When Stephe Koontz knocked on doors ahead of the Doraville City Council election, she was pleased to find people who wanted to talk about potholes and code enforcement, not her gender identity.
Now, her identity is drawing attention around the country as she prepares to take her place as Georgia's only transgender elected official, one in a wave of several openly trans officials recently elected. Koontz won the District 3 seat on the council by just six votes Tuesday.
Koontz likes to stick to the issues of local government — she lists ensuring the city’s growth while maintaining the hometown feel as what spurred her to run — but she is proud of the bit of ground she’s breaking.
“One of the reasons I ran is, I feel transgender youths need a role model and to be able to see that they do have a future,” she said Thursday. “I’ve been getting dozens of messages since the election from parents of trans youth who are in tears. I tear up every time I read one.”
That Doraville should be home to Georgia’s only trans official is fitting. Its slogan is, “Diversity, Vitality, Community.”
It’s an old railroad town of about 10,000 that many in metro Atlanta now know more for its stops on Buford Highway, the at once booming and pleasantly-seedy haven for international cuisine.
The U.S. Census figures half the people in Doraville are foreign-born.
There is also a thriving LGBT community. One supporter of that community is a woman named Lee Flier, who finds herself in strange spot after the election.
The runner-up is proud of the trans community’s win, even though it’s her personal loss.
“It’s hard for me to say this, given the circumstances, but I do think it’s cool this happened,” Flier said. “I think it says a lot about Doraville.”
The Georgia Unites Against Discrimination organization said Koontz’s win also helps “ensure that transgender people are visible in Georgia.”
Koontz is believed to be the second trans person elected to office in Georiga.
Michelle Bruce was sued over her candidacy for the Riverdale City Council in 2007. The trans woman had first been elected unopposed in 2003, but an opponent to her re-election filed the suit, claiming she had misled voters about her identity, though other officials said it was well-known around town that she was transgender.
The Georgia Supreme Court eventually sided with Bruce, but she had already lost the election.
Like Bruce, Koontz has also been active in her town for years. She’s lived in Doraville for more than 30 years; it was there where she began her transition 15 years ago.
Koontz, who volunteers as an afterschool tutor and serves on a committee at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, was going to city council meetings at the time, and had been for some time.
“Before she was an elected official, she was always giving back to the community,” Mayor Donna Pittman said.
On the council, where Koontz will replace Sharon Spangler, who didn’t run, the new official hopes to work on encouraging development in the city. She wants to see Doraville boom like Chamblee and Brookhaven and Tucker. She wants smart zoning.
She wants to get back to talking about potholes and code enforcement.