When a hate crimes bill passed out of a Georgia House committee earlier this month, it was seen as a pivotal step toward finally getting Georgia to join the 45 other states that have similar legislation on the books. But a failed effort to include gender identity in Senate Bill 373 left many disappointed and recalling incidents from over the years where the transgender community has been left behind.

However, now legal experts are saying the addition of “actual or perceived” gender to the bill will in fact bring trans people into the fold.

“I’ve had several conversations with attorneys, and everyone is in agreement that the addition of perceived gender in the hate crime bill will cover transgender and gender non-conforming folks,” Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham told Georgia Voice. “I had thought this might be the situation, which is why I answered as such during last week’s hearing, but I wanted the legal eagles to look it over it to confirm.”

Simone Bell, Southern Regional Director for Lambda Legal, said they found several examples of legal precedent, one of which occurred here in Georgia — Vandy Beth Glenn’s notable court victory in 2011. Glenn was fired from her job at the Georgia General Assembly in 2007 after informing her supervisor that she was transgender. Lambda Legal filed and later won a federal lawsuit saying that the state violated the Equal Protection Clause against sex-based discrimination. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals later upheld the lower court ruling.

There are several other cases going back to 2000 where judges ruled that sex or gender discrimination protections include gender identity protections, the most recent of which just came to a conclusion earlier this month. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that a Michigan funeral home committed sex-based discrimination against Aimee Stephens when it fired her after she told her employer she would begin presenting as a woman because she is trans.

“With the legal landscape that has taken place, gender identity has been covered under gender as well as sexual orientation,” Bell told Georgia Voice. “Primarily with Vandy Beth’s case, that established a portion of law, so courts across the country have come out and said that it covers that. We’ve provided [Graham] with that information and given him some cases where judges have made that particular ruling, but it will be up to judges to make that ruling.”

While the legal precedent is there to cover the trans community under SB 373 as written, both Bell and Graham conceded that ideally they would like gender identity explicitly included, as it is in the federal statute. State Rep. David Dreyer (D-Atlanta) introduced an amendment to add gender identity to the bill during the March 8 House Judiciary Committee hearing, but it was voted down.

However, Graham is optimistic over the outcome of the hearing and what it means for LGBTQ rights in Georgia.

“I hope that folks will recognize how significant this is to actually have language that protects the LGBT community come out of this committee with solid bipartisan support,” Graham said. “It is something I hope folks will take pride in. 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, it really is something that I hope the community very broadly has a sense that this is the beginning of more good things to come here in Georgia.”

SB 373 still awaits a vote before the full House with one week left in this year’s session.

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