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Nondiscrimination Protections Expand to Decatur

Decatur is now the sixth city in Georgia to enact a local nondiscrimination law that ensures no one can be denied a job, a home or service in a public place because they’re LGBTQ.

Thanks to the effort of local advocates and the leadership of the City Council, thousands of LGBTQ Georgians who live and work in Decatur will now have immediate protections against discrimination.

It’s clearer than ever that there’s incredible momentum behind this movement.

For years, LGBTQ Georgians were only protected against discrimination within the boundaries of Atlanta. That changed in November 2018, when Doraville enacted its own LGBTQ-inclusive local nondiscrimination ordinance.

In just the last year, four more cities—Clarkston, Chamblee, Dunwoody, and now Decatur—have followed suite.

We’re eager to see which cities and counties will be next. Cities in Dekalb, Gwinnett, Clark and Bibb Counties are actively considering similar ordinances.

Local victories like these make a world of difference to LGBTQ Georgians, and they also build a case for more robust state and national laws. When our lawmakers see dozens of cities acting proactively to stop discrimination, they pay attention.

Let’s keep up this momentum and urge our state lawmakers to pass a statewide civil rights law in 2020 that explicitly protects LGBTQ people from discrimination.

We also need to keep up our support for the federal Equality Act, which would enact these protections nationwide. The Equality Act passed in the House by a bipartisan vote in May 2019, but has not yet passed the Senate.

Until state and federal protections become a reality, local nondiscrimination ordinances allow us to protect LGBTQ Georgians immediately—because discrimination is happening every day, in communities across the state, and solutions are needed now.

Help build this local momentum for LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws: Contact your local lawmakers now.

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The Supreme Court case of a Clayton County man who was fired for being gay could affirm employment protections for LGBTQ people nationwide

August 16, 2019 by admin

For 10 years, Gerald Lynn Bostock served his community as a child welfare services coordinator in Clayton County, Georgia, helping provide children in difficult circumstances with court-appointed volunteers to help them get care and services. Gerald never had a problem at work while his coworkers assumed he was straight. But when he told them he was gay, they ridiculed and teased him—and within months, he was fired.

Gerald Lynn Bostock’s case has made its way all the way up to the Supreme Court, and it has huge implications for LGBTQ Americans and our freedom to live our lives free from discrimination.

This fall, the Court will hear oral arguments in Gerald Lynn Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, along with two other critical workplace discrimination cases—Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC & Aimee Stephens.

Like Gerald, Don Zarda and Aimee Stephens both faced discrimination at work. Aimee was fired from her job as a funeral director for being transgender, and Don was fired from his job as a skydiving instructor for being gay. Aimee has fought her case all the way to the Supreme Court. And because Don tragically and unexpectedly passed away 2014, his family has fought his for him.

This trio of cases gives the Supreme Court the opportunity to say definitively: All LGBTQ people should be able to work hard, make a living, and support themselves and their loved ones without fear of humiliation, harassment, or discrimination at work.

No matter what happens at the Supreme Court, Georgia lawmakers must still act to ensure LGBTQ Georgians are protected from discrimination in housing and public places
Join the Campaign for LGBTQ Civil Rights in Georgia

Here in Georgia, we’re doing all we can to make sure the Court comes down on the right side of history. Just last month, Georgia Equality—the leading voice in our campaign for LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections—filed an amicus brief with the Court, arguing that no one should have to worry that they cannot be their true selves for fear of being fired or denied a job or promotion.

Luckily, the law is on our side. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discrimination against their employees based on a number of factors, including sex. And according to Supreme Court decisions dating back to 1989, Title VII means that you can’t be discriminated against at work for failing to conform to gender stereotypes. Many federal courts and agencies have long held that firing someone simply for being LGBTQ is unlawful sex discrimination based in gender stereotyping.

The Supreme Court needs to agree and affirm these existing protections.

But we’ve got to be honest—a ruling suggesting it’s lawful to have fired Gerald or Don for being gay, or Aimee for being transgender, would be a huge step backwards. And it would shock the supermajority of Americans from all walks of life who support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. According to polling, 7 in 10 Americans actually want LGBTQ people protected from discrimination in employment, as well as housing and public places.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules, our work will not be done.

If the Court rules to uphold discrimination, we will still have the power to stand up for the 360,600 Georgians who identify as LGBTQ.

Georgia is one of only a few states in the country that have no civil rights law protecting people from discrimination in public spaces, in the workplace, or in housing. To help protect LGTBQ Georgians from discrimination, sign the pledge to join our call for an LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights law and tell lawmakers: Peach State, We’re Late!

With your help, we will enact explicit nondiscrimination protections to make Georgia an even better place to live and raise a family—regardless of one’s faith, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or military status.

