Meet the queer commissioner shaking up Athens-Clarke County

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Mariah Parker won a seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commission by just 13 votes in 2018, and the queer activist and hip-hop artist doesn’t expect any challengers when she runs again in May.

“I think after last time people are a little bit scared of me, so that’s fine,” she told Project Q Atlanta.

Parker (photo), 28, cited her swearing-in photo that flooded social media: one hand on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” the other raised in a fist. Parker said she became the commission’s first-ever openly LGBTQ member that day, which she is proud of.

“It’s unfortunate it has taken us this long, but I think it’s important to me to wear who I am on my sleeve as a way to show others who may not have had a role model in politics who are LGBTQ to see that they have a role in this process and they can do this kind of work,” she said.

Parker said her time on the commission has been “a very wild ride.”

“For the first eight months I was in office, I was 20 years younger than the next youngest commissioner,” she said. “So navigating that socially and making sure I felt comfortable speaking up and using my voice in that space is something I’ve overcome.”

It’s been “a hard slog” but Parker points to two victories on the commission. Athens became the fourth city in Georgia to commit to 100 percent clean energy in May, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. And Mayor Kelly Girtz and the commission eliminated cash bail for low-level offenders in June, according to the Red & Black.

Non-discrimination ordinance in the works

The commission is looking to vote on installing permanent rainbow crosswalks in downtown Athens in the next couple months, according to Parker. City officials began evaluating the idea in October, and over 6,500 people have signed a petition in favor of the crosswalks.

But Parker said she wants to do more on the LGBTQ front.

“We can do symbolic acts of solidarity with the LGBTQ community all day, but if we don’t do comprehensive LGBTQ antidiscrimination protections, then we aren’t doing anything for folks,” she said.

Six metro Atlanta cities have passed such an ordinance since November 2018, with Brookhaven doing so earlier this month.

“I’ve actually kind of been fighting with the mayor over assigning it to a committee,” Parker said. “It’s been several months of asking and we haven’t gotten any movement on that. That is a much-needed step that I’ll continue to advocate for.”

Girtz said there’s no fighting between he and Parker.

“I asked our county attorney to do a review of some of the half-dozen cities with such ordinances to set the stage for assignment of the topic to one of our standing committees, and just last week had a conversation about this with Decatur’s attorney to seek his assistance,” he said.

Parker hopes to continue advocating for LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform and affordable housing in what would be her first full term if re-elected.

“A lot of people who hadn’t realized that I take this extremely seriously or people who doubted my motivations realized I’m with them and I’m here on the side of justice,” she said. “A lot of people who weren’t politically engaged before became politically engaged. I think that intimidates folks, and rightly so because I’m not to be messed with.”

The Clarke County School Board appointed bisexual entrepreneur Antwon Stephens as its newest member in January, making him the board's first-everopenly LGBTQ member earlier this month.

Photos courtesy of the Mariah Parker campaign

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