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|Guest Editorial: Why the LGBT community must engage in the reapportionment process|
|by Jeff Graham|
|August 05, 2011 00:00|
Beginning on Aug. 15, the Georgia General Assembly will hold a special session to redraw congressional and legislative district boundaries. This process, known as reapportionment, happens after each national census.
Because Georgia is one of several southern states that must adhere to the Voting Rights Act, there is always a greater level of scrutiny over our process and the final rulings on district boundaries are usually made by a panel of judges.
This year district boundaries for all legislative and congressional seats will be redrawn. While there will be no change in the number of state legislative seats (236), due to population growth, Georgia will gain one additional Congressional seat.
While this process may seem unrelated to LGBT policy goals, it’s important to realize that these seats are drawn in such a way that they will have a tremendous influence on which party — and in some cases, which people — will have political power for the next decade.
It’s also important for members of the LGBT community to not only understand the process, but also to make a concerted effort to monitor and weigh in on various proposals and maps as the session unfolds.
We must work with other communities of interest to remind members of the legislature that Georgia’s strength lies in its diversity. As such, it is imperative that this process includes input from multiple ethnic, racial, social and religious groups and minorities.
These are all important communities of interest whose views and opinions must be taken into account if we are to achieve the commission’s stated goal of fairness.
Information that has just been released from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Williams Institute tells us that there are some 340,000 people in Georgia who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Furthermore, we know that there are approximately 30,000 same-sex households throughout the state of Georgia. Our community is not limited to one area of the state or to only the urban centers. We are truly representative of the state as a whole.
We are men and women who pay our taxes; support local businesses and struggle to get by just like anyone else. We raise children and take care of parents. We represent all races, religions and economic groups. We are part of the fabric of society, whether you acknowledge us or not.
Our interest in this process is just as valid as any other group.
Georgia’s LGBT community has suffered due to a lack of adequate representation. In 2004, members of the legislature voted overwhelmingly to write discrimination against us into the state constitution. To my knowledge, we are the only group who has been singled out for such hateful action.
Although 76 percent of the public agreed with the legislation in 2004, today a majority of all Americans believe in the concept of marriage equality.
While in 2004 only one state legally recognized gay and lesbian marriages, today six states and the District of Columbia have marriage equality. Ten other states have some form of civil union or domestic partnerships. All of those relationships are considered unconstitutional here in the State of Georgia.
We have no laws that protect us from losing our jobs, being forced out of our homes or address our safety.
All of this is allowed to happen because we do not have adequate representation in the legislative process.
If we make up 4 percent of the general population and were reflected in the make-up of the General Assembly, we would have 10 openly gay or lesbian state legislators. We have 3.
If the thousands of elected offices in all levels of the state were truly representative of our numbers, we would have hundreds of openly gay, lesbian or transgender elected officials. Statewide, I know of only 15.
I do believe in the promise of fairness and equality but without adequate representation, I wonder how long before I can enjoy it.
Jeff Graham is executive director of Georgia Equality. He can be reached at [email protected].
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