Election Commentary

The extent of LGBTQ progress under Biden depends on the outcome of two Senate races in Georgia

Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff (left) and Raphael Warnock (right).
Georgia Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff (left) and Raphael Warnock (right). Photo: HRC

The election is over — except in Georgia. While Joe Biden won the state in the Presidential election, the Senate races remain unsettled. In what promises a titanic battle, two runoffs will take place there next month. The final composite of the Senate hangs in the balance.

The state requires the winning candidate to have 50 percent of the vote, plus 1, to win an election. Neither of the Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, hit that mark — although they did finish ahead of their Democratic opponents. As a result, Perdue and Loeffler face a rematch with their rivals, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock respectively.

Related: The damage from the Trump presidency won’t be easy for Biden to undo. He’s not done either.

The dual races are the result of the retirement of Johnny Isakson late last year. Loeffler was appointed as his replacement, which necessitated her appearing on the ballot this year. Perdue had already served six years and was up for re-election.

If both are elected, Ossoff and Rev. Warnock would bring the Democrats’ numbers in the Senate to 50. In that event, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris would be able to break any tie votes in favor of the Democrats as President of the Senate. They would enable them to rescue LGBTQ progress from almost certain defeat in a GOP-controlled Senate.

Neither Ossoff or Rev. Warnock have ever been elected to office before, but both have pledged to be strong allies for LGBTQ causes in the Senate.

Rev. Warnock in particular has a long track record in support of LGBTQ people. As the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor, he has carried on King’s tradition of advocating civil rights, while including the LGBTQ community.

“There are gay sisters and brothers all around us,” Warnock told his congregation in 2012. “The church needs to be honest about human sexuality. Some of them are on the usher board, they greeted you this morning.”

After the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, Warnock noted how anti-LGBTQ rhetoric contributes to hate crimes. “This is a time to grieve, to mourn and to consider what it means to stigmatize people,” Warnock said. “Religious communities have played a particular role in… marginalizing gay and lesbian and transgender people.”

Ossoff was an investigative reporter and Congressional aide before running for office. “I will fight for marriage equality. I will fight for adoption rights for gay couples,” Ossoff told Project Q Atlanta in September, “and I will oppose cynical legislative efforts to marginalize and discriminate against LGBT Americans.” For his part, Ossoff ran for an open House seat in 2017 — and very narrowly lost.

His campaign this time around has featured his hammering of Sen. Perdue, for questionable stock trades that looked like the Senator was capitalizing on inside Congressional information. After a briefing in January about the coronavirus, Perdue executed a series of stock trades that sure looked like he was betting on how the pandemic would affect certain businesses, like Netflix. (Loeffler did as well, and claimed that it was the result of unrelated consultations she received.) Ossoff has branded Perdue “a crook” for his dealings.

Both Perdue and Loeffler are standard-issue Republicans, which means that they have bent over backwards to suck up to President Trump. That’s particularly true in Loeffler’s case, as she faced a primary challenge from the right by Rep. Doug Collins. Loeffler emerged victorious, but only after ditching any pretense of being a moderate.

One way of doing that was to attack LGBTQ people. Last September, Loeffler sponsored a bill to ban trans women from school sports. The bill, which served to signal Loeffler’s allegiance to the Trump base, would actually require genital exams for athletes. The irony is that Loeffler is the co-owner of Atlanta’s WNBA franchise, whose players have organized for her opponent, Warnock.

Perdue is equally weaselly. After initially telling reporters that he didn’t support Trump’s plan to ban transgender military personnel, Perdue quickly flipped. Once Trump instituted the ban, Perdue said “I think [Trump] is well within his rights [to impose the ban].”

Since, he has also been a reliable supporter for Trump’s anti-LGBTQ judicial nominees. No wonder he has earned a score of zero from HRC.

The race promises to be tight. So, just when you thought it was safe to breathe deeply again, just wait a little while longer. We won’t know until January what the Biden administration will (or won’t) be able to accomplish.