Bill would protect Georgia’s gay state employees

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LGBT lawmakers and their allies struck back at anti-gay activists pushing “religious freedom” bills in the State Capitol with a proposal of their own: A bill to ban discrimination against gay and transgender state employees.

The measure, House Bill 323 or the Fair Employment Practices Act, was filed on Thursday with bipartisan support. State Rep. Karla Drenner (photo), the longest-serving lesbian of the Georgia House, introduced the measure with co-sponsors Reps. Stacey Abrams, Wendell Willard, Rusty Kidd, Mike Jacobs and Simone Bell. Bell, a lesbian, Drenner and Abrams are Democrats; Willard and Jacobs are Republicans; Kidd is an Independent. Some 77 lawmakers have co-sponsored Drenner's bill.

“Now is the time for the state of Georgia to send a clear message that we will not discriminate against any employee in regard to their sexual orientation and gender identity. Everyone deserves to be treated equally, and we should value our diversity,” Drenner says in a prepared statement. “This bill will help us attract and retain the best and the brightest employees, not only from Georgia and across the United States, but from across the world.”

The bill, similar to measures that failed in past legislative sessions, comes with powerful backing in Willard, who chars the House Judiciary Committee.

“I believe all individuals should be judged by their abilities and not by their sexual orientation,” Willard said in a prepared statement. “FEPA will bring the state of Georgia’s employment policies in line with over 200 Georgia companies, such as Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Cox Enterprises, UPS, and SunTrust Banks.”

But Willard helped stall a similar measure he backed in 2012 when he chaired a contentious hearing and successfully banned LGBT media outlets from shooting photos and video of the event. That hearing was also staffed with several Capitol police officers and state troopers and came days after an earlier hearing in which anti-gay opponents of Drenner's bill spoke. The legislation received a friendly hearing in 2013 in which Drenner and state Rep. Keisha Waites discussed anti-gay bias they face.

On Thursday, Georgia Equality urged supporters to lobby their lawmakers to support the measure.

Gay and transgender state employees make Georgia a better place for all of us to live. No dedicated public servant should have to live in fear that they could be fired from the state they work hard to serve for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.

Georgians value fairness. That’s why a strong majority of Georgians already believe discrimination is wrong. We believe employees should be judged on talent, qualifications and job performance—not on the basis of who they are or who they love.

Drenner's legislation comes as LGBT activistsfight against “religious freedom” bills. The measures failed in 2014 but sponsors revived them and a deluge of support from anti-gay religious organizations.

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