An Atlanta gay man who sued the state after his requests for three separate gay-themed vanity license plates were denied settled his lawsuit on Wednesday.
James Cyrus Gilbert, who goes by Cyrus, filed a federal lawsuit in January against Robert G. Mikell, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Driver Services, after his requests for GAYPWR, GAYGUY and 4GAYLIB license plates were denied. He was told each of them were "unavailable," said his attorney, Cynthia Counts.
The settlement comes on the heels of the state issuing an emergency ruling in the way it approves vanity tags that allows Gilbert's out and proud license plate to be made available on July 9, she said. The lawsuit was filed after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did a story about the whimsical manner the state seemed to use to approve and disapprove vanity plates.
The complaint states Gilbert's reasons for applying for such tags were "to engage in political speech in favor of rights for homosexuals. He also would like to engage in social debate about the role and visibility of homosexuals in society."
Of the three initially asked for, Gilbert is going with GAYPWR — because after going through the lawsuit process he feels he's more than just a gay guy, Counts said.
"He feels he's a man with gay power and he's reserved that tag. I do think gay lib and gay guy are still available," she added.
The settlement with the state covers attorneys fees.
The decision to deny Gilbert the tags he requested was "arbitrary and capricious" — and violated his First Amendment rights, Counts said. Counts and her co-counsel, Gerry Weber, focus on First Amendment on constitutional rights.
"I think the state knew really quick it had a problem," Counts said.
"I was absolutely confident the statute was unconstitutional. There were no reasons for Cyrus' requests to be denied. This is the type of speech that is at the height of our First Amendment rights," Counts said.
The government has no right to censor someone's social or political messages or viewpoints, whether in a book, a newspaper or even on a license plate, she explained.
"Once you open up this forum you open up to more chances for censorship and discrimination," Counts said. "We're very happy with the decision. This is a good day for Georgia."
In an interview with GA Voice, Gilbert, who drives a Honda CRV, said he was happy with the settlement and the state's emergency ruling, knowing that nobody else will go through what he went through.
"I found out about the emergency ruling this morning. I mean, it's about the tag, but at the same time it's not about the tag," he said. "At the end of the day I want what's right and it wasn't right for them to say I was not allowed to get this tag."
Gilbert, a Georgia native who has lived in Atlanta 10 years and works as a hair dresser in a Virginia Highland salon, said he had no idea his request for a vanity plate would become national news.
"When I was first denied, it didn't really register. But when I thought about it I just thought it was so weird all three of them were already taken. That's when I contacted Cynthia," he said.
Gilbert said he's an out, proud gay man and wants people to know it. And he wants other LGBT people to have the right to put what they want on their license plates, too.
"I can't deal with people not liking other people," he said.