The ele­phant un­der the Gold Dome

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

forces, again, go­ing into an elec­tion year, you can talk about an is­sue with­out ac­tu­ally hav­ing a goal to pass leg­is­la­tion, and still have the ef­fect of stig­ma­tiz­ing peo­ple.”

So far, the only pre-filed bill di­rectly af­fect­ing LGBT in­di­vid­u­als is House Bill 16. Waites said Georgia has plenty of leg­is­la­tion about bul­ly­ing, but none com­bat the is­sue. HB 16 puts mea­sures in place that ad­dress bul­ly­ing based on sex­ual iden­tity and gen­der, plus col­lect and as­sess bul­ly­ing sta­tis­tics.

“You want to track real progress, you need a mea­sur­ing sys­tem to mea­sure by,” Waites said. “You can’t just say, ‘this kid is bul­lied.’ You have to say ‘this child is African-Amer­i­can and is bul­lied on race; on gen­der; on he’s mor­bidly obese.’ We can di­rect sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing on those is­sues.”

The bill re­ceived a hear­ing in 2016. Waites has an­other bill up her sleeve for 2017, which re­lates to ban­ning con­ver­sion ther­apy in Georgia.

“It’s my be­lief, based on the find­ings, that con­ver­sion ther­apy does not work. It is my be­lief we have a right to pro­tect chil­dren from these types of prac­tices. It is my be­lief that they hide be­hind the guise of re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions,” she said. “I be­lieve [the bill] will re­ceive a hear­ing.”

Though Can­non and Park did not an­nounce any pro­posed bills for their first full ses­sion, Waites of­fered words of ad­vice for the two leg­is­la­tors: get bi­par­ti­san sup­port on ev­ery­thing, and care not about “who the quar­ter­back is” on a bill.

“You may not get it passed, but it’s not un­com­mon for them to take your lan­guage and add it to a bill,” she said. “My point is that you can start out a ses­sion hav­ing got­ten noth­ing done, but if some­one takes your bill and rolls it into an­other bill, you will be amazed at the things you get done even if you’re not the quar­ter­back.”

Though Park and Can­non ex­pressed ex­cite­ment for the up­com­ing ses­sion, Dren­ner ap­peared more cau­tious. “I think my ex­cite­ment is fre­quently dulled by the an­tic­i­pa­tion of the forth­com­ing neg­a­tiv­ity,” she said. “I’m thank­ful to be there, but it comes as a dou­ble-edged kind of thank­ful­ness.”

That’s due in part to the re­li­gious free­dom bills, or RFRA, in­tro­duced across the coun­try in re­cent years. Gov. Nathan Deal ve­toed HB 757 last ses­sion, an at­tempt made by con­ser­va­tive leg­is­la­tors to pass such a bill here.

Can­non be­lieves the push for re­li­gious free­dom bills stems from peo­ple be­ing com­mit­ted to their fam­i­lies, and she re­sponded in kind over the hol­i­day sea­son, thank­ing leg­is­la­tors who voted against HB 757 for al­low­ing the time with her fam­ily to not be soured.

“One of the is­sues I’m hear­ing about in the com­mu­nity is that peo­ple feel as though from the na­tional level to the state level, they won’t be lis­tened to any­more. That those over­reach­ing voices of hate will come into their homes and will tear up what they’ve cre­ated, which is a fam­ily of love,” Can­non said. “We all want to make sure that there’s some­one in our gov­ern- ment who is lis­ten­ing. I’ve been ex­cited to stay in touch with leg­is­la­tors, to re­mind them that lis­ten­ing is a part of our job.”

Park chal­lenged the faith and LGBT com­mu­ni­ties to come to­gether and dis­cuss not just the pol­i­tics of re­li­gious free­dom bills, but to un­der­stand how the cul­ture of ha­tred and fear came to be in the first place.

