Georgia can’t afford to pass an anti-LGBT adoption bill. Literally.
Power players in the film industry, as Variety reported, have already begun putting pressure on Georgia to abandon SB 375, a “religious freedom” bill that would allow adoption agencies to turn away same-sex couples—as have large Atlanta-headquartered businesses like Delta and Coca-Cola. And as CNBC noted, the anti-LGBT bill, which cleared the state Senate last Friday, could also harm Atlanta’s chances to attract Amazon’s coveted secondary headquarters—or HQ2 for short.
In other words, Georgia state legislators are once again jeopardizing the economic growth of their state in order to hurt LGBT people. It’s a process that I’ve watched happen one too many times.
When I first moved to Atlanta for school in 2010, I mistakenly believed—as too many Americans who have never been to the South do—that I was heading into a cultural and economic backwater. I enjoyed eating Chick-fil-A—but that was just about the extent of my familiarity with Georgia; everything else was a bundle of stereotypes I had absorbed from watching the Stone Mountain-born Kenneth character on 30 Rock.
Little did I know how deeply I would fall in love with the South—nor did I realize that there was so much more to Georgia than waffle fries.
It quickly became clear that Georgia—among its many strengths—was on its way to becoming a major hub for film and television production. As the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported, that industry was sized at a staggering $9.5 billion in 2017. Hell, these days some filmmakers aren’t even pretending that their Atlanta-shot films are set somewhere else—Baby Driver being the most recent example of a film to embrace an explicitly Southern setting. I watched this growth happen, as Atlanta’s car-clogged highways became recognizable to the rest of the country as a Walking Dead poster.
Georgia’s economic growth and rising stature, however, have been concurrent with near-constant attacks on the state’s LGBT community. It’s almost like some state legislators care more about hurting already marginalized LGBT constituents than they do about the state’s continued success.
In 2015—right before I moved out of the state—the sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill SB 129 sailed through the Senate. It ultimately failed after it was estimated the legislation could effectively cost the state over $1 billion. I watched the protests under the Gold Dome of the Capitol Building but, in the end, I knew it wasn’t the impassioned pleas of my friends that stopped SB 129, but the state’s bottom line.
Then in 2016, socially conservative state legislators tried again with HB 757—another anti-LGBT “religious freedom” bill—only to be shot down by Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who vetoed the bill after it passed in March. Deal’s decision, as The Daily Beast and other outlets reported, came as Disney, the NFL, and other big businesses publicly disapproved of the impending law and, in some cases, threatened boycotts.
But anti-LGBT legislators, undeterred, went back to work on this new adoption bill, SB 375, which is euphemistically called the “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act.”
According to the bill’s text, SB 375 would “allow a child-placing agency” to decline certain services “based on the child-placing agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs”—and bar the state from “discriminating against or causing any adverse action against a child-placing agency based on its sincerely held religious beliefs.”
In plain English: Adoption and foster care agencies can turn prospective moms and dads away just because they believe being gay is bad—even though, as Columbia Law School’s “What We Know” project summarized, the research suggests that children of same-sex couples “fare no worse than other children.”
It is a heart-wrenching and cruel piece of legislation for a state that reportedly has 11,000 children in foster care. I was familiar with queer people in Georgia who were trying to adopt—and they faced more than enough obstacles without having a bill like this piled on top of them.
SB 375 has already been approved by the state Senate in a 35-19 vote, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, and Gov. Deal has yet to take a public stance on it. And so LGBT Georgians are finding themselves yet again in an unenviable position: watching the business community and the entertainment industry work harder to protect them than their own elected officials. The message from those sectors to the state legislature is clear: pass this law and we all lose money.
“Legislation that sanctions discrimination and limits options for children in need of a permanent home takes us further away from our goal of attracting investments that improve the lives of Georgia families,” Metro Atlanta Chamber chief policy officer Katie Kirkpatrick told Variety.
I remember from firsthand experience the uneasy feeling of knowing that soda, airplanes, and boom mics are what stand between you and an all-out assault on your rights.
Georgia is not North Carolina, where an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” was passed in 2016, causing widespread boycotts and angering the NCAA. It’s also not Mississippi, which allowed the most anti-LGBT law in the country to go into effect in October 2017 and still hasn’t repealed it. The Peach State, like too many of its neighbors, may not have many explicit LGBT protections—but at the very least, it has become a state that walks back from the edge of passing potentially disastrous anti-LGBT legislation. When you live in Atlanta as an LGBT person, there’s a nagging voice in your brain that wonders what life would be like if Delta and Coke and the film industry weren’t there. Would the state have passed a disastrous “religious freedom” bill like Indiana did in 2015? Perhaps.
The unfortunate reality is that business concerns—and not moral convictions—are often what it takes to kill LGBT bills in the South. And in Georgia, business seems to be good enough to keep the worst bills from becoming law.
That may be why the Motion Picture of Association of America is expecting history to repeat itself with SB 375. A spokesperson for the trade organization told Variety, “As we saw in the legislature last year, we are confident that Georgia will not enact any kind of legislation that would permit discrimination against any individual.”
In the end, the anti-LGBT adoption bill will probably perish—whether in the legislature, or on Deal’s desk—in the name of the Georgia economy.
But, in the meantime, LGBT people in Georgia have to watch their rights get yo-yoed in front of their eyes for the third time in as many years.
And it seems like only a matter of time before the state legislature’s constant attempts to pass something—anything—anti-LGBT would start to make big business just as skittish as actually passing something would.