Georgia – it’s time to pass a statewide nondiscrimination law

By Guest Columnist JEFF GRAHAM, executive director of Georgia Equality and facilitator of Georgia Unites Against Discrimination campaign

We’re barely two weeks into the New Year, but politics here in Georgia are already in full swing.

There are rumblings about what bills the legislature will or won’t take up in this year’s session – a session which will play out against the backdrop of a contentious presidential election that’s sure to bring a steady procession of national candidates to our state.

Jeff Graham

Jeff Graham

It’s easy to think there are big issues that divide us during times like this. But I don’t believe that’s true. I believe we all actually have more in common than not. All of us – regardless of our political leanings – want a strong and growing economy for our state. We all want Georgia to be a great place to do business and raise a family. Those beliefs are why we all get so passionate about the issues we’ll be confronting in the coming weeks and months.

Too often, our conversations focus on who wins and who losses when a specific bill passes. We talk a lot about that around bills like SB 129, Sen. Josh McKoon’s religious exemptions bill, and with good reason. The consequences for Georgians are high, and for many they stand to lose a lot.

So how can we find that common ground to move forward in a way that’s best for everyone?

It’s time for all of us to begin talking about a bill that protects all Georgians – people of faith, our veterans, those who are disabled, women, our elderly – and yes, gay and transgender Georgians too. It’s time for Georgia lawmakers to take up a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill that strengthens our state, makes us even more attractive to the businesses that fuel our economy, and helps us attract and retain the best and brightest people who can shape our future.

Georgia is one of only two states without any form of statewide nondiscrimination law, and it’s time to change that.

gay marriage celebration

Gay marriage celebration at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in 2015 (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

We should do this because it’s the right thing to do. Treating others the way we’d like to be treated is one of the first things we learn in life, and of course none of us would want to face discrimination. But we also should do this because we know nondiscrimination policies are central to our economic future.

Just last week, the Georgia Prospers coalition launched with more than 100 of the most recognizable big and small businesses in our state as members. Companies standing up to support nondiscrimination policies for all Georgians include AT&T, Coca-Cola, Delta, Emory University, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Home Depot, Synovus and Wells Fargo.

These companies and universities all signed a pledge stating:

“Treating all Georgians and visitors fairly is essential to maintaining Georgia’s strong brand as the premier home for talented workers, growing businesses, entrepreneurial innovation, and a thriving travel and tourism industry. We believe that in order for Georgia businesses to compete for top talent, we must have workplaces and communities that are diverse and welcoming for all people, no matter one’s race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

A comprehensive nondiscrimination bill moves Georgia in the right direction. In just the last couple of weeks, we’ve heard from myriad voices – many of them Republicans and faith leaders – speaking out against bills like Sen. McKoon’s religious exemptions legislation, or other unnecessary bills that can actually harm some Georgians.

Nearly 200 Christian and Jewish faith leaders have issued a public statement stating “religious freedom does not give any of us the right to harm or exclude others.”

Our lawmakers have a responsibility to safeguard the wellbeing of all Georgians, and to enact laws that strengthen our economy and our state’s reputation.

We have a clear path ahead of us in the coming months: we can pursue bills that can harm our economy (the Metro Atlanta Chamber recently estimated that we could lose at least $1 billion from passing Sen. McKoon’s exemptions bill); or we can unite and focus our efforts on making Georgia better for every single person who lives here – including people of faith and gay and transgender people.

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