Former Georgia Equality Director Seeks General Assembly Seat
Thornell would become first openly gay man in state legislature if elected
By ANDREW KEEGAN | Apr 11, 1:43 PM (From Southern Voice)
Allen Thornell, former head of the statewide gay advocacy group Georgia Equality, announced April 10 his candidacy for a seat in the state General Assembly.
If elected, Thornell would become the first openly gay man to serve in the state legislature. State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale) became the first openly gay person to serve in the General Assembly when she took office in 2001.
“I’ve been working on state level issues in particular for the past four years,” Thornell said, a day after filing intent to seek campaign contribution forms with the Secretary of State's office.
For the past two years, Thornell has served as the deputy regional political director of the Service Employees International Union. He said he would maintain his position with the organization if elected.
“It seemed like a natural progression” to run for political office, he said.
Thornell, 35, is vying for the District 58 House seat of Rep. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta). Orrock is seeking the state Senate position in District 36 vacated by Sam Zamarripa (D-Atlanta),who announced he would not run for re-election.
Thornell said he expects to have numerous opponents in the Democratic primary. District 58, a historically strong Democratic district, includes neighborhoods such as East Atlanta Village, portions of Grant Park and Reynoldstown.
Orrock, who has held the District 58 House seat for 20 years, has been a strong supporter of equal rights for gay Georgians. In 2004, she helped lead the fight in the General Assembly against a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage,which was ultimately passed by lawmakers and approved by Georgia voters.
Thornell said he would not have run for the seat against Orrock.
“If you have the best person in the seat you support them,” he said.
Thornell served as Georgia Equality’s executive director from May 2002 until April 2004. He previously served on the organization’s board of directors, where he handled media relations and constituent coordination. Prior to that, he managed political campaigns in Utah and Georgia, and worked as an account supervisor at Fleishman-Hillard International.
While at Georgia Equality, Thornell successfully lobbied for domestic partner benefits for Fulton County employees. He also led the effort against the ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage at the Gold Dome.
Though the effort ultimately failed, Thornell is widely credited with helping to bog down the measure in the state House where it was first voted down before it was approved on a controversial second vote.
HIV status an ‘advantage’
As an openly gay, HIV-positive candidate, Thornell said hefully expects both issues to be raised during the campaign but doesn’t believe either will factor in the outcome of the race. Thornell learned he was HIV-positive in 1994. There are no other openly HIV-positive state legislators.
“Certainly my HIV status is pretty well known because I’ve always been open about it,” Thornell said. “It has helped me understand the problems with our healthcare system — it comes as an advantage actually.”
Thornell said he has also had three open-heart surgeries.
As of press time, no other candidate had registered with the state to solicit campaign contributions in District 58. April 24is the earliest date any candidate can actually file to have their name placed on the general primary election ballot. Political candidates have until noon on April 28 to declare their candidacy. Voting in the general primary is July 18.
In addition to working for livable wages and health care for all children in the state, Thornell said his platform would focus on passage of a hate crimes bill and advocating a statewide non-discrimination ordinance.
“While these issues are relevant to the gay community, all Georgians should be concerned,” he said.
Thornell said he anticipates the campaign will cost around $100,000 and has set up a website, www.allenthornell.com,for volunteers and donations.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Chuck Bowen said Thornell has an “excellent” chance of being elected.
“He is a brilliant political strategist and very knowledgeable of the issues important to all Georgians,” Bowen said. “But, in my opinion, he'll win this election because he will do the hard work that must be done to introduce himself to the voters in the district and convince them that he's the right person for the job.”
Bowen also said that any candidate who might make an issue of Thornell’s HIV status is “afraid to discuss the real issues of the race.”