Georgia’s former top cop calls for LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes law

Former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens called on the legislature to join 46 other states across the nation and finally pass a hate crimes law. 

Olens (photo), a Republican who once fought LGBTQ equality, made the comments in an editorial for the AJC in July. He recalled staying silent when anti-Semitic comments were made to him as a candidate for attorney general.

I, like so many others, have been able to withstand heinous personal attacks, developing a thick skin in the process. But what happens when vitriol turns to violence? When a young gay man is murdered not for something he said or did, but rather for who he is — what should we do? When a passenger shoots at a car driven by an African American and then yells racial slurs, solely due to the color of his skin — what should we do?

Olens wrote that the punishment for bias-motivated violence “must be steep.”

Why? Because these crimes are different. They are intentional, targeted criminal acts based on personal characteristics, characteristics that a victim shares with thousands of other Georgians, whether white or black, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, gay or straight. They are intended to send a message — not only to the victim but to the community as a whole, and the message is this: You are not welcome. You are lesser than me and mine. You do not belong.

A Republican-sponsored, LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill passed in the Georgia House this year but stalled in the Senate. It will return for consideration in 2020. 

Olens called for an LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights law in Georgia in September, making him one of the first prominent Republicans in the state to do so.

During his time as attorney general, Olens argued that gay marriage is not a "fundamental right" and refused to relent as the U.S. Supreme Court slowly nicked away at gay marriage prohibitions in several states. 

He later joined Gov. Nathan Deal in blasting federal guidelines in place at the time concerning the fair and equal treatment of transgender students. Then he joined several states in suing the federal government over the guidelines.

Olens was appointed president of Kennesaw State University in 2016, which led to protests from the school’s LGBTQ students. He defended those positions by saying they weren’t his personal opinions, and that he was doing his job as top lawyer for the state.

Olens resigned from Kennesaw State University in 2016 and is now an attorney in the Atlanta office of global law firm Dentons.