There is an epidemic of hate violence in this country. By nearly every measure, hate-motivated and-influenced attacks are on the rise, and people of color, immigrants, Muslims and LGBTQ people are caught in the crosshairs.
The FBI has reported alarming increases in hate crimes based on race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Anti-Violence Project found a 400 percent increase in the murder of gay and bisexual men between 2016 and 2017. Last year was the deadliest year on record for the transgender community with at least 29 transgender people -- mostly black transgender women -- killed.
Georgia is at the center of this crisis. In 2017, at least four transgender people were murdered within the state -- Georgians like TeeTee Dangerfield, a 32-year-old black transgender woman who died after being shot multiple times in Atlanta, and Candace Towns, just two years younger than TeeTee, who was found shot to death in November of last year. Candace and TeeTee were both young people filled with hopes and dreams who were loved by their communities.
Despite progress on issues like federal hate crimes protections and marriage equality, discrimination and violence continue to plague many in the LGBTQ community, particularly LGBTQ people of color. And while the hatred that fuels these despicable acts is not new, it has been emboldened by candidates and elected officials all-too-eager to appeal to the darkest undercurrents in our society.
From Indiana to North Carolina, we have witnessed politicians who seek to license discrimination against LGBTQ youth, workers, parents and patients. This discrimination is dangerous, fostering a climate and culture where some lives are deemed less worthy of dignity than others. And make no mistake, this discrimination, such as the kind that Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp is pushing for in Georgia, has significant and -- in some cases -- deadly consequences.
I grew up as a closeted kid in a small Southern town, half of the time struggling with my own identity and the other half hiding my identity from the people closest to me. I know all too well that LGBTQ youth in the South are exponentially more likely than other youth to find themselves bullied, homeless or to attempt suicide. They cannot afford to wait any longer for equality. They cannot afford to watch Brian Kemp turn back the clock on LGBTQ rights in Georgia.
Georgia is already a state that lacks many of the protections LGBTQ Americans depend on in other parts of the country. Georgians who are LGBTQ have no explicit protections under state law when they experience workplace discrimination. Georgia's LGBTQ children can still be subjected to the cruel and abusive practice of so-called "conversion therapy." And Georgia is one of the few states in our nation that lacks any kind of hate crimes laws to protect anyone, including the LGBTQ community.
Instead of moving forward on these necessary protections, Kemp is forcing Georgians who believe in equality to play defense. If he becomes governor, he has pledged to sign legislation licensing discrimination under the guise of "religious freedom," a grotesque distortion of one of our nation's most fundamental values. Religious freedom should always be a shield to protect religious minorities, and should never be a sword to inflict harm on marginalized people.
The only thing standing between Georgia and a sweeping license to discriminate is the governor's pen.
Two years ago, when the Georgia legislature pushed discriminatory legislation through to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk, he saw the writing on the wall. After making Georgia a top destination for feature film production, the film industry pledged to pull out of the state if the license to discriminate bill became law. The NFL threatened to take Atlanta and its costly new football stadium off the list of future Super Bowl host cities. Indiana and North Carolina were already serving as recent cautionary tales after spurring a business backlash from passing their own similar hateful legislation. So a Republican governor had the sense to veto that reckless legislation. But now, Brian Kemp proudly says he will do the opposite, licensing discrimination against LGBTQ Georgians and putting the state's economy in jeopardy.
Kemp must be stopped. Georgians of all backgrounds should fight back against hate by rejecting Kemp's discriminatory efforts and by electing Stacey Abrams as the next governor of Georgia.
Georgians have a clear choice: continue to move forward on equal rights, protections, and dignity for the LGBTQ community, or lose business and respect by turning back the clock and licensing discrimination. Georgia needs a leader who will affirm the inherent worth and humanity of every Georgian, no matter their identity or background.
This November, for our youth, for our health, and for our lives, Georgia must hand the governor's pen to Stacey Abrams.
Vote Early begins on October 15.
CHAD GRIFFIN is the president of the Human Rights Campaign.