The ex­clu­sion that never was

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“When we as a com­mu­nity are so used to play­ing de­fense all the time when it comes to our rights — see that anti-LGBTQ adop­tion bill we’ve been telling you about — it does need to be cel­e­brated when we get a vic­tory on of­fense.”

This was about to be a very dif­fer­ent ed­i­to­rial un­til a late Tues­day af­ter­noon call, but we’ll hold off on that for now.

So, I was cov­er­ing a House com­mit­tee meet­ing last week as hate crimes leg­is­la­tion was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion. The sub­sti­tute lan­guage to Se­nate Bill 373 was in­tro­duced by Com­mit­tee Chair­man Wen­dell Wil­lard (R-Sandy Springs), which meant it was al­most guar­an­teed to pass and go on to the full House for a vote, get­ting Ge­or­gia one step closer to leav­ing be­hind that em­bar­rass­ing statis­tic of be­ing one of only five states with­out such a law on the books.

But when re­view­ing the fac­tors that would be cov­ered un­der the law — crimes com­mit­ted against some­one be­cause of their ac­tual or per­ceived re­li­gion, race, na­tional ori­gin, home­less sta­tus, gen­der or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion — one vi­tal fac­tor was left out: gen­der iden­tity. There was brief dis­cus­sion about it but the com­mit­tee voted against adding it, and the bill passed, ap­par­ently leav­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple — you know, the ones whose lives keep get­ting taken vi­o­lently and who would seem to ben­e­fit the most from such leg­is­la­tion — out in the cold.

This al­ways seems to hap­pen when try­ing to pass pro-LGBTQ leg­is­la­tion over the years. Law­mak­ers will fi­nally go far enough to pro­tect peo­ple when it has to do with sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, but they aren’t there yet when it comes to gen­der iden­tity.

It hap­pened in 2007, when then-Hu­man Rights Cam­paign Pres­i­dent Joe Sol­monese promised that the trans com­mu­nity would be in­cluded in the Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act. But they couldn’t get the votes, gen­der iden­tity got left out and HRC Pres­i­dent Chad Grif­fin (Sol­monese’s suc­ces­sor) later apol­o­gized to the trans com­mu­nity for it at the 2014 South­ern Com­fort con­fer­ence.

Flash for­ward to 2018 and the same thing was hap­pen­ing again. Or was it?

It was Ge­or­gia Equal­ity Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Jeff Gra­ham on the other end of the line on that phone call, and it turns out his team had been talk­ing to le­gal ex­perts about the mat­ter ever since that com­mit­tee meet­ing.

“Ev­ery­one is in agree­ment that the ad­di­tion of ‘per­ceived gen­der’ in the hate crime bill will cover trans­gen­der and gen­der non­con­form­ing folks,” he said.

Now let’s be clear here. Just be­cause le­gal ex­perts say there’s a strong ar­gu­ment to be made that trans peo­ple are cov­ered un­der this doesn’t mean that a trans­pho­bic judge hear­ing a case about it will agree. And the num­ber of trans­pho­bic judges is grow­ing thanks to Pres­i­dent Trump.

But this news does stand out be­cause it hints that we’re clear­ing away the brush on the way to a place where the words “gen­der iden­tity” don’t need to be ex­plic­itly stated for the trans com­mu­nity to have the same rights as ev­ery­one else — we would all be un­der the same um­brella of “gen­der.”

When we as a com­mu­nity are so used to play­ing de­fense all the time when it comes to our rights — see that anti-LGBTQ adop­tion bill we’ve been telling you about — it does need to be cel­e­brated when we get a vic­tory on of­fense.

“It is some­thing I hope folks will take pride in,” Gra­ham told me. “That is a gauge of how far the LGBT com­mu­nity has come here in Ge­or­gia. That’s every­body be­ing in con­tact with leg­is­la­tors, meet­ing with folks. I hope the com­mu­nity very broadly has a sense that this is the be­gin­ning of more good things to come here in Ge­or­gia.”

The bill isn’t law yet, and there’s no guar­an­tee that it will be. But it was nice to dial back down the anger and frus­tra­tion for just a minute to imag­ine the good to come.

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