“I mean it when I say I’m committed to equality,” Warnock said during a virtual event with Georgia Equality on June 24.
Warnock – pointing to the deaths of transgender women Sophie Vasquez and Bianca “Muffin” Bankz in metro Atlanta earlier this year – urged for more action to address violence against trans and gender nonconforming people.
“My heart goes out to the families of Bianca and Sophia. That’s unspeakable pain and loss, and it’s a loss for all of us, not just for those families,” Warnock said.
“We talk about civil rights, human rights. But the most fundamental right is just the ability to stay alive, and you shouldn’t have to lose your life because of who you are. That is an assault on one’s humanity. The question is how do we translate that into legislative commitment,” he added.
Warnock co-sponsored the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which came in the wake of increased violence against Asian Americans in Atlanta and across the U.S. The measure, signed into law by President Joe Biden on May 20, included the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act, which provides funding to improve hate crime reporting by local and state law enforcement agencies.
“We need to make sure we collect the data and understand this more and more, and that we do all we can to stop it from happening,” Warnock said.
He also pointed to his support for the Equality Act. The federal legislation would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“When non gender conforming people, other members of the LGBTQ+ community are locked out, it reinforces the notion that there is something other than human. If you can ever render people something other than human, you can do almost anything to them and it’ll be justified in law and sometimes sacralized by religion and reinforced by the culture,” Warnock said.
“Part of the hard work we have to do against this kind of violence, other than the obvious things – policing the violence itself and stamping it out – is creating a culture that is more inclusive and affirms the humanity of all people,” he added.
The election of Warnock and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff in January flipped control of the U.S. Senate and gave Democrats a slim majority. But the Equality Act languishes with no plans for a Senate vote anytime soon.
‘Unholy trinity of silence, stigma, shame’
Warnock also highlighted the struggle to stem the HIV epidemic in metro Atlanta and Georgia, which continue to see the highest rates of HIV infections in the country.
“That unholy trinity of silence, stigma and shame is as deadly as the virus itself. It’s what gets in the way of serious engagement,” he said.
Warnock said he continues to push for the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia to provide additional resources to people with HIV. He also said he worked to reduce HIV stigma by taking HIV tests from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he is senior pastor, and urging parishioners to approach HIV tests like they do routine healthcare checks for blood pressure and breast and prostate cancer.
“I’ve said to people in church get your HIV test, know your status, and I’ve encouraged elders and other folks people look up to – clergy – to get tested as a way of undermining the stigma,” Warnock said.
“We don’t see AIDS, we don’t see it the way we used to see it in the ’80s and ’90s. I think people have been lulled into sleep. But we know that the reality is something other than that, especially in places like Atlanta and Georgia,” he added.
Georgia Equality hosted the 30-minute conversation with Warnock ahead of Stonewall Weekend, which marked the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that helped launch the modern gay civil rights movement. The statewide LGBTQ group supported the election of Warnock and Ossoff through an unprecedented get-out-the-vote effort that raised nearly $1 million and reached some 800,000 pro-equality voters across Georgia.
Warnock and Ossoff swept the contentious U.S. Senate runoffs in January with campaigns that embraced LGBTQ equality in ways never seen before in statewide races in Georgia.
Warnock’s campaign team runs deep with at least seven LGBTQ people in key roles, along with an LGBTQ advisory council of nearly two-dozen officials, activists and organizers. He called for passage of the Equality Act, pledged to fight “mealy-mouthed” foes of LGBTQ equality, and vowed to fight HIV and support legislation to combat anti-trans violence.