Meet the gay health advocate running for Georgia House

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A women's healthcare advocate and lesbian launched a bid for the Georgia House and her campaign has picked up two critical endorsements – from the lesbian lawmaker she hopes to replace and am influential LGBT group.

Park Cannon, who lives in the Old Fourth Ward, is one of three candidates for the District 58 seat in the state House. The district, which stretches from Midtown to Turner Field to East Point and includes portions of DeKalb County, lost its state lawmaker when Rep. Simone Bell resigned on Nov. 13. Bell, who served for six years, became the first African-American lesbian to win a seat in a state legislature in the U.S. when she won a special election in 2009.

Now Bell hopes Cannon replaces her in the state House.

“The person I’m going to back is Park Cannon,” Bell told WABE. “I’ve worked with Park at the capitol around social justice issues, around Medicaid expansion, around medical services and healthcare for women. Endorsing Park was a no-brainer for me. I appreciate the work she does and I think she will be a very, very strong person in the Chamber to speak to the issues that are important to me and that are important to Georgia.”

On Tuesday, Cannon's campaign said the Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that supports LGBT candidates, endorsed her.

“I am humbled and extremely grateful to receive the Victory Fund endorsement in the Special Election to replace Simone Bell,” Cannon said. “As an open member of the LGBTQ community, seeking to replace an open lesbian in the Georgia House, I fully recognize the historical significance of this race. And while I will work incredibly hard on issues of equality I will fight every day to bring more jobs, better transportation options, and fully fund our kids’ schools.”

The special election for the District 58 seat is Jan. 19. Park faces Kwame Thompson and Ralph Long, a former state lawmaker who lost a bitter 2012 race to Bell. Two years later, in 2014, Long's wife Erica challenged Bell and lost.

Ralph Long and Bell faced each other in a Democratic primary that turned contentious when Georgia Equality endorsed Bell. The gay-friendly Long called the gay rights group anti-straight bigots. In 2008, Georgia Equality endorsed a lesbian candidate, Keisha Waites, over Long, but Long won that race. (Waites won election to the House in 2012.)

Georgia Equality is considering issuing an endorsement in the special election.

When Cannon announced her campaign on Dec. 3, she said Bell asked her to run for the seat.

“It was a no-brainer because we both share a profound love for people and advocacy. So I know this is an opportunity to realize my life-long dream of helping people through policy making,” Cannon says in her announcement video.(Watch below)

Cannon, on her website, says she opposes a “religious freedom” bill that is likely to be considered again during the upcoming legislative session. Critics call the measure from state Rep. Josh McKoon anti-gay and argue that it would undermine LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in cities across the state.

Cannon also says that she wants to assure that redevelopment at Turner Field benefits the surrounding neighborhoods, work for smart and balanced growth in the Old Fourth Ward and push for more jobs in the district.

Two other LGBT candidates are seeking seats in the state House next year. Josh Noblitt and Rafer Johnson will compete in separate races during the Democratic primary, which is scheduled for May 24.

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