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|Three seek to be first out gay men elected to state House|
|Written by Dyana Bagby|
|Friday, 08 June 2012 00:00|
Seven openly gay men and women are vying for seats in the Georgia General Assembly — some incumbents, some newcomers — while a lesbian seeks to replace a retiring Fulton County judge, making 2012 one of the gayest election seasons to date.
But most of the gay incumbents and candidates do not have until the general election in November to make their case to the public. Since those running for Georgia House seats are Democrats in mostly Democratic districts — and only two races include Republican candidates — many contests will be decided in the July 31 general primary.
Qualifying was held May 23-25. Gay candidates on the ballot will include incumbent state Reps. Karla Drenner, Simone Bell, Rashad Taylor and Keisha Waites. Also qualifying is longtime Atlanta politico Ken Britt, who is making his first run for political office after working behind the scenes on such successful gay campaigns as Alex Wan for Atlanta City Council and Joan Garner for Fulton County Commissioner.
Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), the first openly gay person elected to the General Assembly, is serving her sixth term and faces no challenger. But Waites, who was elected in a low-turnout special election in February, has four people trying to knock her out of the legislature. Georgia Equality and the Victory Fund have put out several emails supporting Waites.
Gay incumbents Bell and Taylor, who came out during his last term in office, must face off with other Democratic incumbents after Republican-controlled redistricting drew them into the same districts. Tim Riley of Athens is running as a Democrat for a second time for District 47 in the state Senate.
In addition to Britt, other openly gay newcomers are running for General Assembly. Timothy Swiney is challenging Republican incumbent Valerie Clark in Lawrenceville for District 101 in a race that will be decided in November. William Phelps of East Point, an ex-Marine who served in Afghanistan, is throwing his hat into the ring for District 59 against gay-friendly incumbent Margaret Kaiser; both are Democrats who will face off in the July primary.
“I don’t see this as a gay versus gay-friendly race,” Phelps said. “It’s really about the right person getting in the right place. I know Margaret Kaiser. She’s a good person. But this is a movement — I want to inspire all people. It’s not just about orientation. I don’t want my message to get lost in the gayness of it all. I want people to know they are destined for greatness.”
Phelps knows he is in a special position as a black, gay veteran to make some unprecedented strides in Georgia politics. But he also wants to work on finding jobs for people, solving transportation issues and ensuring children receive a quality education.
“I am standing in your corner, especially for the LGBT community,” he said. “I want to try to bring a change to our legislature and I think I bring added value for people who want fair representation.”
Phelps and Swiney said they plan to seek endorsements from Georgia Equality and the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, but both acknowledged they are new to the gay political machine that includes these organizations.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham said he has not heard of Phelps or Swiney before and he and the GE board are currently reviewing surveys before announcing more endorsements at the beginning of July.
Swiney, a former Republican, said he hopes those who live in the bubble of the city of Atlanta look “outside the perimeter” for gay candidates like him to support.
“It takes more than a handful of votes in the state legislature to make change. We need gay and pro-gay in the General Assembly and we can’t do it without reaching out to the rest of the state,” he said.
“What we vote for out here impacts everyone,” he said. “It’s very frustrating for us in the community who are OTP because we are sort of forgotten. I’m hoping that can change.”
Swiney also held a “Rainbow Money Bomb” that wrapped up Friday, June 8, asking specifically for “gay dollars.”
Swiney came out in an interview with the Lawrenceville Patch website and said he did so because he did not want to hide anything about himself. He ran as a Republican for the state House in 2010 while his partner, Eric Reid, ran for Lawrenceville City Council.
But Swiney said he had a change of heart about his party affiliation after watching Georgia lag behind the nation in such areas as jobs. But also because, he said, Republicans do not believe in equality for LGBT people.
“Anybody who is gay and thinks they are Republican has got some issues they need to think about. You can’t be Republican and gay, lesbian or transgender. They say such mean and vile things against our community,” he said.
For Phelps, who served in the Marines from 2002-2010 during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military provided a place for him to serve his country, family and God, he said.
While he wasn’t on the front lines in Afghanistan (he served in logistics for eight months), Phelps said that time abroad helped him realize he could do anything — even run as an openly gay man for the Georgia legislature.
“It was an experience I will never forget and defined me as a man,” he said. “I knew people who didn’t come back. And I realized if I can deal with this I can do anything else in life.”
Morrison runs for Fulton judgeship
Openly gay attorney and part-time Sandy Springs solicitor Jane Morrison also qualified to run in the July 31 general primary for the seat of Fulton County State Court Judge. Judge Brenda Cole told the Fulton Daily Report she decided to not seek election.
Morrison, 48, whose partner is Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner, will face Fulton County Magistrate Judge Melynee Leftridge. The judicial race is non-partisan.
Morrison, who has a solo practice, served as a part-time Fulton County magistrate from 2003-2006 and also was appointed to serve as an Atlanta Municipal Court judge from 2000 to 2002.
Leftridge, 45, has been serving as a Fulton Magistrate Judge since 2007 and full-time in the post since 2010.
Top photo: Gay candidates Ken Britt, a retired executive and longtime political activist; William Phelps, a Marine veteran; and Timothy Swiney, a former Republican, hope to help change the tide for out hopefuls seeking office in Georgia. (courtesy photos)
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