Commentary

Opinion: Equality Act enshrines fundamental American values into law

November 29, 2021 7:38 pm

A transgender woman holds a transgender pride flag at a rally for LGBTQ rights in New York. Yana Paskova/Getty Images

It’s a momentous month for LGBTQ equality in Georgia. Earlier in the month, Augusta lawmakers voted unanimously to enact a nondiscrimination ordinance that will bring needed protections to LGBTQ people and other historically marginalized communities. Augusta is now the 14th municipality to provide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. And just hours after the Augusta vote, state lawmakers held a historic hearing in the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee on the need for a statewide civil rights law.

LGBTQ equality is moving forward in communities across our state and enjoys broad support – including among Republicans. But hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ Georgians and their families who don’t live in one of the 14 municipalities with protections are still at great risk of discrimination. Unfortunately, that discrimination happens to our families every single day.

We have an opportunity to seize on this momentum and translate our state progress into federal action. There’s a historic LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill sitting in the U.S. Senate right now. The legislation already cleared the U.S. House with a bipartisan vote, and President Joe Biden has vowed to sign it into law.

The Equality Act is commonsense and seriously needed legislation that would explicitly and comprehensively protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. The measures in the bill, which would ensure LGBTQ people can go about their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in many other public spaces; are supported by 82 percent of Americans, including nearly 70 percent of Georgians. There aren’t that many other issues that enjoy such a strong supermajority of support these days, but Americans understand the importance of treating others the same way they’d want to be treated – fairly. Support for protecting LGBTQ people is strong even among conservatives – 67 percent of whom back nondiscrimination protections.

In Georgia, we need look no further than the recent hearing in a GOP-led Senate committee, or the victory in Augusta, to be reminded that many Georgians view nondiscrimination as a commonsense policy and reflection of our values. In fact, the historic hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee isn’t the first time we’ve seen Republican support for nondiscrimination.

Five years ago, Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed HB 757 – dangerous legislation that would have undermined local nondiscrimination ordinances across our state and allowed some taxpayer-funded organizations to discriminate against LGBTQ people.  When Deal – a lifelong devout Christian – vetoed the bill, he noted: “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives.”

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HB 757 was particularly dangerous because LGBTQ Georgians remain deeply vulnerable to discrimination – and the harsh reality is that it does still occur all over our state every day. Despite our victory in Augusta, and the protections on the books in 13 other cities and counties across Georgia, there’s no statewide law protecting LGBTQ people. That means that someone could be protected from discrimination in the city where they work, but then face it when they’re looking for a place to live in the suburbs. It’s a patchwork of protections that isn’t sustainable and that inflicts real harm.

The Equality Act would remedy that patchwork once and for all. The legislation reflects our most basic American values of fairness, dignity, and freedom.

So even though it made national headlines, Deal vetoing HB 757 and citing his faith all those years ago actually makes perfect sense. His rejection of that bill was a culmination of both his conservative and faith-based values about how we should treat one another.

There’s similar support among conservatives for nondiscrimination all the time. Just last month, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) announced her support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination, declaring: “Nobody should feel unsafe. Freedom means freedom for everybody.” Cheney was on a long journey that is no doubt familiar to many Georgians and Americans, who have grown in understanding about the importance of measures like the Equality Act as they have more conversations and see how discrimination can play out in the communities around them.

Nondiscrimination protections are fundamentally about protecting the dignity and humanity of people. We’ve seen people from all walks of life – from people of faith, to elected officials in Augusta, to state lawmakers in Atlanta, reject anti-LGBTQ discrimination and reiterate the need to treat people fairly and equally. The Equality Act personifies those American values, and it’s so close to becoming law. Lawmakers in Washington should take note of what’s happening here in Georgia and pass the Equality Act.

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Jeff Graham
Jeff Graham

Jeff Graham is Executive Director of Georgia Equality, the statewide organization working to advance fairness, safety, and opportunity for LGBTQ Georgians.

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