And if the Court rules to protect LGBTQ Americans in the workplace once and for all, we will keep working to expand these freedoms to every facet of our lives.

Federal law doesn’t currently explicitly protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in public places like restaurants, stores, or doctors’ offices; or federally-funded programs. That’s why Congress must pass a bill like the Equality Act that ensures express and enduring protections for as many LGBTQ people as possible, in all areas of life.

And remember, no Supreme Court decision will never change this basic fact: Dignity and respect applies to everyone, no matter who you are, who you love, or what zip code you call home.

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New Dutch Consul in Atlanta is Making the Business Case for LGBTQ Inclusion

July 17, 2019 by admin

No American would be shocked to learn that we are the world’s largest food exporter, as measured by value. The Midwest is known for vast corn and soybean fields, though it’s actually California that produces the most food. Overall, 2.5 million square miles of the US is farmland.

Most Americans would be shocked, however, to learn that the Netherlands is the world’s second largest exporter of food. We associate production with size, and the Netherlands is more than 200 times smaller than the US. So how have the Dutch pulled this off?

According to Ard van der Vorst, the Consul General at the new Dutch consulate in Atlanta, the Netherlands is a country of entrepreneurs, and they bring this innovative spirit to all economic endeavors.

That’s why the Netherlands is opening the new consulate in Atlanta: They see the same entrepreneurial spirit there and across the South. They’re also hoping increased cooperation between our two nations can stave off actions that might hurt both economies—including anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“The Southeast is a place where we see opportunity, because Atlanta is growing very fast,” van der Vorst says. “Atlanta looks a lot like Netherlands: It’s a travel and trade hub, a port hub. Opening the new consulate general in the South is something that is part of the bigger economic strategy we have in the US.”

According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, trade between the Netherlands and the five states that fall under the jurisdiction of the Atlanta consulate supports 80,000 American jobs—including 38,000 in Georgia—and $3.7 billion in economic product. Van der Vorst hopes to bring that jobs number up in those five states: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. Overall, the Netherlands supports 825,000 jobs in the US. The ambition is to bring it to a 1 million.

Promoting human rights and LGBTQ inclusion is a major part of that jobs strategy. Van der Vorst says diversity and inclusion is on many executive agendas, for both Dutch and American companies, because it’s the right thing to do and makes business sense. He says the most valuable assets for most companies are their people, and research has shown that companies where people can bring their whole selves to work are more successful.

“There is some convincing needed that this approach is worthwhile. We are going to lead by example,” he says. “I’m very passionate about it personally as a gay man, but there is also a business case to be made.”

“There is some convincing needed that this approach is worthwhile. We are going to lead by example. I’m very passionate about it personally as a gay man, but there is also a business case to be made.” —Ard van der Vorst, Consul General of Atlanta

The research bears this out. According to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s recent overview of LGBTQ-inclusion in the workplace, companies with inclusive policies “improve their financial standing in both real terms and compared with their industry peers.” Employee satisfaction rates are also higher at companies with inclusive policies.

It also really does matter for Dutch companies that want to invest in the United States. “All persons in the Netherlands shall treated equally in equal circumstances. Discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, political opinion, race or sex or on any other grounds whatsoever” is not permitted by Article 1 of the Dutch constitution. A Dutch business owner is going to hesitate on an investment that could run afoul of those protections, van der Vorst says.

“If people feel their families aren’t welcome, if people feel their LGBTQ staff would be vulnerable, why would they initiate a business in that state? We need to be able to go to our companies and tell them they’re investing in a place where everyone feels welcome.”

“If people feel their families aren’t welcome, if people feel their LGBTQ staff would be vulnerable, why would they initiate a business in that state? We need to be able to go to our companies and tell them they’re investing in a place where everyone feels welcome.” —Ard van der Vorst, Consul General of Atlanta

Attacks on LGBTQ inclusion can also do damage on a statewide, macroeconomic level. Studies from 2015 show that passing anti-LGBTQ bills in Georgia could cost the state $2 billion dollars. North Carolina lost $600 million in the direct aftermath of passing a bill in 2016 that targeted transgender people. Newer estimates say the state has lost nearly $4 billion since then in tourism and other investment revenue. Similar discriminatory legislation that Indiana passed in 2015 was revised within a week, after lawmakers saw the business and economic backlash.

One of van der Vorst’s first stops as the new consul general actually was North Carolina, for a panel discussion on inclusion and economic opportunity. The topic of anti-LGBTQ legislation did come up, and he simply laid out the facts.

“If you create a culture where you undermine a business-friendly environment with restrictive social policies, from a business perspective and business case, it undermines companies looking to invest,” he said.

