‘True Georgia values’ guided LGBTQ aide to Capitol

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Kip Dunlap came by his interest in politics and liberal leanings naturally. The Georgia native credits his parents with the spark that led him eventually to his job as a legislative aide under the Gold Dome.

“My parents inherited some very humanistic, liberal values from their parents, and I like to think that generosity of spirit is a truly ‘Georgia’ set of values,” Dunlap told Project Q. “They used to read the AJC to me and talk about Georgia politics around the house, and growing up in Fayetteville, the Gold Dome never seemed that far off.”

Dunlap, 33, was social events chair for Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association when he first met state Rep. Park Cannon. He booked her as a speaker for the group, they hit it off and the rest is history.

“We instantly had a rapport, and since I was a recent GSU grad looking for work beyond ‘barista’, she brought me on to her team,” he said. “As of this year’s session, I am officially in this role full time.”

Officially, that role is chief aide to Cannon. The Atlanta Democrat is one of seven LGBTQ state lawmakers in Georgia who boasts a particularly queer-inclusive and close-knit team.

“We built up a fairly large, very diverse team, and there’s always more to learn about inclusivity,” he said. “Rep. Cannon has taught me a great deal, and our team members are constantly helping me improve.”

State Rep. Park Cannon (left) and her Chief Aide Kip Dunlap

Blue (ish) Georgia

As a gay man, Dunlap appreciates his boss and her team most when the anti-gay going gets tough during the legislative session. “Going to the office” also means going to the Capitol, an environment that can present intense challenges, he said.

“We’ve had some tense times with advocates and lobbyists and even legislators from both parties,” he said. “We can build an inclusive and supportive team, but we’re still here to do the hard stuff and have difficult conversations.”

“There have been tears,” he added. “Just existing in our diverse bodies inside the Gold Dome is something I’ve learned to be proud of.”

Dunlap said that progress for LGBTQ equality and recent election victories in Georgia encourage him, but there’s no room for Democrats to rest on their laurels.

“It’s wonderful, but as I think we all know, we’re really not out of the woods,” he said. “Maybe we’re not backsliding in terms of LGBTQ rights and protections anymore, but we need to make progress, and that really needs to happen at the state level.”

If anything, success shows that equality advocates have what it takes to make an even bigger difference, he added. There’s plenty of room for improvement in Georgia’s “archaic laws and entrenched discriminatory structures,” Dunlap said.

“We’ve proven we have the numbers to do it,” he said. “So we absolutely have to put as much if not more effort into the races for governor, lieutenant governor, Secretary of State, and get a more representative General Assembly.”

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock (center) inside the Georgia Capitol with state Rep. Park Cannon (in black), her Chief Aide Kip Dunlap (back right) and other staffers.

LGBTQ rights on the table

Beyond elections, state government would benefit from more engagement by constituents in general, Dunlap said. If LGBTQ people need motivation to stay interested, listen up.

“I wish I had the magic recipe to keep people tuned in all the time,” Dunlap said. “But something I’ve seen prove true: If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

“Our rights are being discussed in these committee meetings,” he added.

And make no mistake, there are legislators who would do harm to LGBTQ people, Dunlap asserted.

“They don’t all look like us, they don’t understand or sympathize with the things that have happened in our lives,” Dunlap said. “Far too often, some of these people have made explicitly clear that they do not like us and would criminalize our bodies to score political points. It’s infuriating.”

So how does Dunlap keep his head up? He leads with his heart, something he learned from Cannon, he said.

“I have never met anyone who feels their work so deeply,” he said. “Our office has a folder of ‘Good Things’ – uplifting news articles, pictures of puppies, things that we can use to buoy our spirits and keep going.”

Meet more LGBTQ legislative aides under the Gold Dome.

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