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Liliana Bakhtiari becomes first non-binary official elected in Atlanta

Liliana Bakhtiari becomes first non-binary official elected in Atlanta
Liliana Bakhtiari, candidate for Atlanta City Council District 5. Photo: Michael A. Schwarz

Liliana Bakhtiari, a non-binary candidate for city council in Atlanta, won election to the 5th District in a run-off election that concluded on November 30.

Bakhtiari, who uses “she” and “they” pronouns, was one of a handful of candidates that needed to get past the 50 percent threshold to earn their seat. They earned more than 66 percent of the vote, based on final election night data.

Related: DOJ expands probe into anti-LGBTQ prison violence in Georgia after 44 murders in the past year

“We have our work cut out for us, and I am honored to have the opportunity to address the pressing issues facing our city,” Bakhtiari said in a victory statement. “I am truly humbled by this immense honor, and hope to make Southeast Atlanta proud as our next Councilmember for Atlanta City Council District 5. Now let’s get to work!”

With their election, Bakhtiari becomes approximately the 13th non-binary elected official in the entire United States, and the first to serve the city of Atlanta. They are also the first queer Muslim elected official in the state of Georgia’s history, and the second Iranian-American serving on the Atlanta City Council.

“I didn’t come out to myself until I was 23, but I knew I was different when I was in preschool. The idea of being able to be elected getting to be my whole self is never something I thought would be celebrated,” Bakhtiari told LGBTQ Nation in an interview published in October.

“I was raised marching in the streets,” they added. “I was raised serving in homeless shelters and seeing extreme levels of poverty.”

Their father, in fact, fled from Iran to the United States after being blacklisted for fighting for a free and fair democracy. It was he who taught Bakhtiari the importance of standing up for your community.

Bakhtiari’s extensive community organizing and social justice work have taken them to 26 countries, where they have helped refugees build new homes, worked with sex-trafficking victims, volunteered at orphanages, and more.

They have also worked on several community initiatives at home in Atlanta, including voter mobilization, toy drives, and food drives. Before their election, they were working to bring sustainability programming to the city’s public schools, as well as career training education.

This is Bakhtiari’s second attempt at the City Council seat. They first ran in 2017 and told LGBTQ Nation they were giving it another shot because things have only gotten worse since then.

Bakhtiari was part of a wave of “younger, more progressive” candidates elected in the major LGBTQ community hub, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Two other LGBTQ candidates won seats to the council: Alex Wan will represent District 6, winning his election in November, and Keisha Sean Waites, who won her runoff to hold At-Large Post 3 on the council.

Atlanta also elected a new mayor in their runoffs this week, current councilman Andre Dickens (who Waites is succeeding.) Dickens, the chief development officer at TechBridge, will succeed notable ally Keisha Lance Bottoms. “I intend to work with the LGBTQ community to utilize the [LGBTQ] Advisory Board to its fullest extent,” Dickens pledged to LGBTQ publication Georgia Voice in October.

Out councilman Khalid Kamau was also elected mayor of the recently-incorporated city of South Fulton within the Atlanta metropolitan area. He is the first out official in that seat, according to the Voice.

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