A Republican congressional candidate running in a special election in Georgia is being accused of trying to distance herself from her past embrace of the LGBTQ community, in the name of political expediency.
According to an investigation by Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way, Karen Handel, the former Georgia Secretary of State and a loser of the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary and the 2014 primary for U.S. Senate, sought the support of LGBTQ groups when she ran for chair of the Fulton County Commission. Right Wing Watch uncovered a 2002 questionnaire from the LGBTQ group Georgia Equality where Handel claimed she was a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, had attended Pride festivities, and promised to reach out to members of the LGBTQ community.
Eight years later, when she was running against current Gov. Nathan Deal in the Republican primary, Handel and her staff vehemently denied she had ever been affiliated with the Log Cabin Republicans. After investigating the claim, Politifact gave Handel’s denial a “Pants on Fire” rating.
Writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Politifact noted that Log Cabin had endorsed Handel’s 2002 and 2003 bids for Fulton County Commission. Additionally, Mark Yeager, the former president of Log Cabin during those years, provided Politifact with emails containing a list of Log Cabin members. That list includes Handel’s personal information an lists her as a dues-paying member through July 2003. Another attachment in another email lists her as a member through July 2004.
While Handel’s past association with Log Cabin Republicans might seem an odd thing to fixate on, Drew Courtney, vice president of communications and research at People for the American Way, says the controversy speaks to Handel’s character as a public official.
“I think what it shows is how cynically Karen Handel used gay people in her career, and how little she cared about the truth when it came time for her to acknowledge what she’d done in the past,” Courtney says. “She was reaching out to the Log Cabin Republicans significantly more than a decade ago, back in 2002, when she was running for Fulton County Commission Chair, when I think she thought this was advantageous for her to round up some votes.
“Very soon after, she started looking at higher office, and she made a judgment that it was no longer politically convenient for her to support LGBT people, and so she really threw the Log Cabin Republicans and her LGBT constituents overboard in order to do that,” he adds.
Requests for comment from the Handel campaign were not returned.
Gregory T. Angelo, the president of the national chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, says the organization does not have records of Handel as a member, as it would be up to local or state chapters to keep their own membership records. But he added that liberal-leaning groups like People for the American Way should be welcoming congressional candidates who have at one time expressed support for the LGBTQ community, whether that was in the past or the present.
Earlier in the year, when Handel first sought the 6th Congressional District seat once held by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, she expressed “compassion” for LGBTQ people, saying she was “called to a different place, maybe, for some of the beliefs in the LGBTQ community because of my faith.”
But since emerging as one of the top two vote-getters from a crowded field of candidates on April 18 — prompting her to try and turn out Republican base voters, including social conservatives, for the June 20 runoff election — Handel has since returned to form and reiterated her opposition to LGBTQ rights, including domestic partnerships, same-sex marriage, and allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.
In 2010, Handel gave an interview to Atlanta’s WXIA-TV where she noted that she had voted against domestic partner benefits on the Fulton County Commission. She said she did not support domestic partnerships nor civil unions due to her beliefs that “marriage is between one man and one woman.”
“We have the constitutional amendment against gay marriage, and I don’t want to see any taxpayer funding going toward benefits, et cetera, for a couple that is not married,” Handel told Atlanta’s WXIA-TV in a 2010 interview, as reported by Colorlines. “I do not think that gay relationships are — they are not what God intended.”
Asked by Reporter Newspapers about her stance opposing same-sex adoption, Handel said her “faith calls me to a very different place on these issues.”
“My faith at the same time calls me to be compassionate and what I have always believed is that what has to be paramount is what is the best interest of the child,” she said. “The best interest of the child. Period, end of paragraph. That’s not for you to decide. That’s not for me to decide. It’s for the child advocates to decide, whether that be the court or the child’s guardian. The child’s best interest must be paramount.”
The Human Rights Campaign has thrown its support behind Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, who will face off against Handel on Tuesday. Ossoff, who was a special guest at the HRC Atlanta dinner on April 22, has previously expressed his support for LGBTQ rights. HRC Atlanta’s steering committee has been working to mobilize support for Ossoff, and local HRC volunteers canvassed the district on his behalf this past weekend. HRC will also be sending out a robocall to its members and will be hosting a get-out-the-vote phone bank in support of Ossoff ahead of Tuesday’s election.