LGBT groups to Georgia GOP leadership: ‘Make the right decision’

A number of local and national LGBT groups have signed onto a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal and leadership in the state legislature calling on them not to pass an anti-gay hybrid “religious freedom” bill that has generated a massive backlash from the LGBT and business community.

The letter, sent to Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Senate President pro tem David Shafer and House Speaker David Ralston on Tuesday, was signed by Georgia Equality, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, Equality Federation, American Unity Fund, Freedom For All Americans, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality and National LGBTQ Task Force.

House Bill 757 is currently called the “Pastor Protection Act” but it took on a completely different look after the anti-gay language of state Sen. Greg Kirk’s (R-Americus) First Amendment Defense Act was inserted into it, opening up the door to discrimination against a number of groups.

As drafted, the bill invites individuals, faith-based organizations and even for-profit entities to deny services to anyone who they feel conflicts with their view of marriage. The scope of this extraordinary bill means legally married same-sex couples and their families, single mothers and their children, victims of domestic violence, and so many other hardworking Georgians could be denied critical – sometimes life-saving – services.

The groups also note that Kirk conceded on the Senate floor during last Friday’s debate that the Ku Klux Klan would be covered under the bill since they could be a considered a faith-based group. The bulk of the letter however is devoted to the business community’s reaction to the bill and warnings about what could happen if it passes.

As leaders in Georgia, you can advance this discriminatory bill – and in the process, you will damage your state’s economy and tarnish your brand to an extent that will undoubtedly bring Georgia’s recent business growth to a screeching halt. You will send a clear message to the rest of the nation that not all people are welcomed or treated equally in Georgia. Or, you could do the right thing. You could reject this divisive and discriminatory bill, showing real leadership and taking a bold step that aligns with the values of Georgia voters and business owners. We hope you make the right decision at this important juncture.”

Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) outlined a path for HB 757 on Monday's "Lawmakers." (Screenshot)
Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) outlined a path for HB 757 on Monday’s “Lawmakers.” (Screenshot)

It’s just the latest in a long line of negative reactions to the bill. Brian Tolleson, the openly gay CEO of Atlanta entertainment firm BARK BARK who had a hand in the creation of the LGBT Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, wrote an editorial in the Saporta Report. He noted that he honors anyone’s right to disagree with him, “But I don’t know how I will explain to my niece and nephews why I’m being denied service in our favorite restaurant, or turned away from a local store or how I tell one of our New York clients why a certain Atlanta hotel doesn’t welcome them. That’s the difference here.”

Plus there’s Georgia Prospers, the coalition of over 300 companies who have signed on against the legislation.

“We are standing up for the principles of inclusion and fair treatment for every Georgia citizen and every visitor to Georgia,” Joe Folz, vice president of Porsche Cars North America said Monday. “Legislation that promotes – or even appears to allow – discrimination against certain classes of people hurts Georgia’s hard-earned reputation.”

And queer Savannah writer Alexander Cheves penned an editorial in The Advocate Tuesday morning talking about the discriminatory nature of the bill and how he moved away from, then recently returned to Georgia.

But I can always leave again. I would like to kindly remind Georgia lawmakers that the LGBT citizens of this state who will be legally discriminated against with the passage of this bill are business owners and industry leaders. If Indiana is any precedent, Georgia industry will suffer and businesses will leave. We have stuck it out here and given this state the opportunity to progress alongside the rest of the United States, and now you are punishing us for it. You are showing your true colors to the country, Georgia, and they are ugly.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) appeared on GPB’s “Lawmakers” Monday night and laid out what happens from here with HB 757 now that the amended version is back in the House. There’s a number of options, but Willard said he assumes the House will disagree with the Senate’s changes, which would send the bill back to the Senate, likely leading to the creation of a conference committee made up of three Senators and three House members who will then take up the bill.

The AJC’s Jim Galloway, also appearing on the program, said he assumed the House would delay any consideration of HB 757 until after March 1’s presidential primary to “let it calm down a bit.”

“Good guess,” said Willard, chairman of the influential House Judiciary Committee.

And when asked about state Sen. Josh McKoon’s (R-Columbus) SB 129 (memba that one?), Willard said that if they take it up at all it won’t be until after Crossover Day on Feb. 29.

“It was amended in committee, it is now a closed issue as far as that amendment, it can’t be taken off,” he said. “So at this point, if the bill does go forward, it goes forward with the anti-discrimination amendment.”