Those companies will look elsewhere at options for starting their business—maybe in Georgia, where lawmakers have grown less likely, year by year, to enact discriminatory legislation.

For more information on the Dutch presence in Atlanta, follow @NLinAtlanta. For more information on the Netherlands in the USA, follow @NLintheUSA.

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Transgender Fire Chief Hopes Visibility Will Send the Message: We Can Do The Job, And Deserve Protections

May 13, 2019 by admin

A simple interview question stumped Rachel Mosby: What do you like to do in your community when you’re not on duty as a firefighter?

Rachel laughed at the absurdity of that question. “Everything I do revolves around it,” she said—as it has for the last 24 years.

For 11 of those years, she’s served as Byron, Georgia’s fire chief, a job she thinks of as being the “oil in a squeaky wheel.”

“We’re a small house, and I’m fortunate that we are,” she said. “I’m not chained to a desk all day. Wherever the machine is squeaking, I see what I can do to help. I help my team.”

A few years ago, however, Rachel was the squeaky wheel.

Rachel is transgender, and in 2017, she transitioned to live as the woman she has always known herself to be. It was not a conversation she had planned to have publicly. After all, there are no statewide laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in Georgia, so transgender Georgians run the risk of being fired, evicted and refused health care and other services because of who they are.

Under these circumstances, Rachel had planned to transition out of the public eye—until her neighbors started to notice her appearance had changed. Too polite to ask her directly, they started to ask her firefighters, “what’s going on with the chief?”

Rachel said the firehouse is like a family, with openness being the ultimate bonding agent. Once she realized that her firefighters were getting questions they couldn’t answer—and that was affecting morale—she knew she had to say something.

“I didn’t earn my position by having thin skin,” she said. So she decided to be visible as a transgender woman, starting with her family of firefighters. Rachel knows this won’t be something that all transgender people can do, but as the chief, she was well-known and had built up respect from her community for a decade. Surely, she thought, that would make it easier for her to live as her authentic self and pave the way for other transgender people.

“I would not be able to bear it if one of my firefighters used a religious objection not to treat someone, to not put someone’s house out, or cut them out of a vehicle—that goes against the code of who we are as firefighters. I wouldn’t, couldn’t do that to anyone. If there is anyone on the planet you wouldn’t help, find another profession.”

She didn’t need to worry. Her family had her back.

“The biggest thing that impacted me was them feeling like I felt like I couldn’t share it with them,” she said. The response from her neighbors has been similarly low-drama, though not drama-free. She’s occasionally been snubbed at restaurants, and had people whisper behind her back or catcall her across the street.

Overwhelmingly, though, she feels deep respect from her community, who still view her as their protector. This struck her last year when she responded to a woman having a heart attack. Rachel radioed her crew and performed CPR during the wait—quick work that saved the woman’s life.

“I thought, ‘None of these people here give a damn that I’m a transgender woman, they just care about this woman on the ground that I’m helping,’” she said. “That moment has hit me a lot. People are more concerned with the fact that I’m doing my job and I help a lot of people, than the fact that I’m transgender.”

Rachel hopes her visibility will send this message far and wide: Despite the rhetoric, transgender people can do the jobs expected of them—in the military, as police and public safety officers, or as office workers. And they should be able to do their jobs without worrying they’ll be discriminated against because of who they are.

Rachel has been following closely moves at the state and federal level to expand religious exemptions and allow public places to refuse service to LGBTQ people and others and retaliate against LGBTQ employees.

During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers in Atlanta considered legislation that would have allowed taxpayer-funded adoption agencies to refuse to help LGBTQ people. It’s the sixth year Georgia’s legislators have considered such a bill. Past attempts have been much broader, attempting to allow any individual to cite their faith beliefs as an excuse to ignore any law. And the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a rule allowing health care and medical providers to determine patient care based on their religious or moral beliefs, opening the door for discrimination.

As a public safety officer, that’s something Rachel can’t wrap her head around. It was especially troubling to her as she recently prepared for an appointment with a new doctor. Under policies like these, that doctor could refuse to see her because she is transgender. No questions asked.

“I would not be able to bear it if one of my firefighters used a religious objection not to treat someone, to not put someone’s house out, or cut them out of a vehicle—that goes against the code of who we are as firefighters,” she said. “I wouldn’t, couldn’t do that to anyone. If there is anyone on the planet you wouldn’t help, find another profession.”

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Local Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBTQ Georgians Gain Momentum

May 2, 2019 by admin

Lawmakers have been gone from under the Gold Dome for a month, but that doesn’t mean advocates for LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections are putting the brakes on advocacy.

In fact, local movements for LGBTQ nondiscrimination are more robust than ever.

