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Passing RFRA will harm Georgia’s reputation and open the doors to discrimination Jonelle Shields McKenzie ~ Sandy Springs, GA

JonelleAKAjonShieldsJonelle grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, but after 14 years in the Peach State, she now calls Georgia her home.

Today, she lives with her wife McKenzie right outside Atlanta in Sandy Springs and works in the healthcare administrator industry.

Jonelle is joining a growing chorus of voices who oppose the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—a harmful bill under consideration in the Georgia General Assembly that would allow individuals and businesses to use their religious beliefs to harm others. Like a growing number of Georgians, she fears that this bill will open the door for discrimination against real Georgians, including her own family.

“It feels silly to frame something as religious freedom and then to seek to limit the actions of others. It’s a slap in the face of faith and freedom to frame it that way.”

She adds, “I’m a woman of the South, and so I have to take the good with the bad. As a brown woman of the South, you know I definitely take it with the good and the bad. But I also see the potential. And I also think it’s a platform for some; a reason to say no, a reason to push back and a reason to limit someone’s options, dreams and desires.”

More so, Jonelle argues that pushing this mean-spirited legislation is a waste of time when our state legislators could be focusing on much more important issues currently facing Georgians, for instance, homelessness, community space, green space, important human needs such as these.

JonelleAKAjonShields2“I think some lawmakers are just wasting time on legislation like this when we could be doing other things. And if something like this can be defeated, perhaps, hopefully it will send a message that the South is not interested in this type of nonsense.”

If this legislation passes into law, the harmful repercussions could hit close to home—as it could allow individuals and businesses to ignore laws protecting gay and transgender people from discrimination, like Atlanta’s non-discrimination ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. And while Jonelle acknowledges that her family is grateful because she and her wife both work for companies with clear policies banning discrimination against LGBT employees, she knows that some of her friends are not so lucky.

“I know many people who do feel unsafe, who do feel threatened, who do have an actual threat of losing a job or losing their home—and for them I feel affected. But personally, I’m thankful that we are not directly affected by this gap in the system.”

But it shouldn’t come down to being thankful when we’re talking about basic, fundamental rights—and protection from discrimination and harm—that all Americans should be afforded.

“The ideal of American values is to be a welcoming landing pad for all kinds of people; independence, the freedom to try, opportunity for a second chance, reinvent yourself, to be successful. This bill would be anti-that… it would give a small portion the wherewithal to manage and discriminate.”

For Jonelle, it all comes down to one basic principle: Hardworking Georgians should be able to make a living and provide for their families. Workers should be judged on their ability to do their job—not based on who they are or who they love.

“You’re either qualified for the job or you’re not. You get to work and you do the job or you don’t. You either have a work ethic that fits the environment that you’re in or you don’t… I don’t think that becomes null and void for someone who just happens to be queer or non gender conforming.”

Jonelle adds, “My sexual orientation is a part, but not the only part of the many components of me. If I was a slack worker, if I didn’t meet my targets, then that’s another thing. It should have nothing to do with… who I choose to marry.”

If the anti-gay forces conspiring to pass this bill get their way and pass this “license to discriminate” bill, Jonelle argues that Georgia would be harmed because many incredible LGBT people would have to consider leaving the state they call home or not consider coming at all.

“We’d loose a great many intelligent and capable people who would not feel comfortable living in a state that passed such legislation; technical people, educators, families with same sex partners with children. This state can’t afford to lose anyone who is focused on trying to make Georgia better.”

“I would say, as a long term resident here who has given a lot to this city and someone who advocates on behalf of Atlanta, I feel it’s not worth the time. We could be doing so much more about habitual homelessness, children who do not eat regularly, our elders, making Georgia a whole sustainable state. But instead we have a section of this state who are keeping the mire going. It doesn’t look good nationally, or internationally. Is this really the image Georgia wants to portray?”

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We were so grateful to be able to profile Rachel last year. Her story is inspiring and it's sad to see her treated unfairly. Thank you Rachel for standing up for yourself!

About 3 months ago

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