Among the runoff grants Fair Fight provided was $50,000 to Georgia Equality. The statewide LGBTQ equality organization launched a massive get-out-the-vote campaign funded by nearly $1 million in donations. 

The effort included 20 election staffers and 450 volunteers, more than 25,000 phone calls, hundreds of thousands of text messages, a direct mail campaign and digital advertising to turn out 650,000 LGBTQ and equality voters. 

Georgia Equality’s efforts made a difference. Equality voters turned out in larger numbers than other voters during the runoffs, according to Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director.

“In November’s general election, Georgia Equality’s targeted universe of 500,000 pro-equality voters turned out to vote at a rate five percent better than the state-wide average, and looking at early voting data, we believe that we will meet or exceed that turnout rate for the 650,000 voters we contacted ahead of the runoff,” Graham said in a prepared statement. 

The Human Rights Campaign said that 52 percent of equality voters took part in early voting during the runoffs, compared to 40 percent of the general public, according to the Washington Blade. 

The embrace of LGBTQ equality issues by Ossoff and Warnock – a first in U.S. Senate races in Georgia – also boosted LGBTQ turnout in the November election and the runoffs, Graham said.

“This moment is especially meaningful because in these races, support for LGBTQ equality was used to promote campaigns, rather than as wedge issue to divide folks,” he said. “It hasn’t been that long since even a modicum of support LGBTQ issues was the death knell of a statewide campaign in Georgia.”

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


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