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|Milton City Councilmember Alan Tart: 'I wasn't in the closet'|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|June 07, 2011 23:37|
Alan Tart came out as gay to his wife in 2000, when his daughter was not yet two years old. The two were promptly divorced. Shortly after Thanksgiving that year, he met David while having a drink at Blake’s in Midtown. The two have been together ever since and are raising Tart’s daughter, now 13.
The couple doesn’t live in Midtown. They live in Milton, the city in northern Fulton County that was incorporated in 2006. Since 2007, Tart has served as a Milton County City Council member. And, he says, he’s never hidden the fact he is gay.
“I have been out. My friends know I’m gay, my work knows I’m gay, my neighborhood knows I’m gay,” Tart said in an interview with the GA Voice.
“We have just lived our lives the way any other person would. Neighbors come out and say you are just like any other married couple — you have a dog, a daughter. And I say, ‘Yeah, how about that?’”
Tart, who is finishing up his first term as a city council member in the socially conservative and affluent city of Milton, said he's not sure he will run again. The election is six months away and he said he's busy doing his job right now. Another person, Lance Large, has already put his hat in the ring to run for Tart's District 6 seat.
As an openly gay elected official serving in Georgia, Tart is part of an elite club that includes State Reps. Karla Drenner and Simone Bell, Decatur City Commissioner Kecia Cunningham, Doraville Council member Brian Bates, Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, East Point City Council member Lance Rhodes, Marietta City Council member Johnny Sinclair, Pine Lake Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie deNobriga, Pine Lake City Council member Melanie Hammett, and, most recently after being “forced” out of the closet, State Rep. Rashad Taylor.
But most people outside of Milton did not know of Tart or that he was gay until recent stories were published online at Project Q Atlanta, a gay media outlet, and The Beacon, a North Fulton media outlet. The stories characterized Tart as playing “hard to get” in letting the public know he is gay.
That is not true, Tart countered.
“Although I didn’t approach the gay media before, I also don’t want to be mischaracterized,” he said. “The way I was characterized [in those stories] was almost like I was closeted. I wasn't in the closet. I was open about my sexuality and who I love throughout the campaign. David was right there with me the whole time. I wouldn’t consider that in the closet in any way or under the radar.”
Tart playing ‘hard to get’?
On the City of Milton website, Tart’s biography clearly states, “Tart, his partner David, and his daughter Madison … have been residents of the Northwest Fulton area since 2005.”
Tart says that has been part of his biography since the beginning of his term. Plus, he said, his partner campaigned with him, was introduced as his partner at community forums and the two are active together as a couple in their neighborhood.
Matt Hennie, founder of Project Q Atlanta, a gay online media outlet, said he began reaching out to Tart for an interview at the end of March. Two scheduled phone interviews were planned but never took place. Hennie also offered to conduct an email interview with Tart, but said he got no response.
“I find it interesting that being in office this whole time he never reached out to any LGBT organizations and that someone like Jeff Graham [executive director of Georgia Equality], who has been involved in politics for years, didn’t even know who he was,” Hennie said.
“That’s not to say he was closeted as evidenced by his bio and his supporters that contacted us after our story ran. But he certainly didn’t avail himself to LGBT political organizations and financial support that have helped other LGBT candidates. Our post never said he was closeted.
He was just difficult to get in touch with,” Hennie added.
Tart acknowledged Project Q Atlanta reached out to him beginning at the end of March, but said he was too busy to follow through with scheduled interviews. He said he never reached out to the LGBT media because that’s not his style.
“It’s just not something I would do. If I was running for office in Midtown, maybe,” Tart said. “Let’s face it, there isn’t likely a big gay readership here or places to get those kinds of magazines. The only reason I would go to the gay media would be to say, ‘Hey, look at me.’”
As for not reaching out to groups such as Georgia Equality or the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund for endorsements, Tart said he didn’t ask any organizations for endorsements while running his campaign and only asked individuals. But, he said, he also thought organizations like those wanted people who were seeking serious social change for gay rights, while he wanted only to ensure Milton was a safe, efficient city serving its residents.
“I ran a very grassroots campaign. I didn't ask for endorsement from any one. Because of my political naïveté at the time — I just thought those groups wanted to endorse people who have more stances on social issues. I'm just about a better Milton,” he said. “I’ve never had a problem living as a gay man in Milton.”
Tart said he is proud of who he is as a gay man but didn’t want his sexual orientation to be at the forefront of his campaign.
“I wanted people to know that I was a man running for council and happened to be gay, and proud to be gay … I knew from the onset that I did not want to hide who I was. I’m proud of who I am. But I did not want sexuality to be at the forefront of the job,” he said.
Making progress his own way
Tart works for the federal government as a Regional Retail Food Specialist and National Team Leader for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He said he has been identified as gay in the conservative North Fulton newspaper The Beacon, which recently folded and is currently only online, prior to its recent story about him.
While Tart didn’t hold a press conference to announce he is gay or reach out to LGBT organizations, he said living his life as an openly gay man and elected official in the suburbs is his way of being part of the movement for equality.
“There are many different ways to let people know who are afraid or apprehensive of gay people and many ways to show we are contributing members of society,” he said.
“I think it’s easy for those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — for us to move into more welcoming, accepting areas of the inner city. I think, though, that if we are going to make progress we not only do what is comfortable but also what's uncomfortable, like I did,” Tart said.
Top photo: Milton County City Councilmember Alan Tart (via Facebook)
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