As our community celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, it is the ideal time to take stock of where we are in ensuring equality under the law for LGBTQ communities.
No one can argue that we’ve seen a wave of progress in both public perceptions and opinions on a wide variety of LGBTQ issues and the political strength we have created over time. However, we must also recognize that this acceptance and growing power has yet to translate into comprehensive legal protections for most of the US.
We lack explicit nondiscrimination protections in federal law and in 30 states, including Georgia.
However, Georgia is in a very unique and potentially powerful place when it comes to addressing this disparity.
The Civil Rights Act
Fifty years ago, the vast majority of states around the country were also somewhere in the process of adopting state versions of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act.
These state laws were passed to fill gaps in the federal law and have been the foundation on which most of the legal protections that exist for the LGBTQ community have been built.
However, in some quirk of history, the state that was home to Martin Luther King, Jr and so many other icons of the civil rights movement, never took this action. In fact, Georgia is one of only three states without enumerated protections for anyone employed outside of state government and one of only five states without any form of public accommodation law.
That is why this year Georgia Equality is launching our Peach State, We’re Late initiative.
Peach State, We’re Late
When religious conservatives began passing broad religious exemption laws around the country, we worked with our partner organizations to create the Georgia Unites Against Discrimination campaign. Our campaign has successfully fought dozens of attempts to pass discriminatory legislation.
Stopping bad legislation is important, but still leaves us vulnerable and open to discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.
We must build the broad, intersectional coalition that will be needed to win legal protections for LGBTQ Georgians by ensuring they also exist for people of color, women, seniors, those with disabilities, veterans, immigrants and people of faith.
Georgia stands at the precipice of the change that will make this lofty goal a reality. As the political landscape of Georgia moves from solid red to bright purple, we are already seeing the effects this shift is starting to have on the issues that impact LGBTQ Georgians.
This past legislative session saw the first-ever hearing on a conversion therapy ban, a dangerous religious exemption law stall in committee and the historic passage of a bipartisan LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime bill with the support of 96 members of our House of Representatives.
Pushing for legislative equality in Georgia
We have also seen a number of bills that would expand access to HIV medications and prevention programs gain bipartisan support and move without controversy through committees in both chambers as they move toward to the Governor’s desk to become law.
Unfortunately, while comprehensive and inclusive nondiscrimination legislation similar to the federal Equality Act was introduced, it failed to get a committee hearing.
Last week, in the final days of the Georgia legislative session, supporters gathered together and held a press conference to urge the legislators to move this legislation when they reconvene next year. Speakers at the press conference represented small business owners, clergy, people of color and conservatives.
The crowd of 100 people who stood with them reflected today’s Georgia – a rainbow of diverse ages, gender identities, nationalities, sexual orientations and faith traditions.
With cries of ‘Peach State, We’re Late’ echoing outside of Georgia’s gold dome, we know the work that lies before us may not be easy, but that we are on the path towards our goal. As we engage other communities and make our coalitions stronger, this is a journey that LGBTQ Georgians will not take along.
Standing together and working across communities, identities and beliefs, we will make our state stronger, fairer and safer for us all.
Jeff Graham is Executive Director of Georgia Equality.
Stonewall 50 Voices
Gay Star News is commemorating 2019 as the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world, with a focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community.
They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.