Longtime LGBT and social justice activist Simone Bell (left) is seeking a seat in the Georgia House while Pine Lake City Council members Melanie Hammet (top) and Kathie deNobriga seek re-election. (Courtesy photos)
Simone Bell, a lesbian and self-described “longtime activist and advocate for social justice,” is running for the District 58 seat in the Georgia General Assembly. If elected, Bell would be the first openly gay African-American and only the second openly gay person to serve in the state legislature.
Bell will compete against four other declared candidates in a special election on Nov. 3 to fill the post Robin Shipp resigned in April after serving one term. Shipp is now a Fulton County prosecutor, and the state attorney general’s office made an unofficial ruling April 13 that working for both the Fulton County district attorney’s office and the General Assembly violated state law.
Bell, 40, said she would build her campaign platform from the ground up, using the same grassroots strategy she uses in her activism.
“Our campaign is really about listening to the people,” she told Southern Voice. “As a community organizer that’s how you get things done and that’s how we will run our campaign. We want to listen to the voters from district and build our platform around that.”
Bell is currently on a leave of absence from her job as a community educator in the Atlanta-based Southern regional office of Lambda Legal, a national non-profit legal group that focuses on LGBT and HIV issues.
“My issues are very broad based. I believe in social justice issues and issues of equality and LGBT issues fall inside of that. I’ve done a lot of work outside of the LGBT movement in order to create allies and to encourage those inside the LGBT community to engage with causes outside of their community,” said Bell, who was recently honored with Georgia Equality's first Phillip Rush Community Builder Award.
Bell and her partner, Valerie Acree, have lived in Reynoldstown for 10 years. She joins a growing list of candidates seeking the open seat for the district that includes East Atlanta, Cabbagetown, Kirkwood and Ormewood, among other neighborhoods. Other declared candidates for the District 58 seat include Asha Jackson, Angela Stovall, Michael McPherson and Kevin Johnson.
Bell said her long work with gay causes should not hurt her in the district that put former Georgia Equality executive director Allen Thornell into a runoff with Shipp in 2006.
“I think the people in the 58th are very broad minded,” Bell said.
Thornell was a close advisor to Bell, and his sudden death on Aug. 3 shocked her and her campaign.
“We’re definitely taking his spirit with us along the way. It was great loss for the campaign, but we have recovered,” she said.
State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) was Georgia's first out gay state lawmaker; she is serving her fifth term.
Pine Lake races
Two other lesbians are seeking to return to their seats on the Pine Lake City Council. Melanie Hammet and Kathie deNobriga recently decided that they would run for reelection.
“I think I’m going to do it. I haven’t told my girlfriend yet, but I think she knows,” deNobriga said Tuesday. She also serves as mayor pro tem, a position elected from within the City Council by its members.
Hammet said she recently decided to run again as well.
“I’ve thought about it for a while and I just put it on my calendar to file the qualifying paperwork,” Hammet said this week.
Both women were first elected in 2002, re-elected in 2006 and their terms expire in January 2010. Both have careers in the arts: deNobriga is a freelance consultant for small fine arts associations and Hammet is a singer, writer and performance artist.
Pine Lake is the smallest town in DeKalb County with about 630 residents, according to the 2000 census.
Qualifying for Pine Lake City Council seats is Aug. 31 through Sept. 4.
Eight gay men have publicly declared their candidacy for city and county-level offices in the November elections.
Doraville City Council member Brian Bates is running for re-election and has been endorsed by the Victory Fund, a national group that backs qualified LGBT candidates. Also gaining Victory Fund endorsements this year are Adam Brackman, who is running for Atlanta City Council At Large Post 1, and Kyle Williams, who is seeking a seat on the Decatur City Commission.
The race for Atlanta City Council District 6 currently pits three gay men — Steve Brodie, Alex Wan and Miguel Gallegos — against Elizabeth Coyle, Bahareh Azizi and Tad Christian, as they vie to replace incumbent Anne Fauver. Fauver, a lesbian, will step down at the end of her current term.
Other openly gay candidates running for municipal seats include Eric Morrow and Kevin Hudson, who are both challenging incumbents for seats on the East Point City Council.
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