As the runoff for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats reaches fever pitch, Raphael Warnock’s team relies on LGBTQ people in key roles to take the campaign through the final stretch toward Jan. 5.
Warnock aims to unseat Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who in her short stint in office this year created an anti-LGBTQ track record. In November, she donated a chunk of her Senate salary to at least two anti-LGBTQ organizations in Georgia.
In contrast, Warnock pledges to make a difference for LGBTQ voters. He also tapped at least seven LGBTQ people for pivotal positions on his campaign, even before naming an LGBTQ advisory council of nearly two-dozen officials, activists and organizers.
One of those full-time LGBTQ staffers is Communications Director Terrence Clark. He told Project Q that equality is a priority for both the campaign and the candidate himself.
“Whatever you care about — equality for queer people, access to health care, voting rights, affordable and safe housing, climate change — whatever that is for you, it’s on the ballot,” Clark said. “Voting for Rev. Warnock is the first step to achieving justice and equality for us all.”
As chief spokesperson for the Warnock campaign, Clark said that working for Warnock was an easy decision for him, and that the experience surpassed his expectations so far.
“Rev. Warnock, a pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ+, pro-climate change, pro-worker pastor, represented the type of leadership I think the New South needs and deserves,” Clark said. “It’s comforting to work in a space where you are encouraged to show up as your full, authentic self and where your identity helps inform the work.”
Clark arrived at the campaign after years on the road for other campaigns and some stints in corporate America. Still, Georgia always had his heart, he said.
“I was passionate about coming back home to Georgia and helping elect progressive Democrats across the South,” he said. “How competitive states like Georgia are becoming proves people are ready for change.”
Man for the job
Yet another gay staffer, Jay Michal (top photo, left) serves as Warnock’s LGBTQ Engagement Director. Michal said that inclusion is a hallmark of the Warnock campaign.
“It is refreshing to work for a candidate that can resonate with religious communities, while also being a proud ally of the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “The diversity of our staff is a strength of this campaign and also enables us to sharpen ideas and expand opportunities.”
Michal previously served as lead field organizer in Gwinnett County for the 2018 Democratic Party of Georgia’s coordinated campaign. His work there gave him confidence that Georgia was could flip to the Democrats in the near future.
“I knew that Georgia was ready to turn blue,” Michal said. “Flipping control of the US Senate has always been of the utmost importance this cycle. When I saw Reverend Warnock get everyone on their feet during his speech at the 2019 DPG State Dinner, I knew he was the candidate for this moment.”
Warnock embraces LGBTQ people and issues, Michal said. As the candidate told Project Q himself, the Equality Act — which would add LGBTQ protections to the 1964 Civil Rights Act — is high on his priorities.
But Warnock’s commitment to legislation and policies that matter to LGBTQ voters doesn’t stop there, Michal said.
“[Warnock] is approachable, and he cares about our LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “Voting for Warnock is a vote for expanding access to PrEP, a vote for gender inclusive policies, and a vote for banning conversion therapy.”
Clark added to Michal’s list of possibilities that a potential Warnock term represents. He promises criminal justice reform, voting rights protections and affirming dignity of workers, he said.
“Electing people like Rev. Warnock to the Senate can make those things a reality,” Clark said.
What’s at stake
In addition to Clark and Michal, the Warnock campaign boasts ranking LGBTQ-identified staff members from the top down. Stuart Guillory is Warnock’s director of operations, and Dan Huphreys is research director. Also on staff are Ralph Jones, Jr. as strategic communications director and Michael Brewer as rapid response director.
And Michal isn’t the only person in an LGBTQ-specific role. The team also includes LGBTQ Special Advisor Malik Brown (top photo, right), who works full time as Atlanta City Hall’s LGBTQ Affairs Director.
Targeted fundraising events dot the Warnock campaign trail, too. This fall, that included Yoga in Piedmont Park sponsored by LGBTQ+ For Warnock (bottom photo).
Gathering all the queer help Warnock can get also means all the voters they can get to the polls. Michal and Clark both reiterated the adage so often repeated in Georgia in recent weeks: Turnout decides elections.
“Early voting has started and lasts ’til Dec. 31, so please get out and let your voice be heard,” Clark said.
Michal was even more effusive and took his encouragement of LGBTQ voting into the future.
“Stay engaged in the political process,” he said. “We must defend each victory. Our votes and voices will remain critical as we move into the redistricting season in 2021, which will be controlled by Gov. Kemp and a Republican majority in the state legislature.”
“If elected, Warnock will be defending his U.S. Senate Seat in 2022, while we work to put a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion,” Michal added.
For more information, visit the Warnock campaign website.
This story is made possible by a grant from the Election SOS Rapid Response Fund.