Since 2000—and after an update in 2013 to include transgender people—Atlanta has been the only city in Georgia with a local law that prohibits denying someone a job, a home or service in a public place because they’re LGBTQ.

That changed in November 2018, when Doraville enacted an LGBTQ-inclusive local nondiscrimination ordinance. And in the last six months, two more cities—Clarkston and Chamblee—have followed suite.

Now, the pressure is on for other cities and counties to be next. Athens, Brookhaven, Decatur, DeKalb County and Gwinnett County are all actively considering a local ordinance.

Ideally, our state lawmakers would pass a statewide civil rights law that explicitly protects LGBTQ people from discrimination. There’s also the federal Equality Act, which would enact these protections nationwide. The Equality Act got its first hearing ever last month, and just passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, May 1.

But until that happens, local nondiscrimination ordinances are a way we can protect LGBTQ Georgians immediately—because discrimination is happening every day, in communities across the state, and solutions are needed now.

Plus, passing local protections is one way we build momentum for more robust state and national laws. Lawmakers can’t ignore dozens of cities acting proactively to stop discrimination.

Help build this local momentum for LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination laws: Contact your local lawmakers now.

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2019 Session Ends with Anti-LGBTQ Discrimination Defeated for a Sixth Year

April 3, 2019 by admin

The legislative session ended yesterday with a broad license to discriminate defeated again—for the sixth year in a row.

It was possibly the weakest attempt anti-LGBTQ lawmakers have yet made. They couldn’t even get their bill a committee hearing because of the threat of an outcry from the coalition we’ve spent these six years building: Businesses large and small, faith leaders, community advocates and thousands of individual Georgians who know anti-LGBTQ discrimination hurts our economy and our communities.

It’s become routine at this point. Year after year, anti-LGBTQ lawmakers tee up discriminatory legislation, and we knock it down. That doesn’t mean we should stop being vigilant about bad bills—this year’s license to discriminate will still be active legislation in 2020—but it does mean we have an opportunity to move beyond the attacks and toward a proactive vision for nondiscrimination in Georgia.

Lawmakers have the opportunity now to get serious about enacting LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights protections statewide.

That’s the whole point of our new campaign, Peach State, We’re Late—that Georgia is one of only a few states without statewide civil rights protections, and we need to fix that now.

Check it out and get involved: www.peachstatewerelate.com

It’s clearer every year that Georgians want these protections. Polling just released in March from PRRI shows that a majority of people in every state—including 65 percent of Georgians—want laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

The political will is growing too. Of course, this session wasn’t all victories, but it was successful for LGBTQ nondiscrimination. In addition to defeating a bad bill, pro-LGBTQ lawmakers again introduced an LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights bill. We also saw an LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill move through the House, the first-ever LGBTQ-inclusive bill to move in the legislature.

And as much as we talk about how anti-LGBTQ bills hurt our economy, defeating them can only do so much. The fact is that until LGBTQ people are explicitly protected from discrimination in Georgia, we simply are not doing enough to encourage growth and investment.

Before the next legislative session, we’ll be working hard to take this argument to lawmakers.

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Senate Bill 221 Blocked for 2019, But The Threat of Anti-LGBTQ Amendments Remains

March 8, 2019 by admin

It’s been a whirlwind week at the Capitol, with good news and bad news for proponents of equality. But we’re happy to report that we successfully blocked Senate Bill 221 this year.

On Monday, we were gearing up for a sixth year of fighting legislation aimed at enacting a license to discriminate against LGBTQ Georgians. And with Senate Bill 221 being the most brazen attack since 2016’s RFRA, we knew our movement against it would need to be massive.

And it was. In the days after lawmakers placed SB 221 on the committee agenda, nearly 1,000 grassroots supporters like you logged calls and emails, wrote letters, and came down to the Capitol to speak in person about the dangers of a license to discriminate. And our business allies spoke up immediately too, reminding lawmakers of the potential $2 billion price tag and threats to Georgia’s economic edge that could follow.

Stay engaged and help us stay ready for the next fight, when and if it comes: Chip in $15 or more to Georgia Unites Against Discrimination. And there’s another way for you to stay engaged: Join Georgia Equality’s annual LGBTQ Lobby Day on March 21.

And again, it worked. Senate Bill 221 was taken off Monday’s committee schedule, Wednesday’s hearing was canceled, and lawmakers didn’t attempt to revive it before yesterday’s Crossover Day deadline.

In fact, after years of advocacy, the House of Representatives actually passed LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes legislation—the first-ever bill specifically protecting LGBTQ Georgians to pass either legislative chamber in Georgia! This is incredible momentum for our movement to pass LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights legislation.

