Coalition unites to fight anti-LGBTQ bills in Georgia
Erica Meade / People's World

ATLANTA—Hundreds of LGBTQ activists and supporters rallied recently at the Georgia State Capitol to raise their voices against a handful of State Senate bills targeting LGBTQ youth, families, and educators.

Senate Bills (SBs) 180, 88, 365, 394, and 154 would each restrict the rights of LGBTQ youth and families in various ways. One would even make it illegal for librarians to lend out queer-related books and resources. On Feb. 27, a coalition that includes Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), and the Southern Poverty Law Center converged on the Capitol in opposition to the proposed measures.

If passed, SB 180 (also known as the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA) would prohibit the State of Georgia from interfering with individuals’ and businesses’ ability to discriminate against queer and trans people on religious grounds. Authored by State Sen. Ryan Setzler of Acworth, the bill could limit queer access to housing or essential medical services.

Coalition leaders also emphasized the importance of defeating SB 88, which many speakers referred to as the “Don’t say LGBT” bill. Although SB 88 has failed to make it out of committee due to a surprising lack of support from conservative lobbyists and political groups, it could surface again. It would require educators to report to a child’s parents when the child identifies as or shows support for the LGBTQ community in the classroom.

The remaining three bills, SB 154, 365, and 394, all relate to education censorship. Respectively, the impacts of these bills would criminalize loaning LGBTQ material to children, notify parents directly when children borrow queer literature, and equates all LGBTQ books to pornography.

Defeating this many bills calls for mobilizing a broad coalition of support. On the morning of Feb. 27, Atlantans did just that. Organizers from several Atlanta and Georgia-based LGBTQ organizations descended on Atlanta City Hall for a bright and early 8 AM start, promising a full day of activities for attendees.

A table of smiling faces greeted participants as they streamed past the security entrance. After signing in, participants moved to round tables that occupied the ground floor, some sitting with friends, others with strangers they’d just met in the struggle. After helping themselves to a classic Southern breakfast of eggs with biscuits and gravy, they settled in for the day ahead.

Erica Meade / People’s World

Bentley Hudgins, HRC’s Georgia State Director, took the mic to address attendees before splitting them into groups where they could learn about the bills and the impact each would have on the LGBTQ community.

From there, the crowd marched onwards to the Georgia State Capitol, just a few blocks away. Across the street from the shining golden dome, the crowd gathered to rally before heading into the legislative building. Speakers, choirs, and even a drag performance by Chapel Beauty sparked energy in the crowd and stirred up the determination that would be needed to take action in the Senate halls.

Figures including Kim Jackson, the only openly LGBTQ State Senator, and SnapCo. Executive Director Toni Michelle Williams addressed the bubbling and cheering crowd on the green grass of Liberty Plaza. The message of the speakers was simple: “When we fight, we win.”

The crowd intended to do just that. Following the drag performance, the flag bearers and chanters moved into the legislature building. The main plan for the day was a process of lobbying referred to as “standing the ropes.” Outside the Senate floor, a stream of ropes lines the ivory white walls. Between sessions, legislators will come out to speak with constituents behind the ropes. It was here that those most impacted by the bills would make their case to the Senators as to why the legislation on the floor should not pass.

One of the legislators who briefly came out to speak with lobbyists was Jason Esteves, State Senator for Georgia District 6, which covers, among other areas, Grove Park, Vinings, and Buckhead. Esteves, who committed to voting against SB 180, also commented on SB 88, claiming it “particularly puts a burden on teachers that [they] don’t deserve.” While SB 88 is not expected to pass this legislative session, there is no guarantee Republicans will not propose a similar bill in the future.

As legislators spoke out about the pressing anti-queer tide brewing on the Georgia Senate floor, activists from various organizations discussed among themselves the reasons they fight for LGBTQ rights, both inside and outside the golden dome. Toni Michelle Williams moved quickly between the event coordinators, making sure to stop with various youth activists to discuss the numerous obstacles the queer community faces. Williams’ organization, SnapCo. (Solutions Not Punishments Collaborative) stresses the need to find solutions to crime that don’t involve prisons and police. With bills on the floor that could criminalize actions by librarians, Williams was anything but silent in the Capitol.

According to Williams, one of the most important aspects of her work is “creating and building alternatives to safety that exist outside of policing.” Given the severity of bills on the Senate floor, Williams told everyone that now is the time to “organize people around those solutions and mobilize a movement” in order to ensure these harmful bills don’t pass.

With statues of Confederate generals peering down on the proudly flamboyant crowd, the legislative session started to wind down for the day. While the time to fight in the halls of the legislature was coming to a close, the time to start fighting in the streets was just beginning. Waving queer banners against a backdrop of Confederate flags, rally attendees from every walk of life marched out of the Capitol just as they had marched in that morning.

Despite the hatred on display in the right-wing Senate bills, the crowd held their heads high knowing they would be back. They intend to fight, and they intend to win.

An earlier version of this article was published by David magazine.

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Erica Meade
Erica Meade

Erica Meade is an organizer with the Angelo Herndon Club in Atlanta, Georgia. She got her start in political organizing through mutual aid in D.C., her hometown, before becoming involved with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.