Around 200 people gathered across the street from the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday afternoon for the Rally To Stop SB 375, the anti-LGBTQ adoption bill that passed in the Senate last week and has quickly caused a national backlash reminiscent of the reaction to HB 757, the anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions bill that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed in 2016.

SB 375 would allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs. The bill would also prohibit the Georgia Department of Human Services from taking “adverse action” against such agencies.

Thursday’s rally at Central Presbyterian Church came as the House now considers the bill. The business community — the film and television industry in particular — has come out strongly against it, but Gov. Deal has yet to issue a public statement on it.

Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham referenced HB 159, the adoption overhaul that failed to pass last year after an anti-LGBTQ provision was added in. That provision was stripped from the bill early this session, passed in both chambers and awaits Gov. Deal’s signature.

“But, unfortunately some members of the Senate felt that wasn’t enough, and they have now put in language that is a direct attack on the LGBT community, opening up the system to allow legally sanctioned discrimination against us as individuals and families,” Graham said.

A slew of speakers — many with decades of public speaking experience — addressed the crowd throughout the rally, including “The Walking Dead” castmember Daniel Newman and representatives from Lambda Legal, the ACLU, the Anti-Defamation League, the Human Rights Campaign and the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. But it was the words of a transgender youth named Tylen that drew the biggest response.

Tylen speaks at the Rally to Stop SB 375

Transgender youth Tylen speaks at the Rally to Stop SB 375. (Photos by Patrick Saunders)

“When I met my parents, who are a same-sex couple, they are the best fathers that I could ever ask for. Taking away the fact that they can be parents to me and my foster brother, that means you’re taking away the fact that they have the ability to connect with me in a way that the people in group homes couldn’t. My other foster parents couldn’t even understand me,” the youth — who claimed they had been denied placement 30 times — said at the rally.

“I couldn’t imagine not having my family. I couldn’t imagine not having the people that, whenever I need something, whenever I’m going through a tough time, they understand because they’ve been through what I’ve been through. They know the struggle. They know the ins and the outs,” Tylen said, becoming emotional. “They taught me how to cope with things, how to handle my problems, how to use self control — things that the government I don’t think understands is really going on. They think, ‘Oh, well just because I don’t think it’s right or I don’t agree with it, it’s not really going to hurt anybody.’ But, you’re canceling out a whole demographic of people that you don’t understand. You’re telling them that their feelings don’t matter, what I’m going through doesn’t matter. You’re telling me that … me having parents that love me does not matter because of what they do or what they believe in or what you believe in, and to me that’s not an answer.”

The youth received a standing ovation as they returned to their seat.

While it’s been all Republicans behind SB 375, and the bill passed along party lines in the Senate, there are opponents of the bill on that side of the aisle. Marisa Pruitt DeRossett, a conservative LGBTQ mother of three, noted that her wife wants to adopt her girls.

“SB 375 puts the very creation of our family at risk by allowing people’s personal views, of their religious views, as licenses to discriminate against me and my family,” DeRossett said. “We cannot call ourselves true conservatives and champions of the family if we would willfully deny my children or the 14,000 foster children in the system of Georgia the opportunity to be a part of a loving family.”

The House took no action on the bill Thursday and reconvenes Monday morning for Day 30 of the 40-day session.

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