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Columns Intersectional Equity

Week 29: Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams has been at the forefront of public attention and praise for her work during the 2020 campaign to combat voter suppression, and many argue that her grassroots organizing in Georgia secured Biden’s presidency and the Democratic control of the Senate. However, Abrams’ work extends far beyond this election; she is also a small business owner, celebrated author (even writing romance novels under the pen name Selena Montgomery), and fighter of voter suppression and systemic inequality in Georgia for decades. 

Abrams was raised in a home centered on public service; her parents brought her along to volunteer in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. At 17, she was promoted from a congressional campaign typist to a speech writer and graduated as valedictorian of her high school. Then, in college, she organized voting registration drives and protests. She was also an outspoken critic of Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson (the first black man to lead a major Southern city), explaining that despite his trailblazing victory, he was not doing enough for the city. Mounting pressure led Maynard to create an Office of Youth Services, in which Abrams served as a research assistant and was the only undergrad hired. 

In 2006, Abrams was elected to the state legislature and became the first Black woman Democratic Party leader in 2011. In her time as a state legislator, she worked across party lines to preserve reproductive rights, improve transportation, reform criminal justice, and protect medicaid and education from recession era budget cuts. She notably partnered with Republican Governor Deal to protect Georgia’s HOPE college scholarship from being cut.

In addition to her roles as a government official, Abrams has achieved major success through her numerous non-profit organizations, with her work resulting in approximately 800,000 voter registrations. In 2014 she founded the New Georgia Project, which works to help register the growing population of POC in Georgia; as of 2019 they had registered nearly half a million voters.

In 2018, she ran for governor against Secretary of State Brian Kemp as the first Black woman ever to represent a major party in a gubernatorial race. Kemp’s position as Georgia Secretary of State (which he refused to step down from, as is the norm) gave him the power to purge almost 700,000 voters and close 200 polling places in predominantly poor and minority neighborhoods. 

After her loss by under 2%, Abrams vowed to continue the work she promised to undertake as governor, whether in office or out. Abrams founded Fair Fight Action, an organization which works to combat voter suppression and promote candidates that support voting rights. It has led a lawsuit that resulted in the reinstatement of 22,000 Georgian voters last year, by challenging exact signature match laws and the purging of voter rolls and by advocating for statewide consistency in counting and processing. Abrams also founded Fair Count in 2019, an organization which worked in Georgia to ensure fair representation on the 2020 census. Additionally, Abrams established the Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP), which works within a network of organizations to foster economic growth and power in marginalized Southern communities.

In addition to the concrete effect it had on the lives of Georgians, Abrams’ work helped draw national attention to the state’s shifting demographics. Abrams’ efforts to turn out Black voters (which overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates) highlighted Georgia’s growing importance as a swing state, allowing major candidates like President Biden to campaign and win in a state that has not elected a Democratic president in three decades. The network of grassroots organizations Abrams founded and grew within Georgia were vital in campaigning, educating, and registering voters for both the Senate and Presidential elections.

In a state that has had a strong history of racist voter disenfranchisement, the work Abrams has done is remarkable. Not only did she play a huge role in this last election, but over the past twenty years she has helped secure the rights of countless Georgians. Her approach includes not only politics, but also non-profits and economic programs which are helping to build a more equitable foundation for our country. 

For more on Abrams’ work and the history of voting rights, watch her documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy on Amazon Prime (or stream from one of the non-official sources on Youtube – we won’t judge.)

Categories
Columns Intersectional Equity

Week 27: Biden’s Executive Order for LGBTQ+ Protection

President Biden started his presidency purposefully, with 17 executive orders signed on the first day. During the long campaign for presidency, Biden made many promises for change to which we must now hold him accountable. Among those 17 executive orders was an order that “Prevent[s] and Combat[s] Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.” We will discuss President Biden’s history concerning the LGBTQ+ community, the promises he made during his campaign, and what this executive order means for the United States. 

When Biden was first elected as a senator in 1979, he was not a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. In the 90s he voted in favor of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a policy that kicked 14,500 people out of the military because of their sexuality. He also voted in support of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which would legally define marriage to be only between a man and a woman, among other homophobic and transphobic policies. When Biden became vice president, neither he nor President Obama openly supported LGBTQ+ rights, including legalizing same sex marriage. It wasn’t until an interview in 2012 that Biden publicly declared his support for same-sex marriage (Obama followed a few days later). 

Vice President Harris has a more positive track record of supporting gay rights. As attorney general, she refused to defend California’s ban on same sex marriage and then officiated the first same-sex wedding after the ban was struck down by the Supreme Court. Her history relating to trans rights is more complicated and disputed. She has, however, affirmed that she has always worked for policy that supported trans people behind the scenes, even when she was not able to openly support it. 

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden has always strongly supported LGBTQ+ rights. She spoke out against school bullying and discrimination even before Joe publicly supported gay rights and has continued to be a proud ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Regardless of his initial position, for the past eight years, President Biden has been a firm supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. At one point, as the highest ranking democrat to support LGBTQ+ rights, his position helped shift the party’s stance on the issue. President Biden is the first president in United States history to enter the White House as a supporter of gay rights, and his diverse cabinet and executive action show he is dedicated to furthering equality. 

Additionally, President Biden has pledged to sign the Equality Act into law within the first 100 days of being in office, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the existing anti-discrimaintion framework in the Civil Rights Act. While many activists have praised President Biden’s actions so far, many fear the conservatively dominated Supreme Court will slow down, if not stop progress.

The Biden administration’s open support of the queer community, in addition to their policies, is incredibly important and meaningful. As violence against LGBTQ+ people increased during Trump’s occupancy, the steps President Biden has taken to affirm the government’s support of LGBTQ+ rights are helping to usher in a new era of acceptance and hope.