Every year it gets harder for anti-LGBTQ extremists in the legislature to pass a discriminatory bill because of the bipartisan coalition of advocates, business leaders, people of faith, and others dedicated to stopping it. And this year, we almost stopped it before it even started.

But we’re not safe just yet: SB 221 is still active legislation through next year, meaning it could come back. And bad amendments could still come up before this session ends on April 2.

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URGENT: Broad License to Discriminate Introduced in the Senate

February 28, 2019 by admin

Yesterday, anti-LGBT extremists filed Senate Bill 221, which is almost identical to legislation filed during the last five legislative sessions seeking to implement a broad License to Discriminate in Georgia.

Like previous bills, SB 221 grants dangerous religious exemptions that would allow businesses, including taxpayer-funded organizations, to deny services and employment to LGBT people and many others. But what’s different this time is proponents are continuing to claim this bill is no more strict than federal “religious freedom” laws. That’s still a problem in Georgia since, unlike in federal law, there are no civil rights protections in Georgia.

Contrary to what proponents say, “religious freedom” laws have been used to discriminate. The federal RFRA was recently used by a government-funded foster care agency in South Carolina to justify discriminating against Catholic and Jewish couples looking to serve as foster parents.

It’s shocking that anti-LGBT lawmakers have decided to go down this road again, considering the opportunity we have right now to grow our economy and reputation as a major sports destination: We just successfully hosted the Super Bowl, and are in the running now to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

SB 221 is an acute threat to these opportunities, because it is similar to Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation vetoed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal in 2016. The 2016 RFRA sparked massive economic backlash, prompting the Metro Atlanta Chamber to predict a five-year loss of $600 million in convention and sporting events business, and three major movie studios to announce that they would move all future shoots out of state.

And FIFA just unveiled a new policy that explicitly states it will work “to create a discrimination-free environment within its organisation and throughout all of its activities,” including in its determination of host sites for the 2026 games. This would appear to disqualify localities with legislation attacking LGBT people.

Extremist lawmakers again seem prepared to put us in a negative national spotlight, and risk Georgia’s economic reputation, just to advance discrimination.

People of faith, local businesses, and other community advocates have been sounding the alarm for years about the dangers these religious exemptions pose to Georgia’s communities and Georgia’s economy.

This year won’t be the year extremists win—we’ll make sure of it. Speak out now: Call and email your Senator and make sure they’ll stand against SB 221.

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Religious Exemption Bills Imperil Atlanta’s Reputation As A Sports Tourism Destination

February 7, 2019 by admin

If you watched the Super Bowl you know it was pretty boring.

But for Atlanta the Super Bowl was pure energy and excitement. It went off without a hitch, showcasing our capital city as a major destination for professional sports. More than 70,000 fans from across the country stayed in our hotels, ate in our restaurants, and visited our tourist hot spots. And 100 million more people watched from home.

Next up for Atlanta: winning the bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. This event would outdo even the Super Bowl: By some estimates, over half the world watches the World Cup.

Unless Georgia passes a License to Discriminate.

For the 2026 games, FIFA is taking “human rights risks” into consideration when selecting the 16 North American host cities—and that includes attacks on LGBTQ people. That’s right: Atlanta could actually lose this opportunity if lawmakers continue to introduce bills that, if passed, would sanction discrimination against LGBTQ people.

FIFA’s new policy also explicitly states that it “strives to create a discrimination-free environment within its organisation and throughout all of its activities,” language that would seem to explicitly call out efforts to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives for Human Rights Watch—which spearheaded the drive for this rules change—says this could put Atlanta at a distinct disadvantage if anti-LGBTQ lawmakers continue their legislative push for discrimination.

The state of Georgia’s risks on LGBT rights are considerable. Hardliners have moved laws to discriminate against LGBT people and families in the last five legislative sessions. … [and] Georgia is one of only five states that has no hate crimes law. Additionally, it would strengthen Georgia’s commitment to human rights — and Atlanta’s viability as a host city — if the state enacted protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Don’t sit back and watch extremist lawmakers imperil our economy and attack our LGBTQ neighbors for a fifth consecutive year.

Turn your frustration into action. Find your legislators here: www.georgiaunites.org/fifa

Tell them that religious exemptions legislation will hurt our chances at hosting the World Cup and hurt the reputation of our entire state.

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US Health & Human Services Just OK’d A License to Discriminate in South Carolina

January 30, 2019 by admin

Our neighbors in South Carolina recently asked for and received special permission from the federal government to allow child welfare agencies a license to discriminate.

These taxpayer-funded organizations can now use religious exemptions to turn away LGBT youth, same-sex couples, single mothers and interfaith couples under the guise of “religious freedom.”

