Liliana Bakhtiari has become the first nonbinary person elected to the Atlanta City Council and the first queer Muslim elected to any office in Georgia.
Bakhtiari won a runoff election last Tuesday to represent District 5 on the council. They had placed first among five candidates in the general election November 2 with 49.5 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent needed to win outright and avoid a runoff. In the runoff, Bakhtiari easily bested Mandy Mahoney, who had come in second in the general, by a margin of 68.4 percent to 31.6 percent. There was no incumbent in the nonpartisan race.
Bakhtiari is a longtime activist on local and global issues, including aiding refugees in building new homes, working with sex trafficking victims, and volunteering at orphanages in 26 countries, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which endorsed them. Bakhtiari is currently a curator of the Atlanta-based art organization Black Futures Matter and a board member for several state and local organizations, including LGBTQ+ group Georgia Equality. Their priorities for the council include making more affordable housing available and addressing the root causes of violent crime.
Bakhtiari, a lifelong Atlantan born to immigrant parents, is the second Iranian-American on the council and one of just a handful of nonbinary elected officials or out queer Muslim officials nationwide. They are not only the first nonbinary person on the Atlanta council but the first on any governing body of a major U.S. city. They had first run for the Atlanta council in 2017 and lost by a narrow margin, 51 percent to 49 percent.
“Liliana’s victory is a milestone moment for Georgia, but also for nonbinary people and LGBTQ Muslims across the country who want to make positive change through public service,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of Victory Fund, said in a press release. “When in office, Liliana will humanize our issues and be a voice for the underserved communities that are too often ignored by elected leaders. Atlanta is already a beacon of hope for LGBTQ people throughout the South, but with more representation that reflects the entire LGBTQ community, it can become a model for the entire nation.”
“Growing up at my immigrant father’s pharmacy in downtown Atlanta inspired me to dedicate my life to serving our community,” Bakhtiari wrote on Facebook. “As a young adult, personal struggles with housing security and discrimination fueled my drive to address the needs of so many of our neighbors through community organizing and mutual aid. I am incredibly proud to be a product of these experiences — I am an Atlanta native, Southeast Atlanta homeowner, Georgia State graduate, and proven community organizer. And I am honored now to have the opportunity to continue serving this incredible community on Atlanta City Council.”
“We have our work cut out for us, and I am honored to have the opportunity to address the pressing issues facing our city,” they continued. “I am dedicated to fighting for more affordable housing and increased opportunity for our most disenfranchised neighborhoods. I am passionate about supporting our small businesses, our unsheltered population, our seniors, and our working families who help our city run. And I am committed to the fight for sustainable infrastructure updates to make our streets safer and our neighborhoods healthier and more resilient in the face of climate change.”
Bakhtiari will be sworn in on January 3.