Kemp and Abrams' final campaign stops signal LGBTQ differences in governor's race

Gov. Brian Kemp (left) is facing former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams in a rematch of their 2018 gubernatorial race. (AP, courtesy Abrams campaign)

One can pretty clearly gleam where Gov. Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams stand on LGBTQ issues by where they’ve spent the closing weeks of their gubernatorial election rematch.

Abrams appeared at Atlanta Black Pride in September, appeared at a campaign event at the lesbian bar My Sister’s Room in Midtown Atlanta on Oct. 6, then took part in the Atlanta Pride parade three days later.

Kemp appeared at the convention for the Frontline Policy Council on Sept. 9. The Newnan, Georgia-based group marked the beginning of Pride Month in June with a press release and email to supporters titled “7 ways to reject Pride.”

“In 2022 America, the month of June is co-opted by those who want to embrace evil, ‘groom’ our children, and seek to pass their warped distortion of human sexuality as ‘normal,’” the missive read. “It isn’t normal. You don’t have to accept it.”

Kemp followed up that appearance by being a featured speaker at a Sept. 15 summit for the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center categorizes as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. The FRC has compared LGBTQ people to pedophiles, defended conversion therapy and is strongly against same-sex marriage.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said the Family Research Council uses “dehumanizing and stigmatizing” language about LGBTQ people to create a narrative that they are abnormal.

“While it’s an old narrative that many of us thought ended 20 years ago, we’ve seen how quickly that has come back,” Graham said. “It was extremely troubling that Gov. Kemp would be a keynote speaker at their conference. That would be seen as his signal that he would be supportive of that extreme anti-LGBTQ agenda if he is elected to another term here in Georgia.”

Abrams said that Kemp’s appearance at the Family Research Council event “is consistent with who he is and who he’s been.”

“You cannot say you serve a community when you are willing to go to the place where those who not only demean but discriminate against them celebrate your arrival,” Abrams said. “That is the strongest signal beyond his own words and his own actions of what he will do in the next four years as the governor of Georgia.”

Kemp’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview with WABE about LGBTQ issues.

Libertarian Shane Hazel is also in the race and polling in the low single digits.

On health care and transgender youth

As for what Kemp did in his first four years as governor on the LGBTQ front, he signed into law two bills that would help address the HIV epidemic in 2019 and signed into law an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill in 2020.

But he took a harder right turn on LGBTQ issues as the 2022 election approached.

Kemp began the year by including a reference to banning transgender kids from school sports in his State of the State address. In April, he later signed a bill into law that gave the Georgia High School Association the power to do just that — and one week later, they did.

Also in April, Kemp signed into law a bill that expedites the process for schools to ban books that are seen as “harmful to minors.” These bans typically target books with LGBTQ themes or by LGBTQ authors.

In May, Kemp blocked a plan to expand Medicaid to low-income Georgians living with HIV. The plan would have cost $4.3 million out of the state’s $30.2 billion fiscal year 2023 budget. Georgia has the highest rate of new HIV infections of any state in the U.S.

“By blocking this expansion of lifesaving care, Brian Kemp is sending a clear and cruel message with his veto pen — if you’re a Georgian living with HIV, he doesn’t care about you,” said Max Flugrath, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Kemp has proven time and again that his priority as governor is supporting his political career, not the constituents he took an oath to serve.”

Kemp’s refusal to fully expand Medicaid is a major policy difference between him and Abrams.

“These are dollars that could save lives,” she said.

Georgia same-sex marriage ban still on the books

Abrams endorsed same-sex marriage when she first ran for office in 2006. In August of this year, Kemp reiterated his longtime opposition to it. The issue re-emerged this year after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said that the court should revisit the 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

If the high court strikes down that decision, that would make Georgia’s 2004 ban on same-sex marriage go back into effect.

“[Kemp] understands just like everyone that in recent years, when the court takes up these issues, it’s usually to eradicate and eviscerate rights that people have come to rely on,” Abrams said.

Kemp and Abrams also disagree on “religious freedom” legislation. Abrams has long opposed such measures, saying they are discriminatory toward LGBTQ people and others.

Kemp has long supported a “religious freedom” measure in Georgia that would mirror the federal version signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. But critics say the courts have interpreted that measure in ways that the original sponsors didn’t intend, leading to LGBTQ people being denied services.

Abrams said that if elected she plans to work on passing a law banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. LGBTQ rights advocates in Georgia have long worked to pass such a measure into law. Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham is one of them.

“We know the courts are getting much more conservative, so if we can’t depend upon the courts to protect our rights, we need to elect more leaders at every level of government that will,” he said.