We know, looking ahead to 2017 that we have our work cut out for us in the movement to advance LGBT equality. But as we look back on what we’ve accomplished in 2016, we are heartened to know that in Georgia, our movement is stronger than ever before.
Here are the top five things to celebrate as we look back on 2016.
5. We helped educate lawmakers and the public on who transgender people are
Transgender people are more visible in our society than ever before, including in Georgia. According to the Williams Institute—an LGBT public policy think tank—the population of transgender people in the United States has doubled in the last decade. Georgia has the 4th highest population of transgender residents in the country—more than 55,000 people.
One thing we know is that the more educated the public and lawmakers are about who transgender people are and the unique hardships they face, the less likely they are to support discriminatory legislation. That’s why we launched our Transgender Voices of Georgia storytelling hub in October.
One of many transgender Georgians we spoke to is Raquel Willis, an Atlanta-based writer who has had her work published in The New York Times and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After spending her childhood and young adult years feeling like something wasn’t quite right, Raquel embraced her transgender identity. Now she works to help others embrace their identity too.
“There will always be people who don’t think like you or look like you. And you just have to love them. There’s that human element. We’re all different but we can still respect each other.” –Raquel Willis, Atlanta
Read Raquel’s story and stories from other transgender Georgians by visiting our Transgender Voices of Georgia storytelling hub.
4. We garnered unprecedented faith support for our movement
When opponents of LGBT equality first hinted that they would attempt to pass a religious exemptions bill during the 2016 legislative session, the response from faith leaders was swift.
— Georgia Unites (@GeorgiaUnites) February 24, 2016
In late December 2015, hundreds of faith leaders from diverse traditions and denominations united to oppose such a bill. Lawmakers ultimately ignored the appeals of these faith leaders and introduced HB 757—sweeping legislation that would have given “license to discriminate” against LGBT Georgians under the guise of protecting religious freedom.
The faith coalition responded in staunch opposition, petitioning lawmakers and hosting rallies at the Capitol to voice their dissent and make the case for LGBT inclusion, and non-discrimination—not in spite of their faith, but because of it.
— Georgia Unites (@GeorgiaUnites) January 15, 2016
By March, the faith coalition had grown to over 300 members. And when Governor Deal announced he would veto HB 757, and gave religious basis for his decision—the faith coalition were some of the first to celebrate his veto. The coalition is still growing, so if you’re a faith leader who is committed to advancing LGBT non-discrimination in Georgia, click here to join.
3. We saw tidal support from the business community
Georgia’s business community didn’t want to see anti-LGBT legislation passed in Georgia, and they presented a united front of opposition to HB 757 early on.
The Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau were some of the first to sound the alarm, releasing studies that showed the legislature’s proposed “religious liberty” bill could cost Georgia’s economy $2 billion in revenue. Major Georgia companies including Home Depot and Dow took public stands against anti-LGBT legislation; some companies even said they would pull business from the state if HB 757 became law.
— Georgia Unites (@GeorgiaUnites) October 21, 2016
As HB 757 picked up steam in the legislature and became a formidable threat, hundreds of businesses rallied against the discriminatory—and potentially economically devastating—legislation and joined Georgia Prospers, a coalition of the state’s largest corporations and local mom-and-pops dedicated to keeping Georgia open and inclusive. By March, Georgia Prospers was boasting more than 500 companies and was force to be reckoned with, continually reminding lawmakers how much anti-LGBT legislation could hurt Georgia’s economy.
Over the last several months Georgia’s business community has continued this mission, and many have already committed to opposing anti-LGBT bills during the 2017 legislative session.
2. We hand delivered 75,000 letters to Gov. Nathan Deal opposing anti-LGBT bills
On March 2, we delivered 75,000 letters to Governor Deal from constituents opposing “license to discriminate” legislation like HB 757. Most of those letters—40,000—came in a single week after the Senate hastily voted to advance the bill without allowing for amendments.
— Georgia Unites (@GeorgiaUnites) March 2, 2016
The petition delivery came after months of grassroots campaigning to block legislation that would promote LGBT discrimination. It was extensively covered by local and national news, and was the spark that lead to the exponential growth of our faith and businesses coalitions.
— Georgia Unites (@GeorgiaUnites) March 2, 2016
And, ultimately, it lead us to our biggest victory of the year.
1. Governor Deal vetoed HB 757, Georgia’s “license to discriminate”
On March 28, 2016, Governor Deal vetoed HB 757, a historic decision which has had lasting impact on Georgia’s communities, the state economy, and which has served as a lesson to state legislatures across the country: LGBT inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s good for business too.
The consequences of signing this bill would have been disastrous. First and foremost, there was the human toll. If Governor Deal had signed HB 757 into law, it would have explicitly legalized discrimination against LGBT Georgians, single women, religious minorities and more.
Then, there was the economic toll. HB 757 put thousands of jobs on the line, with companies threatening to pull business out of Georgia or scrapping plans to expand—which is exactly what happened in North Carolina after Governor Pat McCrory signed HB 2 into law. And that’s in addition to the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau’s estimate that our state could have lost $2 billion in investment and tourism revenue.
But because Governor Deal vetoed HB 757, LGBT Georgia’s don’t have to live under the threat of state-sanctioned discrimination. And all Georgian’s can enjoy the economic benefits, including GE’s decision to move its digital headquarters here, and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s decision to relocate championship games from North Carolina.
It’s truly been an inspiring year for the movement for LGBT equality in Georgia. We’re getting ready to notch even more victories in 2017—and defend our progress from those who would roll it back. If you’ll be with us in the fight to protect LGBT Georgians from discrimination in 2017, let us know by signing our pledge.SHARE THIS STORY