The leader of the ACLU of Georgia quit in a huff over transgender equality, complaining that the organization tried to silence her when she complained that the non-profit put the fight for trans rights ahead of other equality efforts.
Maya Dillard Smith (top photo), an attorney and California native, was hired to lead the state organization last year. But in May, she resigned over the ACLU's efforts to fight a controversial, anti-LGBT law in North Carolina and the group's support of recent federal guidelines concerning transgender student access to restrooms and school facilities. Her departure was first reported by the Atlanta Progressive News on Sunday.
In a statement she accused the ACLU of being “a special interest organization that promotes not all, but certain progressive rights. In that way, it is a special interest organization not unlike the conservative right, which creates a hierarchy of rights based on who is funding the organization’s lobbying activities.”
Dillard Smith argues that transgender rights have “intersectionality with other competing rights, particularly the implications for women’s rights.”
In her departure, Dillard Smith played up the transphobic complaints of religious conservatives who cite safety concerns in allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. Via APN:
“I have shared my personal experience of having taken my elementary school age daughters into a women’s restroom when shortly after three transgender young adults over six feet with deep voices entered,” she writes.
“My children were visibly frightened, concerned about their safety and left asking lots of questions for which I, like many parents, was ill-prepared to answer,” she said.
In an interview with WABE, Dillard Smith said that she and the ACLU “were principally and philosophically different in opinion” on transgender equality. And she alleges that when she asked questions to learn more about the issues, she was shouted down by the organization.
“How do we educate ourselves if we can't ask those questions and engage in dialogue,” she told WABE.
“It’s through communication that we develop empathy and understanding, and I think that our democracy requires us to allow for exchange of ideas, without people being labeled one thing or another,” Dillard Smith added.
Yet as she departed, Dillard Smith labeled transgender people as “perverts” and “predators” who threaten the safety of children in restrooms. She did that in a transphobic video, “A Safe Space,” for a website she apparently launched called Finding Middle Ground.
The website domain was created on May 16 and its registration is private. But several media organizations reported that Smith started the site.
“There's some boys who feel like they're girls on the inside and there's some boys who are just perverts,” a child says in the video as she erupts in laughter.
The video (watch below) follows that with a dose of transphobic fear mongering.
How do we KEEP OUR LITTLE GIRLS SAFE and PREVENT TRANSGENDER DISCRIMINATION?
How do we prevent PREDATORS from PREYING on kids in bathrooms?
Dillard Smith doubled down on her transphobic fear mongering in an interview with 11Alive, skipping a thoughtful discussion about transgender equality so she can misgender trans people and repeat her assertion that they present safety concerns.
“If our goal is to advance the rights of equality of transgender folk, how do we do that, and advance the rights of all people?” Dillard Smith said. “If we have all-gender restrooms which will accommodate trans folks, what do we do about women who are the survivors of rape for whom it would be traumatic to share a public restroom where you take down your underwear, and there’d be men in the bathroom.”
In North Carolina, House Bill 2 was signed into law on March 23 and ignited a national fight over transgender equality that quickly reached Georgia. The measure requires trans people to use restrooms according to their gender assigned at birth and bans cities from passing LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. The law came in response to Charlotte passing such an ordinance earlier this year. The federal government sued over the law; Gov. Pat McCrory sued right back. Lambda Legal and the ACLU of North Carolina filed a lawsuit over the law in late March.
Last week, Georgia joined 10 other states in suing to block new federal guidelines that call for transgender student to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. Republicans across the state, including School Superintendent Richard Woods, have denounced the guidelines with as much transphobic rhetoric as they can muster. And at least one lawmaker, state Sen. Josh McKoon, has threatened legislative action in response.
Dillard Smith equating transgender people to “perverts” and “predators” in her “A Safe Space” video parrots the incendiary language parents in Fannin County used last month during a school board meeting to denounce the federal guidelines.
Yet when Dillard Smith joined the ACLU of Georgia in 2015, she said she welcomed taking on “the toughest and most controversial civil rights” cases. Via the Saporta Report:
“One of the reasons I am going to love this job is because the ACLU takes in the toughest and most controversial civil rights and civil liberties issues,” explains the California native. “We litigate and we legislate, but there is also the strategic part about it which is the ability to have conversations and shape public opinion on all these various issues. So it is from that level of candor and transparency that I assume this role of leadership.”
But when the fight over transgender equality erupted – much of it ginned up by religious conservatives still smarting over the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage – Dillard Smith bailed. It's a quick pivot away from LGBT equality efforts for Dillard Smith, who last September stood with Lambda Legal attorney Beth Littrell, gay Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan and other LGBT and progressive leaders to accept a City Council resolution proclaiming LGBT Equality Day (second photo).
The ACLU of Georgia has declined repeated requests to comment about Dillard Smith's resignation. But on May 24, the national organization posted a job announcement for executive director on May 24, seeking a new chief executive to lead a Georgia organization with nearly 4,500 members, a staff of four and an annual budget of $620,000.
We are a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization that employs litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education and communications to protect and promote a broad range of constitutional issues, including individual rights and freedoms, freedom of speech, racial justice, rights to privacy, religious liberty, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights and other important freedoms.
[photos courtesy ACLU of Georgia]