An out, Black politician seeking to become the first mayor of a newly-formed Georgia city is facing anti-gay backlash from an opponent, in the form of homophobic attack ads.

Rafer Johnson, a well-known community organizer in the area, chaired the original coalition that helped place a referendum on last November’s ballot, in which voters approved the formation of South Fulton as the state’s fifth-largest city.

By Nathan James

As his inaugural mayoral campaign began to pick up, a flyer appeared last week, depicting Johnson and his husband, Kelly, and the words “husband and husband” superimposed over the couple’s picture. “It’s a subliminal message ad,” Johnson, 46, said of the anonymously-produced handbill. “That’s the subliminal message of the ‘gay agenda’, ‘we’re turning this city gay'”.

“They started by sending this out as a text bomb,” Johnson relates, “which I had no idea you could do. People started getting texts on their phone with this image. Then they started making printouts of it.” South Fulton is the first majority-Black city to be created in Georgia, and the Johnson campaign is widely seen by local political analysts as a “litmus test” of whether the new municipality would accept its LGBT community. “I hope the voters don’t make a decision based on that, Johnson noted, “that’s not who we are, as a city. We have to be progressive.”

Raffer and Kelly Johnson

Johnson quickly points out that his sexuality isn’t the issue–both he and Kelly have been highly visible in local politics–but rather, the “leadership needs” of the city. A brand-new local government will need to be formed, and building a new city is foremost on his mind. “Whether the person is gay or not, is irrelevant,” Johnson states, “Let’s get the best leaders available.”

Fulton County officials had no comment on the attack ads, choosing instead to focus on the “importance of South Fulton on the county’s economic future, whoever is elected Mayor”. The city, which is part of the metropolitan Atlanta area, will hold its mayoral election on March 21.