Park Cannon takes office as Georgia’s third gay lawmaker

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Park Cannon put the official touch on a brief but intense campaign for the Georgia House on Monday by taking the oath of office and becoming the state’s third openly gay state lawmaker.

Cannon received the oath from Fulton Superior Court Judge Doris Downs, who delivered it in the House chamber where Cannon will now represent District 58, an area that stretches from Midtown to Turner Field and East Point. She was sworn into office among a crowd of friends, supporters and elected officials. 

“It's amazing and overwhelming in a good way,” Cannon said Monday. “It means the hardworking families and small business of Southwest Atlanta, the Old Fourth Ward and Midtown are no longer completely unrepresented in the legislature, which is incredibly important given the large number of bills that directly impact our community being debated this session. Our unique set of neighborhoods now has a strong, progressive voice to fight for our needs and our values at the Gold Dome.”

Cannon, 24, joins two other openly ay state lawmakers – Reps. Karla Drenner and Keisha Waites. She replaces longtime Rep. Simone Bell, a lesbian who resigned in November. Cannon won a runoff for the special election on Tuesday and will fill the remaining months of Bell’s term. Bell urged Cannon to run.

During her campaign Cannon – a women's health advocate who describes herself as queer – raised the most cash. She also picked up the endorsements of LGBT groups Georgia Equality and Victory Fund. 

On Monday, Jeff Graham – Georgia Equality’s executive director – watched as Cannon took office. 

“We are very excited to have Park as the new representative for House District 58,” Graham said. “She has been a longtime champion for LGBTQ issues as well as reproductive health issues. She will be a really strong voice for multiple communities here at the legislature and I am thrilled that someone with her talent and her skills is here.”

Graham also urged LGBT voters to stand with Cannon as she hits the campaign trail again in the coming months to win election to a full term in the House. She will compete in the May primary and the November election.

“The community will need to stand with Park for two more election cycles,” Graham said.

Cannon took office on Monday as the State Capitol is engulfed with debate over anti-gay “religious freedom” legislation. Last week, the House unanimously passed Rep. Kevin Tanner's Pastor Protection Act that reaffirms that pastors and churches don’t have to conduct gay weddings. On Friday, the Senate passed a hybrid bill that combined the Pastor Protection Act with the First Amendment Defense Act from Sen. Greg Kirk. 

The measure allows faith-based organizations to discriminate against LGBT people and critics argue that it would gut the non-discrimination policies of companies and in jurisdictions across the state. In heated debate on Friday, critics of the bill called it “state-sanctioned discrimination.”

“Hatred and intolerance wrapped in flags and religion remains hatred and intolerance. We are already seeing the backlash of that vote with companies saying they will pull out of Georgia rather than deal with this kind of state-sanctioned bigotry. My fear is that this rubber-stamped homophobia will end up costing the folks least able to afford it the most in the form of boycotts and lost revenue,” Cannon said.

[top photo courtesy Georgia Equality]


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