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Dillard Smith Advocates Safe Space to Communicate About Transgender Rights

The national controversy and media coverage of Transgender rights and fervent "Bathroom Bill" debates has claimed another victim. Maya Dillard Smith, the newly appointed Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, has lost her job after finding herself caught in the crossfire’s of the Transgender movement and race relations. She apparently has been punished for daring to ask pertinent and probing questions about the divisive issue.

Ironically she was sacked the same day hundreds of parents packed a North Georgia school district in response to the federal government's threat to pull funding if students aren't given the choice of whether to use the girls or boys bathroom. Dillard Smith's transition arose as she sought to address the balance between transgender rights and legitimate public safety concerns to protect women and girls.

"There are many issues the ACLU tackles -- and rights we defend -- that I am particularly well-versed in. Transgender issues are not one of them,” she says in a public statement. “As such, I have actively sought out opportunities to learn more since I joined the ACLU. I've had numerous conversations with subject matter experts to learn more about the issue and its intersectionality with other competing rights, particularly the implications for women's rights. The conversations have been refreshingly candid.”

She continues, “I understood it to be the ACLU's goal to delicately balance competing rights to ensure that any infringements are narrowly tailored, that they do not create a hierarchy of rights, and that we are mindful of unintended consequences. I have been thoughtful in so doing as the Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia.”

Upon taking over at the ACLU of Georgia, Dillard Smith found herself embroiled in an uncomfortable and racially charged situation. Dillard Smith is a strong and uncompromising Black woman who inherited a case defending the KKK's free speech rights.

“Although the KKK has a legacy of ‘hate’ speech as well as having enacted untold violence against Black people, especially here in the South, I zealously defend their free speech rights because it is the principled thing to do under our constitution,” she says. “It is what we do as the ACLU. What I personally think about the KKK is of zero consequence to the right we defend. And, I have spent considerable time educating Blacks who are enraged by our efforts. Likewise, I passionately defend the rights of Transgender, and I educate others, but I still have questions, as I deal with issues that implicate multiple competing interests.”

In a parting shot at the ACLU, Dillard Smith suggests that the organization has lost its way, and is now being guided by money and not principle or the pursuit of true civil liberty.

“Regrettably, although the ACLU is legally designed to be a non-partisan organization -- with a mission to defend the rights of all people -- it became increasingly clear to me that it is a special interest organization not unlike the conservative right, which creates a hierarchy of rights based on who is funding the organization's lobbying activities,” she says. “Thus, I found myself principally and professionally unaligned with the organization as it consistently failed to honestly and authentically balance the competing interests of religious freedom and LGBT equality, free speech and nondiscrimination, and criminal justice reform and racial justice."

Building upon her ACLU experiences, Ms. Dillard Smith is creating a new community Face Book page about the need for creating a safe space for conversations, and launching an educational video called "A Safe Space" on her website:

At 37, Maya Dillard Smith was the youngest of the ACLU's 53 executive directors, and one of only 5 African Americans. In a Saporta Report story I wrote about her entrance into the position, Smith shared her excitement about coming to Georgia:

"One of the reasons I am going to love this job is because the ACLU takes on the toughest and most controversial civil rights and civil liberties issues.

"We litigate and we legislate, but there is also the strategic part about it which is the ability to have conversations and shape public opinion on all of these various issues. So it is from that level of candor and transparency that I assume this role of leadership."

Dillard Smith has been acknowledged as "super qualified" to lead ACLU of Georgia by seasoned leaders in Atlanta. Acclaimed attorney Sherman Golden, a native Atlantan and financial specialist characterized the millennial leader in a recent interview with this reporter:

"She has an undergraduate degree in economics from Berkley, a law degree from UC Hasting, a Masters in public policy from Harvard, clerked at the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, clerked at the California Supreme Court. That's a serious background. You tie that with somebody whose heart is in the right place and is fearless, and has a budget.....That's an opportunity that is rare in Atlanta -- for somebody with resources, who is also educated and exposed, who also has courage. Those are very, very rare qualities."

A year ago, Maya Dillard Smith was recruited from California to fill the ACLU of Georgia affiliate's Executive Director position. Professing to be up for the charge, Dillard Smith moved her family of three daughters, and began re-building ACLU of Georgia. In her first year, she took the fledgling organization from near zero credibility to one regularly called upon.

As Executive Director, Maya Dillard Smith communicated her commitment to "provide thought leadership on civil rights and civil liberties, execute strategy on public policy change, and initiate high-impact, game-changing litigation" throughout the state of Georgia, and nationally.

There has been no comment from the ACLU of Georgia Board of Directors.

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