Post submitted by Hope Jackson, HRC Southern Regional Field Organizer
Yesterday, HRC, Georgia Equality and over 300 supporters gathered at Liberty Plaza next to the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta to celebrate Governor Nathan Deal’s veto of the so called “First Amendment Defense Act” (HB 757) and to call for fully inclusive LGBT non-discrimination protections in the Peach State.
Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, a project of HRC and Georgia Equality, has been on the ground mobilizing supporters to fight back against HB 757. Following weeks of pressure and massive backlash of opposition from civil rights groups, leaders in Hollywood and corporate America, Governor Deal announced last week that he would veto the deeply discriminatory bill.
If signed into law, HB 757 would have weakened local non-discrimination protections, allowed businesses to discriminate and deny service to LGBT people and explicitly empowered discrimination by taxpayer-funded religious organizations.
At the victory rally, HRC’s Board of Director Ames Simmons joined Georgia Equality’s Executive Director Jeff Graham, Former State Representative and Regional Director of Lambda Legal Simone Bell and faith and community leaders. Several ally Georgia legislators were present at the rally, including three openly LGBTQ legislators (Rep. Karla Drenner, Rep. Keisha Waites, and Rep. Park Cannon) and Senators Elena Parent and Vincent Fort.
“Today is a good day in our state and today is especially a good day for those of us who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender,” said Jeff Graham, Executive Director of Georgia Equality. “It is a good day because thankfully Governor Deal showed leadership and the conviction to say no to harmful legislation that would have opened the doors and could have been used as a license to discriminate against many Georgians, but very specifically those of us in the LGBT community.”
“Georgia has set a precedent that we can do this work in the South. We can win this…we’re going to stand with North Carolina, we’re going to stand with our brothers and sisters in Mississippi, and we’re going to let the entire world,” Bell added. “The South is a place where we can live, we can have families, we can have jobs, but most importantly we can be who we were created to be.”
Simmons added that Governor Deal’s veto provides North Carolina Governor McCrory and Mississippi Governor Bryant “with an example of what they need to do to ensure that their constituents remain safe and able to lead full lives, no matter which side of a state line they live on.”
“We know that abuses of religious liberty protections can have a disproportionate negative impact on vulnerable communities such as women of color and LGBTQ youth, especially transgender and gender nonconforming youth…but we know that religious liberty does not have to mean regressive,” Simmons continued. “While today we celebrate, after we leave here, the work continues. Now is the time to engage; now is the time to continue the work at hand.”
While we celebrate the defeat of HB 757, we know that this victory in Georgia is short-lived as we reach across state borders to fight in North Carolina and Mississippi and brace for more anti-LGBT legislation returning next year in Georgia. HRC will continue to work with our coalition partners and remain resilient in the fight for fully inclusive non-discrimination protections.
Above: Faith leaders gather at rally.
Above: HRC Board of Director Ames Simmons addresses supporters at the rall
Above: HRC Steering Committee members were present to celebrate the victory.
Above: Sen. Elena Parent (D-42) at Georgia Unites’ Rally.