The state Legislature’s March 16 passage of a “religious liberty” bill in response to same-sex marriage sparked reviews and proposals for city non-discrimination laws protecting gays, lesbians and bisexual and transgender people.
The city of Atlanta reviewed its LGBT non-discrimination laws—the strongest in the state—for potential conflicts before Gov. Nathan Deal announced his veto of the bill, and a Sandy Springs City Council member is calling for that city to adopt a similar anti-bias policy.
Brookhaven and Dunwoody are among many Georgia cities that have limited LGBT non-discrimination policies applying only to city employment.
HB 757 would have prohibited forcing religious institutions to conduct same-sex marriages and allowed faith-based organizations to deny services or employment to LGBT people. The bill was heavily criticized by many large corporations and business associations.
The Buckhead Coalition, an influential Atlanta group of 100 CEOs and community leaders, said its members “empathize with the many fearful of potential discrimination” from HB 757. The Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce said in a letter to Deal that the bill “is an unnecessary self-inflicted stain on Georgia’s national reputation” with “provisions [that] precisely meet the definition of discrimination.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, in a written statement, blasted HB 757 as “unprecedented in that it codifies employment discrimination and other types of discrimination as a ‘right’… HB 757 does not represent or uphold our city’s rich history of diversity and inclusion.”
Atlanta has a comprehensive set of laws barring discrimination, including bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any type of city decision as well as in many practices of private businesses and landlords, including the selection of customers.
About 40 Georgia cities and several counties, including DeKalb and Fulton, have some type of non-discrimination policy covering sexual orientation, and about 14 of those policies also cover gender identity according to the LGBT rights group Georgia Equality.
But the majority of such policies only apply to the government’s own employment practices. That’s the case in Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.
Brookhaven’s hiring and employment policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or sex, which the city interprets as covering gender identity, according to city spokesperson Ann Marie Quill.
Dunwoody’s hiring and employment policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of “sex (including same sex or identity),” according to city spokesperson Bob Mullen. Dunwoody also has a non-discrimination policy that applies to city contractors, but it does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity, Mullen said.
In Sandy Springs, City Council member Andy Bauman on March 21 issued a call for a broader policy covering sexual orientation. Bauman said his idea came from his “outrage” about HB 757, which he called a “thinly veiled and shameful attempt to sanction discrimination.”
“As a Sandy Springs councilman, I am obligated to ensure that discrimination has no place in our community, and in the governance and operation of our city,” Bauman wrote. In a note to constituents, he added, “We are an open and tolerant community.”
Bauman said in an interview that he agreed with the business opposition, but had moral objections as well. “I’m not one who would say it’s only economic development,” he said. “I’m one who would say this is the right side of history.”
Sandy Springs already has a non-discrimination policy that includes “sexual preference”–an old term referring to gay people now widely considered offensive, according such LGBT groups as GLAAD–but it applies only to the city’s own hiring and employment.
Bauman said in an interview that he has not written any actual policy language and has not yet discussed the issue with city staff or fellow council members. There is no timetable for any official discussions, he said, adding that constituent response has been “overwhelming” and positive.
The city outsources the vast majority of its services, but the policy applies to contractors’ workers as well, according to city spokesperson Sharon Kraun. At least three of the firms that provide city services also have their own policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Kraun said.
Bauman’s proposed policy would cover all protected classes in federal and state law, as well as sexual orientation, which is not currently fully protected in either. The policy would apply to any organization doing business with the city or using public facilities, including public parks and the future performing arts center, he said.
“I’m not for or against it,” fellow Council member John Paulson said of Bauman’s policy idea. “My biggest question is if we’re harming somebody or discriminating against somebody, I want to know, because I won’t put up with it.”
Bauman said he does not believe the city has ever discriminated against someone. “My concern, however, is that we do not have an ordinance or formal adopted policy to back this up, and to apply [legally] to our city contractors to whom we outsource the majority of jobs in Sandy Springs,” Bauman wrote.