NOTE: This story was originally published at Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, the broad coalition Freedom for All Americans is proud to partner on with Georgia Equality and other state and national partners.
Mr. Francys Johnson is a lifelong Georgian—and for him, the fight against the codification of discrimination in his home state traces back to his childhood.
He’s now a practicing lawyer, minister, and the president of the Georgia NAACP—the state’s oldest and largest civil rights organization—but Mr. Johnson was once a young boy sitting in a special education classroom in a Georgia public school.
He was one of many who were caught in a discriminatory education system where students—primarily students of color or economically disadvantaged students—were forced to take special education classes, not based on assessment, but in order to increase funding to the school. “Teachers and administrators looked at me, at the color of my skin, and said I couldn’t succeed in a basic classroom,” Mr. Johnson recalled.
Ultimately, the NAACP took up Mr. Johnson’s case, and he won the right to participate in advanced learning classes.
“I remember the day when public officials came to my classroom,” Mr. Johnson said. “I was in the third grade and they walked me from the special ed classroom to the gifted classroom. That’s when I saw the power of what people can do when they come together around shared values—and the impact it can have on an individual’s life and the collective whole of the community.”
For Mr. Johnson, these shared values—justice, equality, and opportunity—are rooted in the founding ideals of this country: That all people are created equal with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
He sees these values as the bedrock of all major movements to drive out discrimination: the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920s, the civil rights movement of the 1960s—and now, the movement to outlaw discrimination against gay and transgender Georgians and Americans.
Mr. Johnson sees these movements as inextricably linked. “Dr. King sums it up best in his statement that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,’” he said.
“I can’t work in a silo to fight racism without understanding that there’s a common root: discrimination. In order for me to work to end racism, I have to work to end discrimination against same-gender loving individuals as well.”– Francys Johnson
Mr. Johnson was pleased to see the Supreme Court bring the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in Georgia last June—but he knows the work is far from done: “As a practicing attorney who meets with clients every day, I am keenly aware that discrimination is still alive in Georgia.”
Right now in Georgia, there are absolutely no explicit statewide laws barring discrimination. That means gay and transgender Georgians can be fired, denied housing or refused service just because of who they are or whom they love.
Mr. Johnson finds strength to fight in his faith and, specifically, in the guiding principle of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
“The fact that we are human beings who come from the same love, same grace, same mercies means each of us possess an inherent worth and dignity—just as human beings. Nothing else needs to be added to that. I cannot want for myself something that I would deny to someone else.”– Francys Johnson
At the end of the day, Mr. Johnson views the movement for LGBT non-discrimination as one rooted in love. He believes everyone deserves to love and be loved, to create a family, to find housing and employment to provide for themselves and their loved ones, and to “live freely in their truth.”
As such, his commitment to advancing LGBT rights is as much rooted in his faith as it is his legal training and his personal experiences overcoming discrimination.
“At the heart of all of God’s institution is the family. And God chose to describe himself as love. And so I have no problem at all squaring my faith with the decision to stand on the side of love with all of God’s creation.”
Francys Johnson has lived and worked and preached and taught in Georgia for all of his life. He has dedicated his life’s work to weeding out the seeds of discrimination from his home state and he says he will use whatever energy he has with what time he has remaining to continue to fight discrimination on behalf of the LGBT community.
Now, he urges lawmakers to stand for age-old American values of justice, equality and opportunity for all, and to denounce legislation that promotes discrimination in the state of Georgia.