(Reprinted from The Savannahian)
THE STAKES are high in Georgia right now, with two Senate runoff races in full swing. The election of both Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff will hand President-elect Joe Biden the Senate, which would be historical for Georgia, especially given the context of an already historic national election that saw our state flip Democrat for the first time in decades.
Though it might be easy to become complacent given the results of the presidential race in Georgia, the work is not over. That is especially true for the LGBTQ community in Georgia, who have a lot at stake if David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler win the runoffs against Ossoff and Warnock, respectively.
Currently, GLAAD is working with Georgia Equality to urge another record turnout in the Senate runoffs, with an important message: Georgia’s votes will have a direct say on the hope for equality and inclusion under the law.
“GLAAD’s priority in all our work is accelerating acceptance of LGBTQ people, and ensuring accurate and respectful coverage of LGBTQ issues and people. Our priority in Georgia is to help partners in-state like Georgia Equality alert all LGBTQ voters and equality-minded allies about the importance of each and every vote, the issues and the stakes,” GLAAD’s Head of News and Campaigns, Barbara Simon, says.
“All the hard work and dedication that voters and our partners poured into the general election will be surpassed yet again for more pro-equality wins January 5th. We are so excited to see you make history.”
Jeff Graham, Executive Director of Georgia Equality, says that what he feels is most at stake is the “threat of discrimination” against members of the LGBTQ community but also against minorities and other marginalized communities throughout the state. As it stands, there is no specific statewide law banning discrimination against someone for their sexual orientation or gender.
“We have done surveys of our memberships, and surveys more broadly of people who identify as members of the LGBTQ community, and fear of discrimination always comes out. We actually end up with a three way tie, frankly, when we ask people to rank it. People fear discrimination in their lives, they fear that their families won’t be protected, and they fear that young people—especially students—are vulnerable to bullying and harassment,” Graham says.
“That is why we work so hard as an organization to make sure that laws that would codify into law the ability to explicitly discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community do not pass here in Georgia.”
As a Georgian for 30 years, Graham says he’s seen that the people of our state are “a very fair people” who reject extremism and discrimination.
“It’s important that we have elected leaders at all levels of government who will use their office to actually solve problems that we all face. That, very much, is what I think is at stake in this election—the tone that will be set going forward over the next two years,” he says.
Perdue and Loeffler both have records that reflect anti-LGBTQ views and associations throughout their respective careers, with Loeffler having close ties to the anti-LGBTQ organization Family Research Council. Both Perdue and Loeffler voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, which is particularly troubling given Barrett’s anti-LGBTQ record.
Perdue also voted to confirm Judge Andrew Brasher to the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta, despite Brasher’s view that same-sex marriage is “harmful to children.” He currently has a 100% rating with both Family Research Council Action and Family Policy Alliance.
Particularly troubling in the current climate is Perdue and Loeffler’s endorsement of Rep.-elect Marjorie Taylor Greene, who very publicly supported the dangerous and often anti-LGBTQ messages of extremist conspiracy group QAnon—which has been deemed a domestic terror threat by the FBI. Greene has even likened herself to Loeffler in speeches in regard to their beliefs and values.
With work being done every day to fight the harmful views of groups like QAnon, electing officials who do not align in any way with candidates who propagate such views has never been more important. Georgia voters and activists, Simon and Graham say, can do a lot just by speaking out.
“Just being aware of what’s being said and who’s supporting whom can go a long way, and it’s encouraging to see so many voters act on what they know and who they want representing them. Georgia Equality has long been sounding the alarm about the racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic candidates like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who have also unapologetically amplified dangerous and unbalanced conspiracy theories,” Simon tells us.
“The FBI has identified QAnon as a domestic terror threat, linked to murder and bombing plots. It seems like both Sens. Perdue and Loeffler have forgotten their number one duty is to keep everyone in Georgia safe. Every voter will use this as another point of evaluation on who they want representing them. The ballot box is the best mechanism to push back on candidates who spread lies and encourage violence that makes everyone less safe.”
“[What Georgians can do] really is speaking out and saying that extremism has no place in our politics,” Graham adds. “Especially when it’s extremist views that divide one group of people against another. We should be striving for common ground.”
Fighting COVID-19 is also of the utmost importance right now, and it’s an issue that is very much on the ballot for Georgians as thousands and thousands have died in our state over the last few months alone.
“We should be very concerned,” Graham says. “We should not belittle that, and I think that people do need to speak out against it. Certainly with their vote, but also by holding all elected officials accountable for this. If you say they’re going to protect people so that they won’t lose their insurance for a preexisting condition, make sure that they actually pass legislation. Not just talk about it in a TV ad.”
Simon says that the LGBTQ vote is absolutely crucial in the runoffs, which is what makes GLAAD’s partnership with Georgia Equality so monumental in the fight to deliver.
“LGBTQ voters absolutely have the ability to impact an election like this. As you saw in the general election, just a few thousand votes made all the difference, triggering runoffs of two sitting senators – quite the feat and a rebuke on their disastrous records. We fully expect the momentum to keep rolling as the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ voters in Georgia turn out to vote again for the runoffs,” she says.
“They’re determined to keep sending the powerful signal that they too deserve to be safe, to belong and to succeed.”
Of course, the biggest thing we can all do to make sure our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are protected and equal under the law, is to vote.
“There’s a lot of distractions with multiple holidays, with people being exhausted by an already-long election year, but we’re not done yet,” Graham says.
“If people want to vote by mail, they need to get their application in now. They need to return a vote-by-mail application, and if they’re going to do that they need to return it by December 14th or drop it at any of the drop boxes that are available throughout the entire state of Georgia. And after December 14th if you’re not going to vote by mail, then you need to make a plan to vote in person. But don’t wait until January 5th.
“Whatever holiday you celebrate, give yourself the gift of democracy. Use that vote. While you’re giving gifts to everybody else, give the gift to yourself of participating in democracy.”