Simon Williamson, columnist with Georgia Voice

Simon Williamson: Don’t expect big business to stick around for us

Anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper would more than likely have known that the marriage fight at the Supreme Court last year was one of many battles involved in our war to be treated like people.

We’ve fought a lot, through our magnificent organizations, asking for basic things like barring housing discrimination, and encoding into law things like not being fired from our jobs when our boss finds out what we like to do with our genitals. We might have won the marriage debate – I’m not as scornful as some about that particular victory as I had a dog in the fight; I’m an immigrant through marriage – but there is more to do that affects the practical lives of far more people than the ability to get married.

We saw this with the passage of HB 757, aka the “religious liberty” bill, which is some of the premier pushback in this state against the nationally increasing wave of gay rights. This has been beaten down through the actions of activists – I have a friend who has been on the phone for two weeks working against this bill – and prodding from corporate America.

Big business might be helping out the gay rights fight, and indeed forced Governor Deal’s hand into a veto. But don’t think our corporate allies in this fight are going to stick with us when it comes to other very real and daily problems faced by real people.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act – the one that says you can’t fire LGBT folks for, you know, being LGBT – remains too burdensome for business to get the House of Representatives to even introduce onto the floor. Since the act was first introduced, in 1994, it has failed to garner enough votes on more occasions than Mitt Romney.

Back when we lived in rural Newton County, we noted the absence of public opprobrium weapons available in big media markets like Atlanta. I am fairly certain that if the fire chief of Butts County distributed books about gay people, a local mayor wouldn’t come out guns blazing like Kasim Reed did against Kelvin Cochran. One of the greatest clubs we can wield against discrimination is a loud media, which isn’t available, or as agreeable, as those based in and around Midtown.

Georgia’s big businesses are making the right call, and the pressure they put on the governor is likely more impressive than what civil organizations were able to force on their own. The governor wants Georgia to lead in business (a very reasonable aim), and laws like HB 757 don’t allow him to boast about that.

But we must be wary of allowing corporate America to take up this fight for us, instead of our own organizations. While our interests converge on this religious liberty bill, they diverge on others. Combating the homophobia and transphobia of certain segments of society will require regulation, and appropriations, and maybe more training of the police force, and the judicial system, and healthcare (including the state-funding of some procedures) and new rules for schools (even the semi-private and private ones).

We aren’t going to get a mass of corporate allies for those. I very much appreciate that the market agrees that discrimination against LGBT people in the manner described in HB 757 is wrong; it is great to have our people on the right side of the market in this day and age. But don’t expect that to continue forever.