Last week’s election day was rambunctious with energetic updates across the nation. Many outlets saw to determine this as something of a regime change or, at least, urgent proof of once-despondent democrats mustering their forces into a meaningful reply to the country after a tumultuous year. Atlantan Liliana Bakhtiari was a distinct part of that rally, which included such history-making candidates as Danica Roem, Andrea Jenkins, and Jenny Durkan, among many others. In all, there were approximately 71 openly LGBT candidates in 23 states in the running.
Full disclosure: we at The Iranian already had our congratulatory piece drafted and primed. Several other outlets went ahead and even called the vote for Bakhtiari, the Iranian-American queer Muslim candidate for Atlanta City Council District 5 who we had previously written about two months ago. The race ended up being incredibly close, with a mere 252 votes eventually counted in favor of incumbent Natalyn Archibong, the long-term incumbent who has held the position since 2002.
It was an impressive run on Bakhtiari’s part, with a campaign that nearly matched Archibong’s contributions dollar-for-dollar, further fueled by an eye-opening Teen Vogue article in August that became a trending arrival for the young candidate. Regardless, the ramp-up coverage never implied that it would be an easy win, and while three LGBT candidates celebrated historic wins across the nation on November 7th, Bakhtiari was not one of them.
This morning, Bakhtiari’s twitter had this to say, in response to a supportive message from writer Adam Marx:
— Liliana Bakhtiari (@LilianaforATL) November 14, 2017
In the spirit of this resilient outlook, we wanted to share a quote Liliana Bakhtiari had sent to us last month that unfortunately did not make it into the finished article. A new leader on the political playing field has arrived, and a district vote result does very little to quell her goals or stifle her commitments to the community. We think you’ll be hearing much more from her in the months and years to come.
The Iranian: In the Teen Vogue article, you mention receiving racist messages and such from the alt-right cesspool. Can you speak about how you understand this type of messaging in our present era? What might you say to help individuals in the community, like you, who are experiencing racism and xenophobia, and what can we do to improve and protect ourselves under this administration?
Liliana Bakhtiari: We can invest in community. We can prove to those without traditional support systems that we have each other, and together we can build more inclusive spaces and a culture of acceptance and tolerance. We do not need to be small, or quiet, and we can embrace our cultural identities, share them in every way possible.
For years I didn’t feel like I had a place. Society did not address me as a minority, so I felt like I didn’t exist. I made myself smaller to make others feel comfortable.
But eventually I reached a turning point. I decided that I had the power to redefine what political spaces looked like. I decided that my voice mattered, that my community’s voice mattered, that representing my heritage and my family’s story mattered. My story and my voice are shared by millions who have never been represented, and that is what makes this run for office so important.
So what I say to my community is don’t be afraid. The world is hostile, the political climate is definitely scary, but that is the reason we should be standing up and fighting for representation, to have a voice, and to be treated as equals. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t matter. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve to have a voice.
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