Macon-Bibb County has a message for state and federal legislators: hate is not welcome in the city of soul.
This weekend, hundreds are expected to gather for the first “March on Macon” to show support for comprehensive civil rights legislation in Georgia, and to hear March 11 be proclaimed as “Macon Unity Day.” The march will start at Coleman Hill and go to Rosa Parks Square, where an official rally will take place featuring voter registration, speakers from American Civil Liberties Union and Georgia Equality, plus a reading of the proclamation.
Organizers DeMarcus Beckham and Bentley Hudgins, who identifies as bisexual, said they were inspired by the Women’s March for Social Justice in Atlanta and put this event together in only a few weeks.
“We were sitting at a table and we have planned many other events pertaining to civil justice and working with the LGBT community and the African-American community. We’re sick and tired of having these panels and discussions. We want to have more action,” Beckham said.
The march has support from local government as well. At a recent county commission meeting, the vote was split four and four in support of the local proclamation, which would support having civil rights laws at the city level as well as support the March on Macon. At that same meeting, a commissioner spoke out against supporting the measure because of personal feelings about transgender individuals. But Mayor Robert Reichert stepped in and broke the tie — the only time he is able to vote in a commission meeting.
“He voted ‘yes’ because he feels we shouldn’t have laws on the books that promote any sort of discrimination. People shouldn’t have to hide who they are because they fear recriminations in the workplace or society,” said Chris Floore, who handles public affairs for Macon-Bibb County. “Our city here in Georgia, you look at the voting patterns, it’s a fairly Republican, conservative state. But these issues impact every community.”
Macon Unity Day has a threefold meaning: unity of time, unity of place and unity of action.
“What this sends to the state is, Macon-Bibb is an inclusive community that welcomes people of all ages and sexual orientations,” Floore said.
Hudgins and Beckham applauded the mayor taking leadership when the opportunity arose. Both said it was a good move for a city that wants to attract business and industry.
“This proclamation is also a promise to the city and surrounding areas that we’re here for people of diversity and we want to make change. This is our first step pushing forward that is beneficial to people, not only the LGBT community, but the African-American community, single parents and people of mental and physical disabilities,” Beckham said.
Beckham hopes the march will help Macon residents rally behind Senate Bill 119, the “Georgia Civil Rights Act” introduced last month in the state legislature. The bill didn’t cross over into the House, but it sparked a discussion across the Peach State about the need for comprehensive civil rights laws.
“Industry is seeing how people are being treated,” Beckham said. “People are looking at us. Georgia is a place of innovation and we should keep that mentality of Atlanta. We should be a state that’s too busy to hate. For God’s sake, we’re the state of so many Civil Rights leaders. It’s sad to see their hard work not really meaning much if we don’t have full, comprehensive civil rights.”
Hudgins said this movement is just one more indication that Georgia could become a swing state. The district almost turned blue in the last election, and Macon-Bibb did.
“In a swing state, people are paying attention to you. We’re given an opportunity to make a statement and enlighten ideals and protection of civil liberties. We have a chance to be an example for everywhere else,” he said.
He hopes the march and rally will “turn the tables” so legislators will want to represent their constituents, not just get their votes.
“Macon should be a pocket for people to understand they will be accepted no matter who they are,” Beckham said. “It’s a loving city. People have good hearts here, but our laws should acknowledge our diversity.”