Laven­der pol­i­tics

Rafer John­son and Josh Noblitt poised to make history

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

Nov. 8, 2016. That’s the next pos­si­ble date for another LGBT bar­rier to be bro­ken in Ge­or­gia—get­ting an openly gay man elected to the state leg­is­la­ture. Roughly a dozen have tried and failed in the last decade, with three go­ing down last Novem­ber. Up next to try are Rafer John­son and Josh Noblitt.

John­son, a pro­gram man­ager for Delta Air Lines’ in-flight ser­vices and a com­mu­nity ad­vo­cate, an­nounced his bid for the House Dis­trict 62 seat in April. But it wasn’t the first time he’s con­sid­ered run­ning for of­fice.

A few years ago he went through cam­paign train­ing with the Gay & Les­bian Vic­tory Fund, a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee ded­i­cated to get­ting openly LGBT peo­ple elected to public of­fice. A seat opened on the Ful­ton County Com­mis­sion af­ter that, but he passed on run­ning.

When state Rep. Ladawn Black­ett Jones (D-At­lanta) an­nounced ear­lier this year that she would not be run­ning again for the HD62 seat in 2016, John­son started en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to run, but they told him he should do it in­stead. John­son says he told his hus­band, Kelly John­son, a board mem­ber with Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, about the re­sponses, and Kelly pulled out an ap­pli­ca­tion to run for the seat that was al­ready filled out.

“He told me, ‘We’ve all been dis­cussing this, we’ve just been wait­ing for you to get to the an­swer,’” says John­son, who is mak­ing eco­nomic growth the cen­ter­piece of his cam­paign.

He is no stranger to public ser­vice, hav­ing served as the chair of Ful­ton County’s Hous­ing Au­thor­ity, na­tional co-chair of the Black Gay Men’s Net­work and as a board mem­ber for At­lanta Pride. He is cur­rently serv­ing on the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee of the At­lanta BeltLine Tax Al­lo­ca­tion Dis­trict, among other posts.

John­son laments the fact that no openly gay man has been elected to the leg­is­la­ture, say­ing, “We’ve got to break that laven­der ceil­ing so that we have the best and the bright­est serv­ing the en­tire state.”

But he sees Ge­or­gia as be­ing in the midst of a tran­si­tion on LGBT is­sues. Vot­ers will de­cide whether he’s right next Novem­ber.

Public safety cen­ter­piece of hate crime vic­tim Noblitt’s cam­paign

Some say a higher power might be needed to get an openly gay man elected to the Ge­or­gia leg­is­la­ture. En­ter Josh Noblitt, the openly gay Min­is­ter of So­cial Jus­tice at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, who an­nounced his can­di­dacy for the House Dis­trict 59 seat in May.

Noblitt is close with the cur­rent holder of the seat, state Rep. Mar­garet Kaiser (D-At­lanta), and has even shad­owed her two or three times each leg­isla­tive ses­sion over the last few years. When Kaiser an­nounced in March that she would forego a 2016 re­elec­tion ef­fort and in­stead make a run for mayor in 2017, Noblitt stepped in to an­nounce his run.

Cit­ing his po­si­tion as pres­i­dent of his neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tion and as vice chair of his neigh­bor­hood plan­ning unit, Noblitt says, “I’ve just re­ally en­joyed that level of civic en­gage­ment and it just felt like a re­ally log­i­cal next step for me.”

Noblitt made head­lines in 2010 af­ter be­ing at­tacked at gun­point along with his then-part­ner in an anti-gay hate crime in Pied­mont Park. The at­tack even­tu­ally led to the for­ma­tion of an At­lanta Po­lice LGBT Ad­vi­sory Board, of which Noblitt was a mem­ber. The board, how­ever, has fallen off in re­cent years.

He’s mak­ing public safety the cen­ter­piece of his cam­paign, cit­ing his “unique in­terac- tion with the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem” con­sid­er­ing his role as a vic­tim in the hate crime, his pre­vi­ous work in the Ge­or­gia Public De­fender’s Of­fice and cur­rent role as chap­lain for the At­lanta Po­lice Depart­ment.

“Hav­ing those three unique per­spec­tives and also be­ing the pres­i­dent of my neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tion and hear­ing com­plaints from neigh­bors around public safety is­sues, I feel like I have a lot to bring to the ta­ble around that par­tic­u­lar is­sue,” says Noblitt, who has raised just over $30,000 as of a June 30 cam­paign fi­nance re­port.

In re­cent years, Noblitt has been an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for LGBT equal­ity, speak­ing at nu­mer­ous mar­riage equal­ity ral­lies as well as at many ral­lies op­pos­ing Ge­or­gia’s so­called “re­li­gious free­dom” bill.

He doesn’t know why an openly gay man has yet to be elected to the leg­is­la­ture, say­ing it’s hard to com­pare his elec­tion with pre­vi­ous elec­tions since all have been in dif­fer­ent dis­tricts with dif­fer­ent de­mo­graph­ics and can­di­dates; but he re­mains hope­ful.

“The times are very dif­fer­ent even from one year ago. We’ve got mar­riage equal­ity, we’ve got the end of DOMA [De­fense of Mar­riage Act], we’ve got all kinds of ad­vance­ments hap­pen­ing in a way that’s chang­ing hearts and minds of folks around LGBT is­sues.”

“We’ve got to break that laven­der ceil­ing so that we have the best and the bright­est serv­ing the en­tire state.” —Rafer John­son, a pro­gram man­ager for Delta Air Lines’ in-flight ser­vices and a com­mu­nity ad­vo­cate who an­nounced his bid for the House Dis­trict 62 seat in April

Rafer John­son (left) an­nounced his can­di­dacy for House Dis­trict 62 in April and Josh Noblitt (right) an­nounced his can­di­dacy for House Dis­trict 59 in May. (Cour­tesy photos)

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