Sam Park ready to be Gold Dome bridge builder

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State Rep. Sam Park – a rookie lawmaker and Georgia’s first openly gay male one – is ready to fight anti-LGBT proposals. But he’d rather lean on his background as a gay Korean and Christian to build bridges between opposing sides.

The 31-year-old lawmaker and lawyer from Gwinnett County brings a fresh perspective to the Gold Dome. And that could be helpful if the “religious freedom” fight flares up during the ongoing legislative session. In past years, it has pitted LGBT activists and progressive faith leaders against religious conservatives.

Park told WABE’s “Closer Look” that he could help bridge that political and cultural divide. (Listen below at 23:35.)

“The LGBT community and the Asian-American community, for example, haven’t interacted often. And I think being able to bridge those two communities is important,” Park said. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Now more than ever, minority communities need to start working together and standing together.

“As for the Christian community, the church as well as the LGBT community, I think that it’s unfortunate that they’ve been at odds with one another for so long. As a man of faith, I am commanded to love my neighbor as myself regardless of who they are. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ve seen that reflected as much as I would have liked to over the past few decades. These changes are going to take time to overcome. Some of these bridges will require a lot of effort in terms of trying to bridge this gap,” Park added.

As a Democrat who unseated a Republican incumbent in District 101 – which represents a traditionally Republican area – Park gained experience in reaching past political lines. He said he learned on the campaign trail that people may not be as divided as they seem, Park told Creative Loafing.

“The fact that I was able to win, as a Democrat despite the Trump wave that occurred, for me tells me that people want something to unite behind,” says the 31-year-old representative-elect. “I think that’s an indication that there are both conservatives and progressives who reject the politics of fear … I hope that it’s a sign that even though we are in this very partisan political climate, the people — they aren’t as divided as I think maybe our politics indicate.”

State GOP leaders stood together to indicate early in the legislative session that they don’t favor a return to anti-LGBT bills like the one Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed in March. But cracks are emerging.

Park said he can build political bridges but that he’s also ready to fight the legislation if it surfaces.

“[It’s] been the general understanding from both the speaker as well as the governor that they are not interested in addressing the issues that have failed and to leave behind the bad and continue to move forward with the good. If such pieces of legislation do come up then I think that as RFRA was ultimately defeated last year, there is a coalition ready to defeat it if it comes up this year,” Park told WABE.

Park’s election received media coverage from across the country. He was, after all, a gay Asian Democrat that defeated a GOP lawmaker on a night when Donald Trump won the White House. He also did what 15 other gay men have tried and failed to do – capture a seat in the Georgia House. Park told WABE that the election left him feeling like a role model.

“I think so, without a doubt. Once I won, I got so many emails and messages from people across the country just saying thank you, I felt so alone. Winning as the first openly gay man, as well as the first Asian Democrat, it demonstrates that there aren’t any barriers. For a lot of kids, for a lot of the next generation, seeing people such as myself as well as Brenda [Lopez, the first Latina elected to the Georgia House] anybody who breaks these barriers, and hopefully we’ll be able to get to a point where there are no more firsts,” Park said.

 

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