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|Election: Battle for LGBT votes in State Senate District 39|
|by Laura Douglas-Brown|
|July 09, 2010 00:00|
In the race for State Senate District 39, Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) won endorsement from LGBT political groups Georgia Equality and Atlanta Stonewall Democrats.
But high school teacher Graham Balch continues to campaign for gay votes as the two men head for a showdown in the July 20 Democratic primary which, since no Republican is running, will decide who holds the seat.
Fort’s campaign includes an LGBT Initiative chaired by state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), who was Georgia’s first openly gay state lawmaker and is running unopposed for her sixth term, and longtime community activist Craig Washington.
On July 1, Drenner and Washington joined with other LGBT activists and supporters in the state legislature to host an “LGBTQ and Allies” reception for Fort at Joe’s on Juniper.
“I have a record that’s not only theoretical, but based on actions — things I have actually done,” Fort said in an interview in May. “I am very proud of my record and want to continue on that path.”
For accomplishments specifically related to LGBT rights, Fort notes that he sponsored Georgia’s first hate crimes law, which passed in 2000 but was eventually struck down by the state Supreme Court on the grounds that its description of hate crimes as based on “bias or prejudice” was unconstitutionally vague.
Fort also noted that as a member of the Senate Rules Committee, he had worked to prevent legislation to ban gay adoptions. He is also a familiar face at LGBT events.
Balch’s prominent LGBT supporters include two gay politicos in East Point, former East Point City Council member Kevin Hudson and former City Council candidate Ken deLeon, as well as Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan, who donated to Balch’s campaign.
Balch has argued that his opponent has not been effective in passing legislation, especially since Republicans became the majority in the General Assembly, and the district needs “less talk and more action.”
“There is a difference between standing up for an issue and solving an issue,” Balch has said. “I believe Senator Fort is great at standing up for issues, but I think we need someone who is good at solving issues.”
As the primary nears, Balch continues to make his case to gay voters.
“I marched on Washington for gay rights as a teenager and won’t stop fighting for gay rights as a citizen and a senator until we achieve full legal equality,” he said. “In this election, I hope the LGBT community votes for a new era of more effective leadership and a real difference in the lives of the LGBT community because the time for grandstanding is over and the time for equality is now.”
Georgia Voice surveyed both candidates on a wide variety of LGBT issues, from hate crimes to gay marriage, and they gave similar answers on most.
Both Fort and Balch said they would sponsor a hate crimes bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, a non-discrimination policy and domestic partner benefits for state employees, a non-discrimination law banning bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity for private businesses, and a law to clarify that sexual orientation should not be a factor in adoption decisions.
Both said they support full marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Top photo: Graham Balch (left), a teacher, is challenging Sen. Vincent Fort in District 39. Georgia Equality and Stonewall Democrats endorsed Fort. (courtesy photos)
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