The national fallout over Georgia's anti-gay “religious freedom” bill is growing as leaders with Virgin, Dell, Unilever and Microsoft all spoke out against it while organizers of a popular Atlanta-based sci-fi festival also expressed concern.
That came after an announcement on Friday from the Southern Sociological Society that it would move its conference – which draws 1,200 people to Atlanta every three years – from the state if the “religious freedom” legislation becomes law. That will cost the city the group's $650,000 investment, according to the AJC.
“This bill authorizes discrimination against sexual minorities and as such we find the bill morally objectionable and socially destructive,” [President Barbara] Risman said. “Discrimination is in direct conflict with the principles of our organization and will prevent us from doing business in the State of Georgia.”
The growing flap is over House Bill 757, which started as the largely innocuous Pastor Protection Act from Rep. Kevin Tanner. But it turned into a sweeping anti-gay measure after it was merged with all that is bad from Sen. Greg Kirk's First Amendment Defense Act. The hybrid measure easily passed the Senate on Feb. 19 and awaits action by the House.
Since the Senate vote, the bill has fueled a national backlash that's included hints that the state's lucrative film industry might pack up and move, along with condemnations from Atlanta-based corporations including InterContinental Hotels Group, Porsche and HJ Russell. Late last week, the business burn continued as Salesforce CEO Mike Benioff said his company would consider divesting its Atlanta holdings while an Atlanta Hawks co-owner, the Georgia NAACP and the publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle also criticized the legislation.
Benioff fanned the flames of a Twitter exchange with “religious freedom” champion Sen. Josh McKoon on Friday, asking his Twitter followers if he should move the company's holdings out of Georgia if the legislation passes. Some 80 percent of the 6,354 votes cast were in favor of the move.
— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) February 26, 2016
Benioff's move prompted support from Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Virgin CEO Richard Branson, Dell CEO Michael Dell and Microsoft President Brad Smith, according to the AJC.
— Paul Polman (@PaulPolman) February 27, 2016
Georgia must stop discrimination in the name of religious freedom https://t.co/E9R9ueejJr
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) February 27, 2016
— Michael Dell (@MichaelDell) February 27, 2016
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) February 28, 2016
The fallout also continues locally. Organizers of Dragon Con, the popular sci-fi festival held in downtown Atlanta each Labor Day Weekend, called on lawmakers to “do the right thing for all Georgians” in a Facebook post.
Dragon Con is proud of its long history of accepting all fans, no matter who they are today or who they want to be during the convention. Which is why we are closely monitoring the various “religious rights” bills currently under consideration by the Georgia House of Representatives. As we did in 2015, when a similar bill was considered, Dragon Con’s leadership is working closely with the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association, which are actively lobbying against these discriminatory bills, to make our opinion known to Georgia legislators.
Our position has not changed: Legislation that hurts one of us, hurts all of us.
Unlike some conventions that have their headquarters outside the cities where they operate, Atlanta is the only home Dragon Con has ever had. Our founders and our convention leaders all have deep family roots in the metropolitan area. Over the last 30 years, we have seen the city change considerably, almost always for the better. We have great faith that our state's leaders and legislators will, eventually, do the right thing for all Georgians.
Should one of these bills become law, we will seek written assurances from all of our business partners that they will not participate in any discriminatory behavior on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other point of identification. We have no intention now or in the future of supporting a business partner that discriminates.