Kasim Reed is no stranger to the LGBT community. Atlanta’s 59th mayor has been a vital part of pro-gay legislation going back to his days in the State House in the late 90s and he’s a regular at the Pride parade. But he hasn’t completely escaped criticism due to his views on same-sex marriage and his handling of the Eagle raid, which occurred before he took office.
Fenuxe sat down with the mayor at his offices at City Hall to talk about his first exposure to gay people, what he thinks is the most fair (and unfair) criticism of him on LGBT issues, what he’s learned about the gay community since taking office eight months ago, and his plans for Pride.
Fenuxe: How early was your exposure to gay people? Did you have gay family members or friends growing up?
Mayor Kasim Reed: No gay family members that I am aware of. They never shared it with me but I’m sure I probably have some. My first real exposure and interaction was in Washington, D.C. at Howard [University] and then it became more meaningful when I had gay friends in law school, which was my first true exposure.
Fenuxe: As times change, peoples’ attitudes and opinions change, especially as they’re exposed to new groups of people and new ways of thinking. Was there ever a time where you weren’t so accepting of homosexuality, or maybe used words or had opinions of gay people you’re not proud of?
Reed: No I wasn’t in that lane. It’s not because of any purity, it’s because of my own view of how black people have been treated in the United States and how you have to work very hard not to take on that position, because if you have that in your heart it comes out.
I operate in an environment now where I’m recorded hundreds of times, so if you have things in your heart it will show. I believe the reason that I am comfortable in that space and comfortable doing interviews like this and others is because I know my heart.
Fenuxe: You’ve taken a lot of pro-LGBT stances in the past, but the one thing people kept coming back to during the campaign was your being against same-sex marriage. You’ve stated it’s your faith that makes you stop short of supporting it, but that you continue to have conversations about it with your gay and lesbian friends. One of the most important factors cited in the recent overturning of Prop 8 was the judge’s finding that marriage is a civil, not a religious, matter. Where is your head at on this now?
Reed: I’m in the same place. And regarding California Prop 8, I was clearly on the right side of that issue. I happen to be the only mayoral candidate and the only politician in any significant position in the state of Georgia that voted against a gay marriage ban. So, I don’t believe that my faith and my views should be used as a barrier to be used to discriminate against you or anyone else. What I talked about during the campaign was my personal faith which is informed through relationships with gay and lesbian friends of mine, and I continue to work through it. But I have made it repeatedly clear that I believe in full integration of the lesbian and gay community and I believe in full legal rights and benefits—but that’s where I end.
If you look at the makeup of the Georgia State Senate when there was a real vote with real consequences, the fact of the matter is that I was one of 10 members to stay and cast a vote when many other members left the floor. So there was a convenient excuse that I could have used to have been off the floor. And then in my campaign following that, I cast that vote knowing that it was going to be used against me in a competitive election for my Senate seat.
Just show me anybody else who owned their votes and policy as strong on issues related to gay and lesbians—the only peer that I had in elected office was Senator Vincent Fort. I’m talking about real issues. I’m talking about banning the ability to allow gay and lesbian people to adopt in the state of Georgia. I was on the Senate & House Judiciary Committee and I opposed that at every single instance. I’m the only person that’s ever passed any legislation in the state of Georgia regarding AIDS testing, so that people can be made aware of their status. I was the House sponsor of the only hate crimes bill that was ever passed by the Georgia Legislature, although I think the Georgia Supreme Court made a horrible decision in ruling it invalid. The hate crimes bill that I was the House sponsor for was in my first term of office in the House, so you know, I didn’t just start this.
Fenuxe: So what do you think has been the most fair and unfair criticism of your administration on LGBT issues thus far?
Reed: I think a fair criticism has been that we did not work quickly enough to make sure that the police force was more sensitive to the needs of the GLBT community in Atlanta. I think that that has been a fair criticism.
I think the criticism around my handling of the Eagle raid has been brutally unfair because it did not happen under my administration. I made it unmistakeably clear how I felt about it at the time. We have a process that we have to work through as a city to bring it to a conclusion. It has been repeatedly said that the previous administration had a time to end the Eagle raid and all of the issues related to it by apologizing. If that offer were made to me to bring this to a close by expressing profound regret, that is something I have made abundantly clear that I would consider. And I’ve just been very saddened by the level of vitriol that’s been directed at me when I have created an LGBT advisory board for the police department. Before it’s all over, we’re going to have three LGBT liaisons with the city of Atlanta police force. So you know, that’s tough but my job is tough.
Fenuxe: So is there anything about the Eagle situation that you wished you had handled differently?
Reed: No I don’t. I think we’re going to work very hard to bring that to a reasonable conclusion and I know that that [an incident like the Eagle raid] would not happen while I was mayor.
Fenuxe: You’re eight months into being at the highest platform of your political career so far. Is there anything you’ve learned about the gay community since then that you didn’t know before?
Reed: I think I have a more intense and well-informed appreciation of all that the GLBT community brings to Atlanta. It is a part of the fabric of our community and a part of this tapestry that makes Atlanta special and unique and vibrant. And I felt that way before but I feel it more intensely now because I live it every day. I’m in all parts of the city in a way that most citizens aren’t.
And then just having wonderful leaders in my administration who are gay and lesbian and fully involved in every aspect of the government makes it that much better. In terms of the office of the mayor, there are nine people that run this government day in and day out, and two of those individuals are gay and lesbian [Deputy Chief Operating Officer Luz Borrero and Deputy Director of Communications Reese McCranie]. So when there is a major decision being made about the operation of this city, not just on gay and lesbian issues but on every single issue in Atlanta, two out of the nine individuals in the room are gay and lesbian people. I believe in the notion of complete and full integration. Having gay and lesbian people, not as some exception, but as a part of the full operation.
Fenuxe: And you’ll be at Pride?
Reed: No question, I will be there.