HRC President: Showbiz Should Abandon Georgia if Antigay Bill Becomes Law

Chad Griffin

Film and TV companies should abandon production in Georgia if Gov. Nathan Deal doesn’t veto the “license to discriminate” legislation passed by state lawmakers, Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said Saturday.

“I know we have many entertainment industry leaders in the room tonight,” Griffin said in addressing attendees at the HRC’s Los Angeles Gala Dinner Saturday night. “Like other states, Georgia offers tax incentives for TV and film productions, and as a result, the entertainment industry has a huge economic footprint in the state. But if this bill is signed into law, your employees, your contractors — all those working on your production are at risk of state-sanctioned discrimination. That is wrong. It’s un-American. It’s an affront on all the values Hollywood prides itself on.

“And you have the influence and the opportunity to not only defeat this bill, but to send a message that there are consequences to passing dangerous and hateful laws like this. And so tonight, we're asking you to join us as we urge TV and film studios, directors and producers, to commit to locating no further productions in the state of Georgia if this bill becomes law.”

Georgia’s House and Senate both approved House Bill 757 Wednesday after amending it to make it even harsher. It would prevent the state government from taking any punitive action against an individual or faith-based organization that speaks or behaves according to a sincerely held “religious or moral conviction” that marriage should only take place between two people of the opposite sex, or that sexual relations should be limited to such a marriage. Such faith-based organizations could include social service providers, such as adoption agencies, food pantries, or homeless shelters, which often receive public funding. The lawmakers added language Wednesday saying the government would have to show a compelling interest in interfering with religious practices.

HRC warned last week that the bill “could undermine local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect LGBT people, permit hospitals to refuse to provide medically necessary care, or allow a taxpayer-funded service provider to discriminate by denying a job because of the applicant’s religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Because of its tax incentives, Georgia has attracted many film and TV productions. At least 248 such productions were shot there during the state’s 2015 fiscal year, resulting in at least $1.7 billion in direct spending as well as more than 100 businesses relocating to or expanding in Georgia to support these activities.

Business opposition to HB 757 has been strong. Several major companies with headquarters or operations in Georgia, such as Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, have spoken out against it, and National Football League officials said it could threaten Georgia’s chance of hosting a Super Bowl.

At the event Saturday, Griffin also called on the U.S. Senate to hold a hearing on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. The Senate’s Republican leaders say they will not consider Garland, as they believe Obama’s successor should be the one to fill the court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

“I don’t have to tell the people in this room how important the Supreme Court is,” Griffin said. “We have seen what can happen when our rights are left up to a vote. Time and again we have had to fight all the way to the nation’s highest court to achieve and protect our basic constitutional rights and protections. There’s no doubt that Merrick Garland is a highly qualified candidate. President Obama has done his job. Now it’s time for Senate Republicans to do theirs. Americans deserve a full Supreme Court bench, and the president’s nominee deserves a hearing.”

Watch Griffin’s remarks below.