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From Age 3 to 30: Coming Out as Transgender James Sheffield ~ Atlanta, Georgia
Bittersweet Victory at the End of 2017 Legislative Session March 31, 2017

The 2017 legislative session ended after the traditional midnight deadline, in the early morning hours of Friday, March 31st.

When the Senate finally gaveled out, LGBT advocates issued a sigh of relief: No anti-LGBT RFRA legislation will advance in 2017.

There were rumors circulating the Capitol late into the evening that there might be a last ditch effort to revive religious exemptions legislation that would permit people to discriminate simply by citing their “religious beliefs.”

RFRA legislation (SB 233) was introduced earlier in the 2017 legislative session to fierce backlash from advocates, and bipartisan lawmakers—including Governor Nathan Deal. It never won the majority votes in needed to advance through the Legislature.

Then, last week, there were sneak attempts to attach RFRA as an amendment to a good adoption bill (HB 159), which thereby stalled the legislation. After that, a third effort was made to advance anti-LGBT discrimination as an add-on to an unrelated bill (HB 257), which was immediately tabled by a 50 – 3 vote.

Despite the best efforts of a few strong proponents of so-called “religious freedom” bills to advance their anti-LGBT agenda, this year there was no appetite for legislation that would grant a license to discriminate in Georgia.

This is a tremendous victory for LGBT advocates, who have for four years battled legislative attempts to roll back the rights of gay and transgender Georgians, and cast them as second-class citizens.

Meanwhile, a record five pieces of legislation were introduced in effort to address the very real problem of LGBT discrimination in the state. Those bills did not receive a vote, and so they are eligible for consideration in 2018.

But there were casualties in the fight to block anti-LGBT legislation from passing in 2017.

After anti-LGBT “poison pill” amendments were added to a strong adoption bill (HB 159), LGBT advocates teamed up with child welfare experts in a concerted push to #SaveHB159 by removing the discriminatory sections and passing a clean bill.

This should have been a no brainer. Georgia’s adoption laws have not been updated since 1990. HB 159 was the product of decades of work by child welfare advocates to modernize and improve Georgia’s adoption and foster care system. The bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support. It was endorsed by both House Speaker David Ralston and Governor Nathan Deal.

But a handful of Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee held the bill hostage by tacking on anti-LGBT amendments. And even after thousands of Georgians, leading national child welfare organizations, and elected leaders called on the Senate to do what is right and advance a clean bill—committee members refused, and doubled down on their commitment to anti-LGBT discrimination.

As the Senate refused to act, the House of Representatives took the lead and tacked the good components of HB 159 onto another piece of legislation in efforts to give the much-needed adoption updates a second path to the Governor’s desk. But this new adoption bill still needed a Senate vote.

Late last night, the Senate had the opportunity to do what was right—to vote on the side of the 12,000+ children in Georgia’s adoption and foster care systems waiting for forever homes—and they failed.

Sine Die ended with no vote on the adoption bill update.

This is a travesty first and foremost for Georgia’s children. And a blow to the advocates who worked tirelessly to craft and advance this important legislation. We are thankful to everyone who spoke out in support of updating Georgia’s adoption laws. And to everyone who helped defend LGBT Georgians against discrimination—thank you, as always.

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Today we thank the Macon Commissioners who voted to advance #LGBT protections—& urge a YES vote to pass them on 5/2! bit.ly/2o6Yux3 pic.twitter.com/teZCZv1edy

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