Georgia’s Values in a 21st Century
We’re in a time of change, both nationally and here in Georgia. Our country has welcomed a new president. It’s a time fraught with uncertainty — but also opportunity as the state Legislature is convening and considering the priorities that will set the tone. Many are greeting the incoming administration of Donald Trump with skepticism and even fear – and understandably so. But if we look at the election results in Georgia this past year, we also see another story — a growing progressive movement.
I work with an exceptional group of youths who are passionate about equality and are willing to work hard to achieve their goals against discrimination throughout the Macon community and at Middle Georgia State University. There’s something palpable in the air right now — even though many are uncertain of what a Trump presidency portends, people are mobilized and ready to fight for their values.
In the 2017 Georgia General Assembly, discussions of new legislation has shifted away from how bills directly and indirectly single out those with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender backgrounds, to how bills can improve our state’s flourishing economy and brand. While the threat of lawmakers wasting time and energy on discriminatory bills that benefits no one has taken a backseat. There is room to talk about comprehensive civil rights for the state of Georgia.
Last week, the Georgia Unites against Discrimination coalition released a new report — “Liberty & Justice in Georgia: Protecting Our Heritage & Growing Our Competitive Future.” The report made the case for updating Georgia’s civil rights protections — which, by the way, are some of the weakest in the nation — and enacting commonsense nondiscrimination measures that apply to everyone, regardless of faith, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
We’ve spent the last couple of years talking about issues near and dear to people — their faith and their ability to go about daily life free from discrimination. Many are under the impression that “oneself” and “religion” are mutually exclusive, however this is not the case. You can have both without discriminating against others. We spent much of 2016 swept up in a toxic and divisive political debate. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t. We can and should pass protections that ensure someone who is LGBT can go to the store or get a job and not worry about whether someone is going to harass them or discriminate against them just because of who they are. Doing so doesn’t require us to tread on anyone’s religious beliefs. Those are already solidly protected in our state and federal laws, and no one is trying to change that.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet voters from all over our region in the run-up to Election Day last year. My experiences with them tell me first hand that this either or proposition, where we must choose faith over fairness or vice-versa, is an unnecessary conflict. Regardless of the election’s outcome, people in Macon and across Georgia are eager to build a future together. Now’s the time for our lawmakers in Atlanta to acknowledge that there’s a hunger in this state to go in a different direction and not just recycle the divisive and destructive arguments that we’ve heard, year after year. The first step in that process is finally having a serious and sustained conversation under the Gold Dome about nondiscrimination measures that protect all Georgians.
Wow didn’t they squirm, and did you see the shock in their eyes, as Donald Trump gave America’s political elite both barrels, the Clintons were blown away with embarrassment, and at last, perhaps, Britain’s politicians will start to listen about foreign aid. It is madness that we can’t look after our old, can’t afford cancer drugs, have ex soldiers sleeping in doorways, and a National Health Service collapsing under financial shortfalls. And what do we give our money away to? Our worse enemies, Trumo says Americans come first, so how about our prime minister standing up and saying Britain comes first?
In good hands
Today (Friday) a great friend of mine became president of the largest defense attorney organization in the state — the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Angie Coggins is one of the smartest, most dedicated attorneys I’ve ever known. She has a big heart, is a tremendous trial lawyer and has an incredible passion for defending the indigent. Even after 20-plus years in public defense, she’s as dedicated to the cause as the day she left law school. The number of people she’s helped in her career is too great to count. A person could not have a better lawyer or friend. GACDL is in great hands.