Posted on 02 April 2014.
By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
Joan Garner is originally from Washington D.C. but she has called Atlanta home since 1978. In fact her love for the city prompted her to become a Fulton County Commissioner in 2010 – a job she appreciates so much that she will be running for re-election this year.
In 2010, Joan Garner made history by becoming the first openly gay commissioner to serve Fulton County, GA. She has since proven her worth to the residents of Fulton County by performing official duties l like setting policy, approving the county budget and providing funding for Grady hospital. Her 2010 campaign focused strongly on building healthy communities and her 2014 re-election campaign’s focus remains overall the same: “Healthy citizens means you have a healthy county where people are able to work and create value,” Commissioner Garner explains, “I strongly endorse preventative measures that will create a strong and healthy work force and I will continue to do so in my new campaign.” In her mind, it is important to address the needs of all citizens, which for her means taking a bird’s eye perspective on things when it comes to promoting health and building a better community.
Because of her personal relationship – she is married to Judge Jane Morrison and they reside in the Old Fourth Ward – Garner also has an eye on current LGBT issues in Atlanta and Georgia as a whole.
“Discrimination is still a factor when you look at it broadly,” Joan Garner says, “There are still issues that directly target our rights as LGBT people. Gay marriage is still not legal and gay people still experience discrimination when it comes to housing and employment. The same goes for parenting and adoption where LGBT people just don’t have the same rights as others.” She also sees HIV/AIDS as a major issue for Atlanta’s gay community. Although the fight against HIV/AIDS is largely improving, it still has the power to instill fear in others and, for example, prevent people from coming out in the workplace. “It is still a group of citizens whose rights are not protected and, of course, I want to work toward changing that,” Commissioner Garner says, “The fact that I am an out lesbian provides me with a unique lens that I use when looking at legislation policy to make sure it becomes more inclusive.”
In the big picture, the U.S. has come a long way concerning gay rights, but zooming in on Georgia there are still major breakthroughs to be had. Gay marriage is still not recognized and legislation here seems to move very slow. Also, there have recently be en attempts made to approve bills that could potentially legalize discrimination against gays. Garner acknowledges that there is a long way to go: “Personally, I cannot sit still and let this happen, because I know what discrimination feels like—albeit from another arena. I’m not sure it will go away, but I do see an opportunity here. Because if there is something that needs to be protected, let’s come together and make that happen. I believe that out of push-back and out of friction comes growth.”
And how about gay marriage? When will it become legal in Georgia? Will it ever? Commissioner Garner remains optimistic here also. Being married herself (they tied the knot in Massachusetts), Garner strongly believes in the official union of two people: “I’ve been married four years now, but I don’t think Georgia is there yet. But I think we have a strong case with a lot of legislators that back it up. We have a good civil debate and also the mayor has come out in support of gay marriage—kudos to him on this action. It’s people like him and other fair-minded legislators that have voiced their support who will help turn this around for us. So maybe we won’t see legalized gay marriage this year or not even next year. But it is gaining momentum.”
The primary election for the Fulton County Board of Commissioners is May 20. Republican-led redistricting means Garner, elected to the District 6 post, is running for the District 4 seat. Garner’s re- election bid has been officially endorsed by Georgia Equality.