Georgia Equality praises new federal LGBTQ civil rights bill

Georgia’s most influential LGBTQ advocacy organization applauded the introduction of a new federal LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights bill, but cautioned that such protections are still urgently needed on the state level.

U.S. House Rep. Chris Stewart, a Republican from Utah, introduced the Fairness For All Act on Dec. 6. It would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, but exceptions would be made for religious colleges, universities, small business owners, adoption agencies and non-profits, according to the bill.

Several conservative religious groups support the bill, which proves that the fight for LGBTQ rights is succeeding, according to Jeff Graham (photo), executive director of Georgia Equality. 

“I think it’s significant that some very conservative faith-based organizations and denominations like the Church of Latter-day Saints have really stepped out and said that they do agree that LGBT folks should be protected under federal law against discrimination,” he told Project Q Atlanta.

Having a “solidly conservative” lawmaker like Stewart introduce the bill is also important, Graham added.

“I do think that could be a significant turning point in these debates that may eventually lead to bipartisan support for federal nondiscrimination legislation,” he said.

However, a coalition of national LGBTQ groups bashed the bill, calling it “deeply dangerous.” The coalition included the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, PFLAG National and the Transgender Law Center.

“The ‘Fairness for All Act’ is anything but fair, and it certainly does not serve all of us,” the group said in a joint statement. “It is an affront to existing civil rights protections that protect people on the basis of race, sex, and religion and creates new, substandard protections for LGBTQ people with massive loopholes and carve-outs, and upends critical federal programs that serve children in need.”

But Graham reiterated the significance of what the political and religious conservatives did.

“I don’t think we should be so quick to dismiss how important it was to see these [religious] organizations make that stand,” he said. “And what are the benefits of that in a state like Georgia that is so solidly conservative?”

“Anytime we see conservative faith-based organizations and Republicans that are willing to champion LGBT rights is something that we should pay attention to and see if there are lessons that we can bring here to the work in Georgia,” he added.

The national LGBTQ groups urged the passage of the Equality Act, which Graham called a “far superior piece of legislation.” That bill — which the U.S. House passed in May and which sits in the U.S. Senate — would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Georgia Equality will be doing a comparison between the two bills to see where the areas of agreement are between conservatives and LGBTQ organizations, according to Graham.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think either one of them will make it through the Senate and become law at this time,” he said.

A sweeping LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights bill was introduced in the Georgia legislature this year, but it had no Republican co-sponsors and failed to get any traction. The bill will return in the 2020 session, which starts in January.