This is a back door toward a broader movement to discriminate against LGBT people, OK’d by the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Does this sound right to you? In Georgia, we know the harms of a license to discriminate in adoption. We’ve fought legislation like this for two years.

Of course it’s not right. Diversity of all kinds brings richness to our lives. Preventing loving people from fostering or adopting, or a child or a youth who identifies as LGBT from being fostered or adopted, is not only immoral but harmful.

That’s because according to the HHS, 1 in 5 youth in foster care identify as LGBT. That’s thousands of children who potentially won’t find loving homes because lawmakers are determined to enact a nationwide license to discriminate.

Congress can fix this situation. They can hold oversight hearings and move to pass the Do No Harm Act to ensure that religious exemptions cannot be used in any state to harm vulnerable children in the child welfare system. They can also discourage other states from seeking similar waivers.

Please, do not wait for Georgia to make a similar request. Call and email your members of Congress now and urge them to support the Do No Harm Act to guard against a federal license to discriminate in adoption.

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Week 1 of The New Legislative Session: The Good, The Bad & What’s Next

January 18, 2019 by admin

State legislators reconvened for the start of a new session and things are off to a good start. Representative Sandra Scott took the first step toward getting LGBT Georgians comprehensive civil rights protections under the law by pre-filing HB 19. The aim of the bill is to ensure equal protection from discrimination for everyone, including LGBT people, when they seek housing, employment, and service in public places.

But the threat from religious exemption bills isn’t gone yet. 

The Peach State has seen inclusive civil rights legislation before; in 2017 the Senate presented the first civil rights bill that specifically included LGBT protections. Despite widespread public support from across the state, this groundbreaking initiative was not passed. We are excited to see a new bid for equality so early in this session.

Remain vigilant, though, because our adoption and foster care system could be on the line again. Advocates for religious exemptions want to exclude LGBT youth and families, but continue to accept public funding for adoptions. Currently, adoption agencies in Georgia who receive federal funding are prohibited from doing this, though that hasn’t prevented state legislators from attempting to pass discriminatory bills. In 2018 and 2017, anti-LGBT senators made a push for such legislation, but our representatives wisely ignored the measure and it did not pass.

Now this year South Carolina has taken a different path towards this inequitable practice. Governor Henry McMaster wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar asking for an exemption for adoption groups who claim serving LGBT people violates their religious beliefs. Other states, including our own, are watching and waiting for the response. In fact, there has already been talk from  Senator Butch Miller about making another attempt at exclusion in Georgia.

We cannot stress enough that everyone has the right to live their life as they see fit, including living by their own religious beliefs. But taxpayer-funded organizations should not be allowed to refuse service to members of the public because of who they are or who they love. You can’t keep potential adoptive parents who could provide a child with a better life from adopting simply because they are LGBT, nor can you discriminate against an LGBT child seeking a family. That’s simply wrong. 

What’s next for Georgia? Our love for football unites many of us and Atlanta will be the proud host of the Super Bowl in February. Georgia’s economy will surely flourish from the increase in tourism dollars, as it already does from having so many tv shows and movies filmed here. 

That comes to a halt if we become a state who doesn’t value all our residents. Other states that have taken steps to exclude the LGBT community, like North Carolina and Indiana, were hit hard by the economic backlash from the boycotts that followed. Major events were held elsewhere, tourism dropped, and businesses decided to open in states that chose inclusion.

Georgia has too much going for it to let that happen. We will watch and work to make sure that our state is open for business and open to all.

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As Gov. Deal Leaves Office, Another ‘Thank You’ for Vetoing Notorious License to Discriminate

January 11, 2019 by admin

As Governor Nathan Deal begins his life outside of elected office, we thank him for standing up for the rights of all Georgians in 2016 by vetoing House Bill 757, a dangerously broad religious exemptions bill that would have allowed taxpayer-funded organizations to deny services and employment to LGBT people and many others.

The governor declared in his opposition statement that, “[W]e should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives.”

We respect the important role religion plays in the lives of so many Georgians and we are grateful that the governor’s action acknowledged that religion and equality can coexist to the benefit of all.

“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives. … We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”
—Gov. Nathan Deal, signing statement vetoing HB 757

Governor Deal further affirmed that, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives. This is about the character of our State and the character of its people. Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”

Attempts to pass a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Georgia began in 2014 and grew until Gov. Deal’s March 2016 veto—a wise economic choice in addition to simply being the right thing to do.

