Gay attorney and Korean-American Sam Park made history on Tuesday and did what 15 other gay men have tried and failed to do – win a seat in the Georgia House.
Park, a Democrat, ousted incumbent state Rep. Valerie Clark, a Republican, in a squeaker with 445 votes to win the House District 101 seat in Gwinnett. He received 51.07 percent to 48.93 percent of the vote. In numbers, the race saw 20,843 votes with Park receiving 10,644 and Clark some 10,199.
Park was embraced by LGBT groups and activists, helping to counter the support Clark received from some of the General Assembly’s most powerful Republicans.
Georgia Equality, which endorsed Park, applauded his historic election.
“The election of an openly gay man to the Georgia General Assembly represents just one more step on the road to full equality for LGBT people in Georgia,” Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director, said in a statement late Tuesday. “Sam Park will join a growing number of elected officials who will fight for the rights of LGBT people as we push for full state-wide nondiscrimination laws in the coming legislative session.”
Graham also noted that Park’s win ousts a Republican who voted for controversial anti-LGBT “religious freedom” legislation in March.
“Not only is the election of Sam important for the LGBT and Asian-American communities, it is also an acknowledgement that Georgia voters are rejecting the politics of discrimination,” Graham said.
Park won the race despite a fundraising disadvantage. Clark raised more than twice the amount of campaign cash than Park – $132,701.63 to $50,306. And she entered the final days of the campaign with more cash on hand – $59,350.42 to Park’s $7,164.27.
In January, Park will become the fourth openly gay lawmaker in the state House. He joins Reps. Karla Drenner, Keisha Waites and Park Cannon.
“It would be an honor to win as the first openly gay man elected to the state legislature, and I hope it gives young, gay kids hope that there is a brighter future, that there is nothing that stands in their way just because of who they are,” Park told Project Q Atlanta last week.
Drenner faced no opposition in her re-election on Tuesday, while Waites easily dispatched Republican challenger Ralph Nobles 92 percent to 8 percent. Cannon, who took office earlier this year after a special election, easily won her first full term without facing a challenger.
But Park’s electoral magic didn’t rub off on the other gay man running for the state House. Bob Gibeling lost his rematch to state Rep. Beth Beskin 60.74 percent to 39.26 percent in the House District 54 race that includes Buckhead and West Midtown.
Beskin, who dwarfed Gibeling’s fundraising, received nearly 5,000 more votes than Gibeling – 16,426 votes to his 10,618. But Gibeling did improve his vote take from 2014 when he first ran against Beskin. He lost that race 59 percent to 30 percent.
Beskin has supported LGBT equality efforts and bucked the GOP to vote against “religious freedom” legislation earlier this year.
Before Park, no openly gay man has ever won a General Assembly race – some 15 have tried and lost. They include Gibeling, Josh Noblitt, Rafer Johnson, Keith DeJesus, Timothy Swiney, Christopher Deraney, Kyle Williams, Tim Riley, Randy New, Ken Britt, Keith Gross, Rashad Taylor, William Phelps, Brad Ploeger and Allen Thornell.