Mayor Kasim Reed wants to host a “robust discussion” on LGBT issues through an equality forum with a national scope that would be a first-of-its-kind event for Atlanta’s City Hall.
The proposal, aired publicly for the first time on Wednesday, came during a wide-ranging interview with the new mayor. The session, held in his second-floor office suite in City Hall, marked his first extensive interview with an LGBT media outlet since he took office in January.
During the 30-minute question and answer session with Project Q Atlanta, Reed discussed the criticism he’s faced since taking office over the Eagle raid last September, his record of supporting LGBT issues during his time as a state lawmaker, healing rifts left from a heated campaign last winter, same-sex marriage, public safety, and his record on hiring gay and lesbian staff members. Throughout the interview, Reed repeatedly talked about continuing to embrace the city’s gay and lesbian residents.
“I view the GLBT community as a full partner and fully integrated,” Reed says. “I don’t have a notion of the gay and lesbian community as a separate community in Atlanta anymore because I believe that they are as mainstream and as vital as any group in the city. My approach is the approach that I’ve had for 11 years, which is full integration.
“I don’t have gay and lesbian liaisons. I have gay and lesbian people who are part of my team and who are fundamental to decision making. That’s how I approach it and I think that is healthy. The contributions that the GLBT community makes to Atlanta are vital and make the city very special,” Reed adds.
Equality forum for Atlanta?
Reed pointed to the upcoming Equality Forum in Philadelphia, held April 26 to May 2, as a model for the forum he wants to host in Atlanta in the coming months. The Philadelphia event has grown since 2002 into a 7-day collection of substantive programs, parties and special events. Reed wants to keep the Atlanta event focused on policy issues facing LGBT residents of the city and schedule it as a “positive anchor on the other side of Pride weekend,” which is Oct. 9-10.
“I would like have an equality forum that focuses on more of the policy issues that face the GLBT community and that is national in scope and is hosted in the winter,” Reed says. “I believe that there should be a robust policy discussion for the gay and lesbian community … and that is to take a holistic look at the issues, challenges and opportunities for the gay and lesbian community and really to attract gay and lesbian people to Atlanta from all across the United States.”
The concept and scheduling of the forum will be flushed out after Reed completes the hiring for his cabinet. Such a large-scale event would be a first for an Atlanta mayor.
As he assembles his leadership team, Reed’s hires already include two gay and lesbian members among eight that help run the city day-to-day: Luz Borrero (second photo), a lesbian and deputy chief operating officer who held the same position under Mayor Shirley Franklin; and Reese McCranie, a gay man and the administration’s deputy communications director. Reed’s transition team and committees searching for police and fire chiefs, city attorney, public works commissioner and chief financial officer include at least five LGBT members.
“If you walk out on your own and look at who is in the offices, it looks like Atlanta in every important way,” Reed says. “When we have big decisions to make and when we are in meetings, there isn’t any extra gay and lesbian issues. There are gay and lesbian people running the government. I think that enhances the level of sensitivity because it is not a side event, it is a main event.”
Attacks over Eagle raid ‘unfair’
Reed has faced strong criticism since taking office for the Atlanta Police Department’s controversial raid of the Eagle last September, even though he wasn’t in office at the time and spoke out strongly against the raid as a candidate shortly after it took place. The raid resulted in eight arrests, though charges against seven people were thrown out or dismissed last month during a trial. Patrons inside the bar complained of mistreatment by officers and those complaints are the subject of two ongoing investigations.
Reed’s comments about the raid since taking office were measured until last month, when he called a federal lawsuit over the raid filed by patrons of the bar a serious financial threat to the city. Reed didn’t back down from those comments on Wednesday, but also repeated his past statements that such a raid won’t happen during his administration.
“I don’t regret [the comments] at all. I think that the attacks that I have taken for something that did not occur while I was mayor were unfair. The attacks that I am taking now are just not well grounded. I made a very clear statement about how I felt about the Eagle raid while I was a candidate. I made it immediately,” Reed says.
“But I have a different role because I am the primary fiduciary for the City of Atlanta now and things that I say have much greater consequences for the City of Atlanta. Because of the financial condition of the city, I have to be very thoughtful and conservative. I think the attacks are unfair, but it is what it is and I don’t regret my comments at all. I have a record that despite the attacks, demonstrates where my heart is and people will see this investigation will be closed and that I would never allow an event like this to occur on my watch and while I am mayor,” Reed adds.
’Firm’ talks with police commanders
Since taking office, Reed says he has talked with police department officials about its approach to the city’s LGBT residents.
“We’re putting an extraordinary amount of resources into making sure that the gay and lesbian community, that District 6 and Zone 6 are kept safe because of my genuine concern about hate crime in the City of Atlanta. I have had very firm conversations with the command staff of the police force about being extremely sensitive towards the gay and lesbian community,” Reed says.
Reed is also quick to point critics to his 11-year record in the Gold Dome as a state representative and senator where he supported hate crimes legislation, an employment non-discrimination proposal and adoption rights by gay parents.
“I have a record that I would put up against any elected office holder in the state of Georgia on GLBT issues. The attacks are what they are,” Reed says.
’Working through’ same-sex marriage
In 2004, he also voted against a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in the state. The measure later passed the legislature and was approved by voters. The vote by Reed came even as he personally did not back gay marriage – though he supports LGBT couples receiving all the benefits enjoyed by married couples – and that distinction became an issue during the mayoral campaign last year. Runoff opponent Mary Norwood made it a key issue and it caused a split among LGBT voters.
Despite that, Reed says that although he continues to discuss same-sex marriage with gay and lesbian friends and supporters, his position hasn’t changed.
“My position is exactly the same: I believe in full legal equality. I have the same reservations because of my personal faith that I have. I have conversations about it with my gay and lesbian friends all of the time and I continue to work through it. I was hurt by the outcome of the vote in the gay and lesbian community but I respect it and understand,” Reed says.
“I believe that my record should matter for something and it does not seem to matter for very much. I do hope that other elected officials who are running for office and who will be running for office shortly will be held to the same standard. I believe that gay and lesbian couples should have access to every right and benefit that married couples have. I also happen to be the only elected official in municipal government, certainly for the city of Atlanta and Fulton County, that has ever had to stand up and cast a vote when there were real consequences on the line. And I voted against the ban on gay marriage in the state of Georgia because I thought it placed discrimination in the constitution of the state,” he adds.
But since the campaign, Reed says he’s worked to mend a racial divide and a split among LGBT voters by inviting former opponents to take part his transition. All four candidates Reed topped in the race – Norwood, Lisa Borders, Jesse Spikes and Kyle Keyser (third photo), who is gay – are taking part in his transition team or search committees. Hiring an inclusive staff will help heal the rifts too, the mayor says.
Reed says he also plans on attending the 22nd Annual Atlanta HRC Gala Dinner & Silent Auction on May 1, and the Atlanta Pride Festival and Stonewall Bar Association’s 16th Annual Awards Dinner, which are both in October.
“I have taken extraordinary efforts. I don’t know of any political candidate in Atlanta that has done more than I have after winning an election to try and bring other people into the fold. I love this city and don’t want it to be a city that is divided. As it relates to outreach with the gay and lesbian community, I am working hard at that on a personal basis as well. My management team for my administration speaks volumes about my heart and about my desire to unify this city and embrace all parts of it,” Reed says.