Savannah legislator brings comprehensive, LGBT-inclusive civil rights bill to Senate

State Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) introduced Senate Bill 119 today, which if passed would serve as a statewide comprehensive civil rights bill that includes protections for LGBT people.

Though the bill’s full text was not immediately available, according to an image via Project Q Atlanta, it seeks to amend the Official Code of Georgia to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, the workplace and other instances.

Georgia is one of five states that do not have public accommodation laws for non-disabled individuals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Such laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion and background, and in a number of states, there are protections against discrimination based on age, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Georgia Equality is one of several groups working diligently to get a comprehensive civil rights bill passed.

“For folks who feel they have been discriminated against because of race, national origin, age or sex, which are already covered under federal law, they have to go to federal courts if they feel they have been discriminated against,” Executive Director Jeff Graham told the Georgia Voice late last month. “For many of these instances, it is better handled by local courts or local governments. This can be a way we can address discrimination broadly as a way to unify people.”

SB 119 was co-sponsored by a number of Democratic senators, including Gloria Butler, Gail Davenport, Vincent Fort, Emanuel Jones, Harold Jones, Elena Parent, Michael Rhett, Valencia Seay, Horacena Tate, Curt Thompson and Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson.

The state bill comes barely 24 hours after The Nation magazine revealed a document titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” which allegedly is a leaked draft of a Trump administration executive order. That draft order opens doors for “wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious or moral objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion and trans identity,” according to The Nation, and has been referred to by legal experts as a sweeping way to legalize discrimination.

In the wake of the new federal administration, as well as last year’s failed “religious freedom” House Bill 757, civil rights and faith leaders think now is the time to get a comprehensive civil rights bill in place.

“No one wants to spend another year debating hostile and discriminatory bills that will hurt our communities and tarnish our state. But we can and we should start talking about what we can do to make our communities and our state stronger,” Graham said in a statement. “Last year we saw how lawmakers could damage our state’s brand. This year, we believe we have a roadmap for lawmakers that will ensure they can instead strengthen our state’s image.”

Requests for comments from Sen. Jackson, Sen. Fort, the ACLU, Lambda Legal and Georgia Equality were not immediately returned.