Georgia Gov. hopeful Stacey Abrams makes history at Atlanta Pride march

Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams gives a thumbs up to the crowd during the annual Atlanta Pride Parade Sunday in Atlanta on October 14, 2018.
Caption
Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams gives a thumbs up to the crowd during the annual Atlanta Pride Parade Sunday in Atlanta on October 14, 2018.

Credit: Steve Schaefer/Special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Steve Schaefer/Special to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Stacey Abrams emerged from her SUV on a busy Midtown Atlanta street corner on Sunday with a declaration to make to the throngs of voters attending the Atlanta Pride Parade, the annual celebration of LGBT rights in the heart of the city.

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“We’re here because we stand together, because we know that allies do not run from fights. And because we know we all have pride in Georgia,” she told cheering supporters, adding: “We stand with you and not against you.”

Shortly after, she became the first major-party nominee for governor to march in the parade, a vibrant spectacle that attracted just about every major corporation in Atlanta, dozens of political candidates and tens of thousands of Georgians.

Her contingent, led by a group that included U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and former 6th District hopeful Jon Ossoff, hoisted rainbow-colored flags and stark-blue Abrams signs.

Then came Abrams, riding atop a white jeep with a crown of colorful balloons, and waving to supporters who chanted her name along the parade route.

This was not Abrams' first march in the parade. She and her rival for the Democratic nomination, former state Rep. Stacey Evans, both participated in the event last year before the primary.

But her focus on the event, which came after a round of Sunday morning TV appearances, underscored another shift in Georgia politics. Democrats have increasingly tried to use LGBTQ equality as an offensive tactic ahead of the midterm elections.

Other statewide Democrats have embraced gay rights, for certain, but didn't put it at the heart of their campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and shifting political views on LGBTQ rights has helped cement a new Democratic approach.

It’s a strategy that was reflected down the ticket, too, with several other statewide candidates including Sarah Riggs Amico, the lieutenant governor nominee, also taking a high-profile role in the parade.

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Much of the LGBTQ discourse in this election has revolved around the “religious liberty” legislation, a debate that has dramatically escalated since the last midterm vote in 2014.

Gov. Nathan Deal bucked his party in 2016 by vetoing a version of the bill, and some conservatives have vowed to revive it. In the run-up to the GOP primary, Republican Brian Kemp and most of the other contenders for governor vowed to sign the measure into law.

He and other supporters see it as a noncontroversial way to defend against what they view as a siege on Christian values and provide more legal protection to the faith-based. Opponents argue it amounts to legalized discrimination and warn of boycotts and other economic fallout if it's adopted.

Seeking to tamp down the controversy, Kemp said in August he would veto any legislation that veers from a federal version of the bill signed by President Bill Clinton.

Abrams contends that the 1993 law is “hostile and discriminatory” and would undercut Georgia’s business reputation, and highlights her opposition at every gathering of corporate types.

That’s a line she held on Sunday, when she assailed Kemp as someone “who will tell you that it’s OK to legalize discrimination.”

The Democratic Party of Georgia, too, echoed that attack and knocked Kemp for skipping the parade in a blaring press release.

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Then it added an extra dig that noted, with mocking praise, that he "did advertise on Grindr," the gay dating app that's featured some of his digital messaging.