Bathroom bills, bullying and conversion therapy ban
There’s an air of anticipation in downtown Atlanta this month as the 2017 General Assembly session gets underway.
“With the addition of [Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville)] and I this legislative session, we’re representing over 200,000 individuals not only in DeKalb and Fulton counties, but also Gwinnett County,” said Rep. Park Cannon (D-Atlanta). “Our reach is larger and our voice is larger.”
Park and Cannon join fellow LGBT legislators Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) and Rep. Keisha Waites (D-Atlanta) this year, another link in a chain of triumphs. 2016 had several legislative victories for the LGBT community, including the veto of House Bill 757 and the inclusion of HIV care funding in the appropriations for Grady Hospital, and the four legislators are excited and cautiously optimistic for what this year will bring. Not only do Park and Cannon represent Georgia’s LGBT communities, but they represent other minority groups as well. Park is the only Asian-American in the General Assembly, and Cannon is a woman of color.
Park hopes to represent the voices of minorities, while doing “anything and everything” to ensure bills serve the best interests of all Peach State citizens.
“I’m very hopeful in that the millennials in our generation, also those coming after us, have a different understanding and view. When all is said and done, regardless of our differences, we’re all people. We’re all neighbors. We’re all Georgians,” Park said.
‘A healthcare crisis’ in middle and south Georgia
“I think there are a lot of opportunities for us as Georgia Democrats to move our legislative agenda forward. There’s also an opportunity to better define ourselves in terms of the Democratic Party, who we are as a party
January 6, 2017
and what we stand for,” Park said. “The LGBT issues are an essential, critical part of our legislative agenda and party platform, being that we are the party of inclusiveness.”
He believes the General Assembly should place focus on what he calls “a healthcare crisis,” where 15 hospitals in middle and south Georgia are in a state of collapse. He hopes both parties will push for passage of the Bed Tax this session, which pools money from larger hospitals based on their number of indigent patients and brings matching federal funds.
“That pool of money then gets distributed down to some of these hospitals that have larger indigent populations, such as Grady,” he said.
Even Republican lawmakers expressed concern that some of those funds are going to consulting fees and not directly to the hospitals they’re designed to benefit, said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality.
“I do believe the Legislature is going to have to address this in some substantial way this year,” he said. “It may not be the conversations about Medicaid expansion that six months ago I had anticipated that they would be, but there will be conversations that will be happening and we will continue to make sure that whatever policy decisions get made, that we will do our best to ensure that it does help members of the LGBT community and people living with HIV.”
Graham said a major worry this year is direct attacks on the transgender community.
“Unlike lesbian, gay and bisexual folks, that most people have a coworker or a family member or a close friend … the experience of transgender people are still a bit more remote for the average Georgian,” he said. “While [North Carolina’s anti-LGBT] House Bill 2 has proven to be a cautionary tale that I do hope may have tempered some of the reactionary Jeff Graham