Because of Governor Deal’s bravery, the residents of our great state will not suffer from lost revenue by businesses who might have chosen not to work here and that Georgia will not lose out on the opportunities to host major events like the upcoming 2019 Super Bowl by groups seeking a more inclusive environment. Moreover, his resolve gave comfort not just to the LGBT people who would have personally suffered under the proposal but also to the family, friends, and neighbors who love and support them.

Gov. Deal’s strong stance against a state RFRA continued after the veto and paved the way for the passage of a desperately needed re-write of the state’s adoption code stripped of any potentially discriminatory language.

As he leaves office, let’s give him another thanks for preserving the welcoming character of Georgia by vetoing this notorious License to Discriminate. 

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4 Things You Should Know About Georgia’s Fight for LGBTQ Equality in 2018

December 26, 2018 by admin

Another whirlwind year of work is nearly over and Georgians made strides in the fight for LGBTQ equality. As we prepare for 2019, let’s take a look back at what we accomplished this year.

Passing Critical Adoption Legislation

We started out with unfinished business, passing a clean adoption bill that was heldover from the 2017 session. Attempts to add an anti-LGBTQ amendment that would give taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies a License to Discriminate against LGBTQ youth and same-sex couples were unsuccessful.

Defeating an Anti-LGBTQ Adoption Bill

For the fifth year in a row, our coalition of hundreds of business, faith and other community leaders and thousands of individual Georgians defeated legislative attempts to enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination into Georgia law.

This time the bad bill was SB 375, a stand-alone version of the amendment opponents of equality were attempting to attach to adoption and foster care reform legislation. This was a critical victory, as research shows that same-sex couples adopt and foster children at a higher rate than different-sex couples, and child welfare advocates warned that adding discriminatory language to the bill would only make children wait longer for loving homes.

Local Momentum for LGBTQ Nondiscrimination

In November, Doraville enacted LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, becoming the second municipality to do so after Atlanta. The new policy protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in private employment, housing, and public accommodations. The policy also prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, or military status.

And Augusta-Richmond County employees now can now go to work without fear of discrimination after the County Commission added sexual orientation and gender identity to protected categories of employment. Atlanta, Macon, Savannah, and Athens already protected municipal workers from this kind of discrimination.

Positive Election Results for LGBT Equality

In this year’s statewide elections, anti-LGBTQ legislators were defeated by opponents who made supporting equality a major part of their platform. Congratulations to Mary Francis Williams for unseating Sam Teasley in House District 37 and to Sally Harrell for winning her election against Fran Millar in Senate District 40. Both defeated legislators were proponents of anti-LGBTQ bills, including this year’s bad adoption bill.

Meanwhile, several LGBTQ officeholders were elected and re-elected: Park Cannon in House District 58, Matthew Wilson in HD 80, Renitta Shannon in HD 84, Karla Brenner in HD 85, Sam Park in HD 101, and Ben Ku as Gwinnett County Commissioner District 2.

Several opponents of LGBTQ equality were defeated in their bids for re-election; State Senator Michael Williams lost his campaign for governor and State Senator Josh McKoon, author of the 2017 License to Discriminate bill, lost his attempt to become lieutenant governor.

We’ll continue working hard to defeat attempts to pass discriminatory legislation and support LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights laws in 2019. Until then, have a restful holiday season and happy New Year!

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Election Breakdown: RFRA-Backers Lose Big + New LGBT Members

November 14, 2018 by admin

One week out from Election Day major questions remain, but one thing is clear:

Lawmakers who backed discriminatory, anti-LGBT legislation lost big—and champions of equality are taking their place.

The most exciting results were Mary Francis Williams’ victory over Sam Teasley in House District 37, and Sally Harrell’s victory over Fran Millar in Senate District 40. Both sitting lawmakers had supported anti-LGBT bills, including this year’s bad adoption bill.

The winners made opposing discriminatory bills and supporting inclusive ones main platform planks. And we added to the ranks of LGBT members: Matthew Wilson (House District 80), who could sit on the Judiciary Committee and directly influence these bills.

We can’t wait to see what these newly-elected champions of equality accomplish in 2019. Send them a personal note of support now.

Not only will we have new allies in the legislature next year, an entire generation of opponents of LGBT equality were blocked from elected office.

A chief sponsor of 2017’s License to Discriminate, Michael Williams, and the bill’s author, Josh McKoon, won’t return to the senate after losing in a landslide bids for governor (Williams) and secretary of state (McKoon). David Shafer, who co-sponsored this year’s bad adoption bill, also resigned from the senate only to lose a bid for lieutenant governor.

It sends a powerful message that three public faces of License to Discriminate legislation won’t be back in 2019.

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Gay Couple in Georgia Denied Service By Landscaper: “I Always Turn Them Down”

October 25, 2018 by admin

As Colton Southworth hung up the phone after the short call that came to an abrupt end, he was stunned, nearly speechless from what he had just heard.

