Liliana Bakhtiari discusses her run for District 5 seat

“I do not come from a political family, I don’t have an advanced degree, and I don’t come from money. What I do have is the drive and the passion to serve my community,” said Bakhtiarti

Bakhtiarti is a progressive candidate running for City Council in District 5, a seat she ran for in 2017. She currently serves as a curator of the Atlanta-based art organization Black Futures Matter. The daughter of an immigrant father who escaped into the United States in 1981 and a first-generation Iranian mother, Bakharti has built a career as a community leader. If she wins, Bakhtiari would be the first out queer Muslim elected in state history.

Challengers: Samuel Bacote, Mandy Mahoney, Katie Kissell, and Doug Williams.

Website: www.lilianaforatlanta.com

Twitter: @lilianaforatl

Facebook: www.facebook.com/lilianaforatlanta

Instagram: @lilianaforatlanta

What she shared with us:

PrideIndex (PI): Why did you decide to run for Council woman of District 5?   

Liliana Bakhtiari (LB): I have lived in District 5 for 15 years, and worked here at my father’s pharmacy on Edgewood Avenue for even longer.  During that time I have witnessed the drastic changes to our neighborhoods, and while progress is a good thing, we need to progress equitably, and not at the sacrifice of our legacy residents and BIPOC community members. I have seen too many of our friends and neighbors losing their homes due to predatory buying/lending and a lack of affordable housing policy. I have seen firsthand that the direct services offered to our unsheltered populations were not enough to solve the systemic causes of homelessness and poverty in our city. I have seen many of our seniors forgotten and unsupported, and our infrastructure crumbling despite constant new development. And I have seen a huge lack of creativity and political will with public transportation and sustainability practices. I am running for Atlanta City Council because we are at a turning point in the city, with an urgent need to find equitable solutions to affordability, public safety, sustainable infrastructure, transit, and government transparency crises. Our community needs a progressive problem solver to finally address the issues that are plaguing our neighborhoods, and I am ready to put in the hard work to be that problem solver.

PI: What makes you qualified to hold this office?   

LB: My qualifications are non-traditional in the world of politics. I do not come from a political family, I don’t have an advanced degree, and I don’t come from money. What I do have is the drive and the passion to serve my community. Many of my “qualifications” are in grassroots organizing and crisis relief work, where I have built a proven track record as a notable community leader, social justice advocate and activist working on a variety of initiatives. I spent much of my youth traveling the globe, practicing social advocacy, participating in a wide variety of cultural projects, including aiding refugees in building new homes, working with sex trafficking survivors and volunteering at orphanages in a total of 26 countries around the world. At home in Atlanta, I have tackled initiatives locally including engaging suburban and rural voters during especially critical elections, direct services with unsheltered populations, blood drives, senior partnerships, public art initiatives, and more. In 2017, I ran for the same seat on the Atlanta City Council against a 16 year incumbent and received 49% of the vote. Since then, I served as the Public Affairs Manager of Planned Parenthood Southeast during our fight against the abortion ban (HB 481); I lobbied for voting rights with ProGeorgia; I served as a consultant for national market research firm as they built out their Social Justice Division; and I worked with Partners for Home to establish their hotel programs housing our at-risk unsheltered population during the COVID-19 pandemic. I currently serve as a curator of the Atlanta-based art organization Black Futures Matter, while also serving on the boards of PEDS, Georgia Equality, and gloATL. If elected, I would be the first queer Muslim person elected in the state of Georgia.

PI: What is your vision for District 5?

LB: I am passionate about proactive solutions that will invest in a more affordable, equitable, and accessible city for all of our residents. And I am committed to listening to every resident, not just those who are privileged enough to be the loudest. As our next Atlanta City Councilmember I’ll fight to close the skyrocketing digital divide and equity gap in Atlanta – the largest in the nation. I’ll fight to make every Southeast Atlanta neighborhood safer and more affordable. And I’ll work directly with our community to build an even better, more inclusive Atlanta.

PI: How do you plan to address the issues of District 5?   

LB: Step one for any elected official has to be listening. As a candidate, I have spent most of my time out in the field or on the phone listening to the concerns of my neighbors so that I can best represent them. As our next Councilmember, I will continue to proactively listen, meeting people in their communities and hearing directly from them about their top priorities. I will also work to leverage my existing relationships with state and federal representatives, county commissioners, school board members, judges, and neighborhood leaders to close the silos that so often keep us from making progress. And I will fight for increased transparency through participatory budgeting, public forums, and ethics reforms, so that we keep the government in the hands of the people it serves.

PI: What similarities and differences do you see between yourself and your opponent(s)?   

LB: I think my opponents and I are all on the same page about what the issues are in our city, but what differs is our approach when it comes to solutions. As a queer, Muslim woman I have had to navigate intersectional issues my entire life. When approaching the issues that plague our city, none of them exist in a vacuum. Each issue affects the other and creates a broader vision for our city. As our next Councilmember, I will bring a holistic and intersectional perspective to the table, which I believe sets me apart from my opposition. 