Can­non agreed, and said the con­ver­sa­tions also need to hap­pen with schools, health­care and other or­ga­ni­za­tions. She said the LGBT com­mu­ni­ties “are feel­ing sti­fled … al­most si­lenced” be­cause of the na­tional rhetoric and the pres­i­dent-elect’s plat­form, and ad­vised leg­is­la­tors to con­duct town hall ses­sions about LGBT rights.

“See what comes up,” she said. “If it’s more than just the con­tin­ued rhetoric about frus­tra­tion; about pas­tors hav­ing to marry other peo­ple; or if it’s re­ally about civil rights pro­tec­tions, I do feel as though if we con­tinue to lis­ten to peo­ple enough we will see that across the state of Georgia, there is no need for dis­crim­i­na­tion to be signed into law.”

Park be­lieves the ap­petite for anti-LGBT bills is di­min­ished, and said he hopes Georgia won’t see any in 2017, es­pe­cially given what hap­pened af­ter North Carolina passed House Bill 2.

“I think the im­pact of a bill like [a re­li­gious free­dom act] would be much greater than what we saw in North Carolina,” he said, ref­er­enc­ing Georgia’s bud­ding film and tele­vi­sion in­dus­try. “We saw these in­dus­tries would feel un­com­fort­able and un­wel­come in a state that passed such leg­is­la­tion. Not only would we be wast­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars that we spent try­ing to foster this in­dus­try, any po­ten­tial busi­ness that we would cre­ate in Georgia, whether that’s jobs or bring­ing ad­di­tional busi­ness into the state, that would be di­min­ished as well.”

‘The fight’s not over’

All four of Georgia’s LGBT del­e­ga­tion said if the Pas­tor Pro­tec­tion Act — the first form of HB 757 — was in­tro­duced again, as orig­i­nally writ­ten, it would be sup­ported.

“It was a com­pro­mise bill that both par­ties had to come to agree to. It would not have re­sulted in harm to the LGBT com­mu­nity, and it ad­dressed some of the fears that came from the faith com­mu­nity and as­sur­ing them that they would not be re­quired to per­form same-sex mar­riage,” Park said.

Gra­ham said he was moved in hear­ings when lis­ten­ing to pas­tors worry aloud that they would be locked up for not want­ing to marry a same-sex cou­ple.

“I don’t want peo­ple to be afraid of me. Peo­ple are stir­ring up fear where it’s not founded. I don’t want those peo­ple to feel like they’re go­ing to be dis­crim­i­nated against any more than I want the LGBT com­mu­nity to be dis­crim­i­nated against,” he said.

Gra­ham ex­pressed in­ter­est in help­ing leg­is­la­tors de­velop a com­pre­hen­sive civil rights bill for Georgia that would bal­ance pro­tec­tion for all par­ties.

Waites said it was im­por­tant to her to al­low peo­ple to “be­lieve their be­liefs.”

“I be­lieve there was noth­ing in the ex­ist­ing Pas­tor Pro­tec­tion Act, that we all sup­ported, that would be mean-spir­ited to­ward LGBT peo­ple in its ex­ist­ing lan­guage. How­ever, it changed. Once it changed and other lan­guage was added to the bill, that’s when I made a de­ci­sion, as did oth­ers, to not sup­port 757,” she said.

Dren­ner said de­spite the 2016 veto, there’s still con­cern from all lev­els of gov­ern­ment that dis­crim­i­na­tory leg­is­la­tion could be in­tro­duced. She had a di­rect mes­sage to the LGBT com­mu­nity, re­mind­ing them this is just the begin­ning.

“The fight’s not over,” Dren­ner said. “There is this third wave of bills that are be­ing in­tro­duced across the coun­try and they are the back­lash against same-sex mar­riage. You can’t dis­en­gage now. Be­cause if you don’t show up, you may wake up and we may be worse than North Carolina. You have to con­tinue to be vig­i­lant about what’s go­ing on, know­ing that our war for equal­ity con­tin­ues.” Georgia Voice Ed­i­tor Pa­trick Saun­ders con­trib­uted to this story.

Jan­uary 6, 2017

Karla Dren­ner

Keisha Waites

Park Can­non

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