Despite recent gains, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) individuals count themselves among the least represented members of American government at the local, state, and national levels. But all that started to change last Tuesday.
This election cycle produced some major gains for the LGBTQ community – Virginia saw the election of Danica Roem, the state’s first transgender lawmaker (ousting a long-time incumbent who drafted Virginia’s notorious “bathroom bill”), St. Paul, Minneapolis elected the United States’ first trans woman of color to public office, and Seattle elected its first openly lesbian mayor, Jenny Durkan. Closer to home, Stephe Koontz was elected to Doraville’s city council, becoming the only transgender elected official in Georgia.
Atlanta also had an openly lesbian candidate on the mayoral ballot, former city council president Cathy Woolard. She made a much stronger than expected showing, coming in at third place with 16,000 votes (17%), winning a plurality of the vote in the DeKalb portion of Atlanta and much of east Atlanta. Not a single poll came remotely close to capturing her strength in the race, with a WSB-TV poll just days before the race showing her support at just over 9%. However, while she may not be on the ballot in December, she is by no means out of the race.
Both runoff candidates, city councilwomen Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood, surely have their sights set on getting her endorsement and the voter support that might come along with it. Both candidates have already agreed to participate in a “conversation,” giving both Woolard and her liberal voting bloc an opportunity to assess each candidate’s progressive credentials. Woolard could hold the key to this election if she chooses to help mobilize Atlanta’s significant LGBTQ population on behalf of either mayoral candidate. While the next mayor of Atlanta may not be a member of the LGBTQ community, she will likely not be successful in her bid without making overtures and commitments to this community.
The runoff for Atlanta City Council and Fulton County Commission may yield a member from the LGBTQ community, Elections for Atlanta City Council President and Fulton County Commission Chairperson resulted in runoffs last week as well. City Councilman Alex Wan and City Councilwoman Felicia Moore took the top two spots for Council President and Georgia State Representative Keisha Waites and former Fulton Commissioner Robb Pitts took the top two spots for Commission Chairman. Wan is openly gay and Waites is openly lesbian.
With two LGBTQ candidates on the ballot in Atlanta and one former LGBTQ candidate wielding the support of most of that community’s support, the election on December 5th represents a unique opportunity for our city and county. LGBTQ Americans are vastly underrepresented in government, but Atlanta and Fulton could make two small steps in changing that.
Lance Bottoms and Norwood may not personally be representative of that community, but the easiest path to City Hall will mean being an ally. Both have made that alliance clear– Norwood authored an ordinance that condemned efforts in the state Capitol to give legal protections to business that don’t want to do business with same-sex couples. Lance Bottoms voted in favor of a marriage equality resolution in front of the city council in 2012 and has made inclusivity a key tenet of her campaign, voicing support for LGBTQ Atlantans at every opportunity. Woolard’s upcoming forum presents the best, and perhaps final, opportunity for both candidates to voice their support and their plans in front of the widest audience possible.
I look forward to seeing how far they are willing to go.