PI: What should the city of Atlanta do to address the issues of the homeless and underserved?   

LB: As someone who has worked in direct services in this city for over a decade, and has firsthand experience with homelessness, I have an acute awareness of the gaps in our care for our unsheltered neighbors. As our next councilmember, I will advocate for a housing first approach. I will push to build truly low barrier shelters in the city that do not require payment or photo ID, and does not punish people for their addictions, for their poverty, for their trauma. Additionally, I will fight for wrap-around services that will help to fully stabilize people, including mental health programs, meal programs, and job training. Additionally, I will champion the creation of an Atlanta Diversion Center that can divert individuals experiencing poverty and mental health crises out of our jails and toward those wrap-around services. By housing people first, and then providing them with the tools and services they need to succeed, we can truly re-shape the scope of homelessness in Atlanta. 

PI: Should you win, what do you plan to do to address the needs of your detractors?   

LB: Regardless of their support for me as a candidate or a councilperson, should I be elected, it is my responsibility to serve every person within District 5. I will address the needs of my detractors exactly the same way that I address the needs of my supporters. I will meet them where they are, listen to their perspective, and show up every day serving my entire district.

PI: What is your position regarding funding for affordable housing and/or the sky-rocketing costs of living in Atlanta?  

LB: While Atlanta is rapidly growing, we are currently building at a 20,000 unit deficit for affordable housing. That’s unacceptable. It’s time to take real action to create more affordable and stable housing for every Atlanta resident. As our next City Councilmember, I will fight to adjust our inclusionary zoning policy – eliminating loopholes, adjusting Area Median Income affordability standards, and pushing for cost-protected permanently affordable units. I will also fight to make sure we build more density along transit corridors and right of ways, and expand for soft density opportunities through Accessory Dwelling Units and R5 zoning. And I will fight for Community Benefit Agreements and tax protections for legacy residents and allow them to benefit from development rather than edge them out.

While housing is the number one issue we need to address, it is only part of our overall affordability crisis. Long-term, sustainable solutions must have a holistic approach for Atlantans at all income levels. As our next City Councilmember, I will expand workforce housing so that our first responders and city employees can afford to live in the communities they serve. I will advocate for a housing first approach for our unsheltered population, with low-barrier shelters and housing placement programs, as well as wrap around services that will help them succeed long term. I will continue to fight for $15 minimum wage within the City of Atlanta, by lobbying the state to end its preemption laws. And I will partner with Atlanta Public Schools and our Labor community to expand our Youth Builds and apprenticeship programs so that we are setting kids up for success. 

PI: What are your suggestions for building a better relationship between the police and people of color and the LGBTQ+ community?   

LB: I am the daughter of immigrants and refugees, and a queer brown person. I am aware of the challenges that face these communities because I have experienced those challenges. I have been targeted by police, and left indignities un-reported out of fear.  As our next Councilmember, I will use my platform to bring awareness to the complexity of intersectionality and policing; I will push for conversations between communities and police in order to break down assumptions and prejudicial barriers; I will fight for a demilitarization of our law enforcement and diversification of our public safety structure to account for mental health and domestic dispute calls; and I will push for better training and enforceable accountability measures to better protect our marginalized communities.

PI: How should the city address funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and education?   

LB: According to Emory University, by the time they turn 30, 60% of black gay and bisexual men in Atlanta will become infected with HIV. Contrary to public perception, that racial disparities in new HIV infections are not related to risky behavior but rather systemic inequity in housing and healthcare access. Despite Atlanta representing a queer hub in the South, our City Council does not currently have an LGBTQIA+ champion. As our next City Councilmember, I will provide much needed representation to Council, and provide a proactive voice at City Hall. I will fight to protect our trans individuals and our HIV+ community by overhauling the HOPWA housing vendor trainings, pushing for the funds currently being held by the city to be released and invested in these communities, and pushing for investment in specialized programs for our queer youth in order to keep them off the streets and provide them with equal opportunities. I will fight to reform prejudiced laws that profile and target people living with HIV/AIDS, and will lead the charge on a city wide education campaign that aims to end the stigma and increase awareness. And I will make sure to uplift partners like Trans Housing Coalition, Georgia Equality, Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, Southern Fried Queer Pride and others who fight to protect these communities, despite the lack of investment from our municipal and state governments. 

To see the out LGBTQ candidates running for office in the November 2, 2021 election in Atlanta click on the names below. Check back for updates.

Antonio BrownLarry CarterJason Hudgins, Brandon Cory GoldbergLiliana BakhtiariJereme Sharpe, Kelly-Jeanne Lee, Devin Barrington-WardKeisha Waites, and Mike Russell.