Patrick Saunders, Editor of Georgia Voice

Patrick Saunders: The exclusion that never was

This was about to be a very different editorial until a late Tuesday afternoon call, but we’ll hold off on that for now.

So, I was covering a House committee meeting last week as hate crimes legislation was under consideration. The substitute language to Senate Bill 373 was introduced by Committee Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), which meant it was almost guaranteed to pass and go on to the full House for a vote, getting Georgia one step closer to leaving behind that embarrassing statistic of being one of only five states without such a law on the books.

But when reviewing the factors that would be covered under the law — crimes committed against someone because of their actual or perceived religion, race, national origin, homeless status, gender or sexual orientation — one vital factor was left out: gender identity. There was brief discussion about it but the committee voted against adding it, and the bill passed, apparently leaving transgender people — you know, the ones whose lives keep getting taken violently and who would seem to benefit the most from such legislation — out in the cold.

This always seems to happen when trying to pass pro-LGBTQ legislation over the years. Lawmakers will finally go far enough to protect people when it has to do with sexual orientation, but they aren’t there yet when it comes to gender identity.

It happened in 2007, when then-Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese promised that the trans community would be included in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. But they couldn’t get the votes, gender identity got left out and HRC President Chad Griffin (Solmonese’s successor) later apologized to the trans community for it at the 2014 Southern Comfort conference.

Flash forward to 2018 and the same thing was happening again. Or was it?

It was Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham on the other end of the line on that phone call, and it turns out his team had been talking to legal experts about the matter ever since that committee meeting.

“Everyone is in agreement that the addition of ‘perceived gender’ in the hate crime bill will cover transgender and gender non-conforming folks,” he said.

Now let’s be clear here. Just because legal experts say there’s a strong argument to be made that trans people are covered under this doesn’t mean that a transphobic judge hearing a case about it will agree. And the number of transphobic judges is growing thanks to President Trump.

But this news does stand out because it hints that we’re clearing away the brush on the way to a place where the words “gender identity” don’t need to be explicitly stated for the trans community to have the same rights as everyone else — we would all be under the same umbrella of “gender.”

When we as a community are so used to playing defense all the time when it comes to our rights — see that anti-LGBTQ adoption bill we’ve been telling you about — it does need to be celebrated when we get a victory on offense.

“It is something I hope folks will take pride in,” Graham told me. “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. I hope the community very broadly has a sense that this is the beginning of more good things to come here in Georgia.”

The bill isn’t law yet, and there’s no guarantee that it will be. But it was nice to dial back down the anger and frustration for just a minute to imagine the good to come.