Their elevation to leadership positions is a sign that as the number of LGBTQ lawmakers increases – Georgia now has a record seven – their influence at the Gold Dome also grows.
In Gwinnett, state Rep. Sam Park was elected by the county’s 18 lawmakers to lead their delegation during the new legislative session, which opened on Jan. 11. Veteran state Rep. Karla Drenner was re-elected to chair the DeKalb delegation. And ahead of the new session, House Democrats selected Rep. Park Cannon as secretary of the House Minority Caucus.
“I hope the fact that a relatively young, gay Asian-American serving as chair of one of the largest delegations in Georgia demonstrates to other LGBTQ folks that there is nothing they can’t do. They have the ability to serve in leadership, even in Georgia,” Park said.
Park – in his third term at 35, the youngest member of the county delegation – added that leading the group also shows the impact of a diversifying population in Gwinnett. In November, voters elected Democrats to majorities on the county commission and school board – a blue wave that started in 2016 when Park beat a Republican incumbent.
“There is a new Gwinnett emerging and one that welcomes all and embraces all and is more than willing to give opportunities to serve based on the content of one’s character,” he said.
For Drenner, the number of LGBTQ lawmakers and their increasing influence is a stark contrast to when she took office as the state’s first – and only – out lawmaker in 2001.
“I never dreamed that big,” Drenner said. “Those were very lonely years.”
This is Drenner’s second term leading DeKalb’s delegation. Entering her 11th term as a state lawmaker, she’s the dean of a growing LGBTQ Caucus. It reached seven in January with the addition of Rep. Marvin Lim and Sen. Kim Jackson, the first LGBTQ person elected to the state Senate.
Cannon said her election to leadership highlights the diversity of House Democrats.
“As the state’s most diverse caucus, with respect to our backgrounds, biographies and bills, I am humbled to have been unanimously selected,” Cannon said in a prepared statement.
Cannon, who took office in 2016, is beginning her fourth term.
Park, Cannon and Rep. Matthew Wilson said priorities for LGBTQ lawmakers this session include comprehensive civil rights legislation, HIV decriminalization, banning conversion therapy and making PrEP more accessible and affordable as an HIV preventative.
“As lawmakers, we are going to be fighting to pass laws that benefit and protect all our communities,” Park said during a Q Conversations earlier this month. “We have to stand firm on our values, to encourage folks, especially LGBT folks, that there are people who represent them who are fighting for their best interests.”
This story is made possible by a grant from the Election SOS Rapid Response Fund.