The Busi­ness Com­mu­nity

GA Voice - - Newsbriefs -

On June 27, 2015, Ge­or­gia’s LGBT com­mu­nity awoke hoarse from scream­ing, wiped the sleep from their eyes, brushed a rain­bow flag or two off their chests and made cer­tain the pre­vi­ous day’s events weren’t a dream: it was true, mar­riage equal­ity was the law of the land.

As the cel­e­bra­tion con­tin­ued for some, there were many both in and out­side of the com­mu­nity that be­gan pre­par­ing for the in­evitable back­lash. And oh, did it come.

State Rep. Kevin Tan­ner (R-Daw­sonville) came out of the gate fast by in­tro­duc­ing two bills on Day Three of the 2016 leg­isla­tive ses­sion – one that would al­low busi­ness own­ers to refuse ser­vice to same-sex cou­ples on re­li­gious grounds, and one that would en­sure no faith leader would be forced to per­form a same-sex wed­ding. De­spite some ini­tial con­cerns about overly broad lan­guage in that sec­ond bill, it was deemed fairly in­nocu­ous, with that ver­sion of the bill pass­ing unan­i­mously in the House – even gar­ner­ing a yes vote from les­bian state Rep. Karla Dren­ner (D-Avon­dale Es­tates). The num­ber as­signed to that bill? House Bill 757.

Lit­tle did Dren­ner and others know what that bill would turn into just a few short days later on Feb. 16, when it was com­bined with state Sen. Greg Kirk’s (R-Amer­i­cus) state ver­sion of the fed­eral First Amend­ment De­fense Act, cre­at­ing a hy­brid anti-LGBT bill met with im­me­di­ate back­lash lo­cally and across the na­tion.

Here are the play­ers that stepped up over the fol­low­ing 41 days to kill the bill.

LGBT and Pro­gres­sive Groups and Ac­tivists

Statewide LGBT ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion Ge­or­gia Equal­ity was front and cen­ter on fight­ing the bill, help­ing or­ga­nize press con­fer­ences and ral­lies and speak­ing at var­i­ous com­mit­tee and sub­com­mit­tee hear­ings on the bill. But a num­ber of or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out the state took part in the fight along­side Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, most un­der the um­brella of LGBT rights coali­tion Ge­or­gia Unites Against Dis­crim­i­na­tion.

De­cem­ber 23, 2016

A num­ber of lo­cal and na­tional LGBT groups signed onto a let­ter to Gov. Nathan Deal and lead­er­ship in the state Leg­is­la­ture urg­ing them not to pass HB 757. The let­ter was signed by Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, Ge­or­gia Unites Against Dis­crim­i­na­tion, Hu­man Rights Cam­paign, Lambda Le­gal, Equal­ity Fed­er­a­tion, Amer­i­can Unity Fund, Free­dom For All Amer­i­cans, Na­tional Cen­ter for Les­bian Rights, Na­tional Cen­ter for Trans­gen­der Equal­ity and Na­tional LGBTQ Task Force.

Sev­eral groups helped de­liver 75,000 anti-HB 757 let­ters and emails to the gover­nor’s of­fice on March 2.

Other groups that joined in the fight in­cluded Bet­ter Ge­or­gia, Anti-Defama­tion League, ACLU, Ge­or­gia Repub­li­cans for the Fu­ture, GLAAD and the NAACP. And gay con­sti­tu­tional scholar An­thony Michael Kreis was a fre­quent pres­ence in com­mit­tee and sub­com­mit­tee hear­ings speak­ing out against the bill.

Faith Lead­ers and Groups

Hun­dred of of faith lead­ers and faith groups spoke out in op­po­si­tion to HB 757 through­out the ses­sion, dis­rupt­ing any no­tions that the bill’s back­ers hoped peo­ple would have that all peo­ple of faith sup­port the leg­is­la­tion.

Sev­eral faith lead­ers, in­clud­ing Rev. Wil­liam Flip­pin of Emanuel Lutheran Church, Rabbi Joshua Heller of Con­gre­ga­tion B’nai To­rah, Rev. Josh Noblitt of Saint Mark United Methodist Church and Pas­tor Molly McGin­nis of Cen­tral Pres­by­te­rian Church held a press con­fer­ence in the Cen­tral Pres­by­te­rian court­yard on March 8 call­ing on Gov. Deal to veto the bill, with Heller call­ing the bill a “dis­as­ter” in its cur­rent form and adding, “It makes our faith into a blud­geon to beat up other peo­ple.” And SOJOURN was in the mid­dle of the con­ver­sa­tion through­out.

Both the Metro At­lanta Cham­ber of Com­merce and Ge­or­gia Cham­ber of Com­merce came out be­fore the ses­sion started voic­ing their sup­port for a “re­li­gious free­dom” bill only if it in­cluded anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion lan­guage pro­tect­ing the LGBT com­mu­nity. And the Metro At­lanta Cham­ber of Com­merce and the At­lanta Con­ven­tion and Vis­i­tors Bureau pub­lished sep­a­rate stud­ies show­ing an eco­nomic hit in the bil­lions if the Leg­is­la­ture adopted a bill with­out it – fore­shad­ow­ing the busi­ness back­lash to come once the hy­brid HB 757 bill was re­vealed.

An­other busi­ness group that ended up play­ing a huge role in the bill’s de­feat was Ge­or­gia Pros­pers, a coali­tion of over 300 busi­nesses across the coun­try formed in Jan­uary and headed up by for­mer state Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader Ronnie Chance, a Repub­li­can.

Sales­force CEO Marc Be­nioff was a ma­jor critic of the leg­is­la­tion, go­ing on CNBC to rail against the bill (he scrapped his com­pany’s

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