History-making les­bian ac­tivist re­veals why she left the Gold Dome

GA Voice - - OUT SPOKEN -

“A lot of peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ated my skill set and would have loved to have me on their staff, but what I be­gan to re­al­ize and understand is that be­ing an elected of­fi­cial was be­gin­ning to be a bar­rier for our fam­ily to con­tinue to be able to do the things that we needed to do.”

By PA­TRICK SAUNDERS

When Si­mone Bell won the elec­tion for the House Dis­trict 58 seat in 2009, she made history, be­com­ing the first African-Amer­i­can out les­bian to serve in a U.S. state leg­is­la­ture. In Oc­to­ber, she an­nounced that she was history, re­sign­ing from the leg­is­la­ture af­ter four terms to re­turn to LGBT le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion Lambda Le­gal, this time as Southern Re­gional Di­rec­tor.

Bell took some time out on a re­cent busy Thurs­day af­ter­noon at her new gig to re­flect on her time in the leg­is­la­ture and re­veal what led her to make the big move.

Look­ing back on your time in the leg­is­la­ture, what were your fa­vorite parts of the job?

The en­tire part of the job. It’s sick, twisted and I loved ev­ery mo­ment of it. Be­ing able to talk about pol­icy, see­ing how leg­is­la­tion af­fects pol­icy and how pol­icy af­fects the ev­ery­day lives of peo­ple.

I really loved comb­ing through the leg­is­la­tion, see­ing how we could make it bet­ter or take some­thing bad out and cre­at­ing the re­la­tion­ships, par­tic­u­larly with the peo­ple in the hall, cit­i­zen lob­by­ists as well as of­fi­cial lob­by­ists, hear­ing the dif­fer­ent view­points about a bill. Good stuff.

What were your least fa­vorite parts of the job?

The pay [laughs]. And the speed at which we had the op­por­tu­nity to read leg­is­la­tion and ac­tu­ally dig into it. The length of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion fa­cil­i­tates that, and we do a lot of work in a short pe­riod of time. When that hap­pens, things can slip through. You have to be really pre­pared to con­stantly read and re-read leg­is­la­tion. The first piece of leg­is­la­tion you read of a bill is very rarely the

De­cem­ber 25, 2015

piece that ends up on the floor for a vote.

When you’re deal­ing with leg­is­la­tors who have pro­posed anti­gay leg­is­la­tion or said some­thing ho­mo­pho­bic, was it dif­fi­cult to keep your emo­tions in check when the is­sue is so per­sonal to you?

It’s hard to keep your emo­tions in check pe­riod when you’re in the mi­nor­ity as far as be­ing a Demo­crat with Repub­li­cans be­ing in the ma­jor­ity. You know, I took it all in stride. I knew com­ing there that I would have to be 100 per­cent of who I was at all times. Our first cam­paign was a his­toric cam­paign so it’s not like peo­ple didn’t know that I was an out les­bian com­ing in. There were a lot of peo­ple who don’t live in the At­lanta area who didn’t know that, but I was my­self at all times.

Any­time that I had an op­por­tu­nity to stand up for any of the com­mu­ni­ties that I rep­re­sent, whether it was the LGBT com­mu­nity, women’s com­mu­nity, chil­dren, el­ders, I al­ways added an ad­di­tional per­spec­tive of ‘How does this af­fect LGBT peo­ple?’ to make sure that peo­ple could shift their par­a­digm and understand that there are com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple that you’re leav­ing out of this con­ver­sa­tion and leg­is­la­tion.

Look­ing back, do you feel like you achieved what you set out to do when you first took of­fice?

Ab­so­lutely. My goal was to be a voice for the peo­ple, to add a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive that may not have ex­isted there, to open the door for other peo­ple who may have wanted to run for of­fice or be in pol­i­tics and didn’t feel like there was a place for them, and really try to move Ge­or­gia for­ward. And I think most im­por­tantly is adding some­thing good to leg­is­la­tion and tak­ing some­thing bad out— that is prob­a­bly my big­gest ac­com­plish­ment.

What made this the right time to move on from the leg­is­la­ture and re­turn to Lambda Le­gal?

Well, af­ter six years of making $17,000 a year … [laughs]

I’m sens­ing a theme here.

It is a theme [laughs]. You know, my fam­ily made a lot of sac­ri­fices dur­ing that time and it was really dif­fi­cult be­cause I come out of the non­profit world and it was really com­pli­cated and dif­fi­cult to find a po­si­tion in non­profit, whether it was a con­flict of in­ter­est or it could be seen as a con­flict of in­ter­est.

A lot of peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ated my skill set and would have loved to have me on their staff, but what I be­gan to re­al­ize and understand is that be­ing an elected of­fi­cial was be­gin­ning to be a bar­rier for our fam­ily to con­tinue to be able to do the things that we needed to do.

It wasn’t a quick sit­u­a­tion. We’d been talk­ing about it for about two years about what’s next, how are we go­ing to do this, where’s the in­come go­ing to come from. So fi­nally as a fam­ily we de­cided we’d give it an­other run of try­ing to find a sup­ple­men­tal po­si­tion and noth­ing opened up.

We de­cided as a fam­ily and I was able to just release it and say, ‘Okay, I’ve done great work, I’ve left a mark, I’ve opened up op­por­tu­ni­ties for other peo­ple to be able to come in and do the work.’ Once I did that, the job opened up and it I think is an amaz­ing match com­ing back to an or­ga­ni­za­tion that I was with be­fore but com­ing back with an ex­panded skill set and an ex­panded level of knowl­edge.

For­mer state Rep. Si­mone Bell pre­vi­ously worked at Lambda Le­gal from 2006 to 2009 be­fore re­turn­ing to the LGBT le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion in Novem­ber. (Photo cour­tesy Lambda Le­gal)

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