He had been on a call with the owner of a landscape and design company that he was considering hiring to take on a big landscaping project. He had recently moved to the Atlanta area into a beautiful home and wanted to expand the backyard, create an edible garden, and turn it all into a calming and tranquil garden. He barely started describing the project and what he envisioned when the owner of the landscaping project asked Colton directly if the job was for himself and his wife.

Colton hesitated a bit, unsure of the significance of the question, then explained that no, the backyard belonged to Colton and his husband. The tone of the phone call changed rapidly as the business owner concluded that he was not interested in working with Colton and his husband. And then the two hung up.

“This was the first time that myself and my partner were explicitly discriminated against based on our relationship,” Colton explained. “I’ve been called slurs when I was younger, but I generally have been in inclusive environments and I haven’t faced discrimination like this before.”

More taken aback than angry, he found the landscaping company on Yelp, a social media platform that aggregates reviews and information about businesses and restaurants, writing, “Contacted today about a very large project in Sandy Springs. The owner asked if the work was for me and my wife, I said no me and my husband and he replied that he wouldn’t be interested in working with us.”

The conflict didn’t end there: Shortly after the business owner replied to Colton’s comment, writing, “Yes, this is an accurate description of what happened. Large landscaping projects take several months. I can’t do that, all while going along with the delusion of two men calling themselves a married couple. … It’s very perverse and foolish.” Later, the owner commented on his personal Facebook page, “I average about one or two calls per year from sodomites or lesbians. I always turn them down.”

Discrimination like this against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people occurs all too often in Georgia and 30 other states without comprehensive and explicit state-level nondiscrimination protections that cover LGBTQ Americans. In Georgia, no state-level civil rights protections exist at all.

LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination in the city of Atlanta – but as Colton’s story illustrates, those protections end as soon as you leave the city limits. Since Colton lives in Sandy Springs, he was not protected from anti-LGBTQ discrimination like what he experienced.

“Everyone is entitled to their own freedom of speech,” Colton said. “But the magnitude of his expression made me want to speak out about this experience.” That is, Colton believes, everyone should be able to think whatever they want and believe whatever they want – but when it comes to opening a business and putting your work on the public marketplace, you have to ensure that your business is open to all.

“It makes you feel like you’re being taken advantage of,” Colton said. “I’m a contributing member of society, I pay my taxes, I volunteer, and my neighbors in different-sex relationships do the same things and have kids. They can go into any business and presumably not be discriminated against based on who they are in a relationship with.”

Recent years have seen a national conversation develop about a small number of businesses that want a license to discriminate – the ability to unilaterally deny service or refuse care to LGBTQ people and same-sex couples, just because of who they are. In Georgia, lawmakers have pushed discriminatory legislation for years, with one bill even making it to Republican Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk before being vetoed. In his speech about vetoing the legislation, Gov. Deal cited his strong Christian faith and his interest in ensuring that Georgians treat each other like they would like to be treated.

The issue also played a role in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017-2018 term, when the Justices ruled in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, ultimately deciding the civil rights commission erred in its handling of the case but underlining LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination and the importance of ensuring that businesses are open to all.

Sometimes, opponents of LGBTQ dignity and equality point to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and others like it to dismiss LGBTQ people’s concerns about discrimination in businesses and other public spaces, arguing that this discrimination is solely related to weddings between same-sex couples. Colton’s story and experience with the landscaping business, and many stories like his, shows that that’s not true – that granting businesses a license to discriminate wouldn’t just impact wedding-related businesses but also industries like landscaping. LGBTQ people could be turned away from basic services solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Colton and his partner have been together for five years. They met when they lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the same neighborhood. They moved to the Atlanta area in the summer of 2018, and now Colton manages an indoor cycling studio.

The couple is working to move on from their brush with discrimination, but it was important to them to speak out and showcase for their community members that discrimination is real and that it comes in many forms, even ugly forms like what Colton experienced. The men are going to continue working toward a stronger community, and they’ll keep speaking out for basic dignity and equality, not just for LGBTQ people but for all people.

“It’s important to me to share this because I am a white male, and that’s typically not someone who seems to be discriminated against, and it made me reflect on anyone in the world who is discriminated against by the way they look, the way they speak, where they’re from, if they have physical disabilities,” Colton said. “It made me reflect on how speaking out and sharing my story could be impactful for other people. This is more than just about LGBT people. It’s about equality for all.”

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We were so grateful to be able to profile Rachel last year. Her story is inspiring and it's sad to see her treated unfairly. Thank you Rachel for standing up for yourself! bit.ly/2VTK7j3

About 5 months ago

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