This small town in North Georgia loves its first LGBTQ mayor

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When Liz Ordiales became the first openly LGBTQ mayor of Hiawassee in 2017, there was some resistance in the city of 900 people in northeast Georgia. That was then: She runs unopposed in November for another term.

“They thought I would have gay Pride parades and paint the sidewalks rainbow colors,” she told Project Q Atlanta. “There was a lot of, ‘We don’t trust her so much.’”

But residents overcame that “fairly quickly,” and the new mayor was able to settle into her job and get to work.

“It’s an older crowd up here, and they’re afraid of all of that,” she said. “But being gay doesn’t define me. I hope I’m a good sister, I was a good daughter, and oh by the way, I’m gay.”

Ordiales overcame much on her own path to the mayor’s office. She’s also Hiawassee’s first Cuban-American mayor.

The future mayor was a toddler when she fled Havana, Cuba, with her family after the revolution of 1959. They lived in Spain for a year, then put down roots in the U.S.

“We bolted out of Cuba and ended up in Miami where my grandmother moved out to first,” Ordiales said. “We established ourselves and made a little money.”

Hiawassee, Ga., sits on Lake Chatuge about two miles south of the North Carolina border. (Photo via Facebook)

A quick ascent

After growing up in Miami and graduating college, Ordiales got a job at Bellsouth. She moved to Atlanta in 1981 to oversee the company’s 28-state Hispanic products division.

Ordiales met her partner in 1989. They would visit a friend who owned a home in Hiawassee.

“I just fell in love with this place,” Ordiales said. “We’re surrounded by lakes and mountains. It’s just an awesome place.”

The couple bought a house there in 1994 and became full-time residents a decade later.

Ordiales became interested in running for office after attending city council meetings in Hiawassee.

“The state of the city was not very nice,” she said. “It was rundown and unkept. Nothing would ever get done at the city council meetings. I thought I bring a skill set that maybe up here they don’t have.”

It was a quick ascent. Ordiales beat an incumbent city councilmember in 2015, was appointed mayor pro tem the following year and then won the mayor’s race in 2017. Among so many superlatives, she’s also the first female Cuban-American mayor in Georgia history.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales works closely with city and county businesses and business chambers. (Photo via City of Hiawasee)

Unopposed in 2021

The mayor has no opponents in November, so she begins her second term in January.

During her first term, Ordiales worked on fixing the city’s infrastructure. In her second, she wants to tackle downtown revitalization. The city bought two buildings downtown in 2019 and remains busy restoring them.

“There’s never been anything in those buildings in the 27 years I’ve been here,” she said. “We’re hoping one of them will be our anchor with a restaurant and rooftop bar.”

The other building will house a business incubator.

“It’s awesome, because we’ll be able to take businesses that we want to do well in the city and set them up with a true business plan and let them go out and be successful,” Ordiales said.

Sitting atop the state in North Georgia, Hiawassee’s population doubles each summer.

“We’re slammed until leaf season is over,” she said. “Then things slow down again until April and pick right back up.”

“We’re a tourism town, so come on out and see us,” she added.

Ordiales is one of at least four LGBTQ mayors in Georgia. The others are Bill Grant in Canton, Joseph Geierman in Doraville and Melanie Hammett in Pine Lake.

At least four more candidates across Georgia are running in November to be the state’s next LGBTQ mayor. They are Robin Biro in Tucker, Antonio Brown in Atlanta and Khalid Kamau in South Fulton. Brian Mock is running unopposed in Chamblee and will become that city’s first LGBTQ mayor.

At least 26 LGBTQ elected officials currently serve across Georgia.

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