'We have so much to lose': Georgia LGBTQ advocates fight several bills moving through Capitol

LGBTQ advocates attend a rally at Liberty Plaza next door to the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Melissa Feito/WABE)

This story was updated at 11:14 a.m.

Georgia’s LGBTQ advocates are raising concerns over several bills advancing through the statehouse this session. 

They filled Liberty Plaza across from the state Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday for “Pride to the Capitol,” a rally and lobbying day organized by the Human Rights Campaign, Georgia Equality, the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, SPLC Action and other partner organizations.

Bentley Hudgins is the Georgia state director of the HRC. They said there’s been a historic number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced around the United States and in Georgia. 

“In Georgia, over 20 anti-LGBT bills were filed or introduced over this session,” said Hudgins, “We came to tell lawmakers queer Georgians are part of the community, we love them, and we want them to feel welcome in the state.” 

The day of action comes at a time when LGBTQ Georgians and allies are concerned about eroding rights. Addressing the crowd, Hudgins stressed the importance of the outcome of these bills. 

“We are in a moment when we have so much to lose. And that is why we have to show up. That is why we have to fight,” they said. 

Bentley Hudgins, the Georgia state director of the Human Rights Campaign, speaks during a rally at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (Melissa Feito/WABE)

Of the various bills the groups in attendance were concerned about, advocates focused on two in particular: Senate Bill 88 and Senate Bill 180

SB 88 would limit how gender and sexuality are discussed in the classroom, and direct school districts to create policies about when and how parents would get involved in these lessons. It would also prohibit changing school records to reflect a change in a child’s gender identity, and change how students talk to teachers about their gender identity. 

Opponents are concerned that, if passed, SB 88 wouldn’t let students be out at school without their parents being notified. 

That doesn’t sit right with Rhea Wunsch. She’s a member of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition and a student at Georgia State University. 

“Teachers should be safe spaces for us to go,” Wunsch said, “and this bill would take away that aspect of school. School should be a place where students feel safe to be themselves, and our representatives and senators are taking that away from students.” 

Wunsch says she’s concerned for students who don’t have a safe home situation being outed to their parents by the school. 

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Carden Summers, previously told WABE that parents and guardians have the right to be aware of and have a say in these kinds of conversations that happen at school.

SB 180, or the Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is meant to protect people’s religious rights from local and state governments. 

However, opponents of the bill are concerned it could give private businesses legal protections for discriminating against LGBTQ people. They also claim it could interfere with local laws that ban discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. 

Instead, Hudgins wants to see the state adopt a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance — one that includes “explicit protections” for the LGBTQ community. 

Both SB 88 and SB 180 have passed out of their respective committees. SB 180 is scheduled for a vote before the full Senate on Thursday. SB 88 has not been scheduled for a vote yet.

Wunsch says she and her peers are watching the outcome of these votes very carefully. 

“Young people are paying attention,” she said, “Young people are here in big numbers, just like we are going to show up to the polls in November in big numbers.” 

Wunsch wants Georgia lawmakers to know her generation is educated, tuned in and ready to vote. 

“We’re watching them, and we are holding them accountable.” 

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