Following a reported case of anti-LGBT discrimination by a private business owner in Sandy Springs, there is a disagreement over whether the city has the power to create any additional bias protections. A City Council member said he would consider any evidence in determining if policy changes are needed or possible.
Sandy Springs adopted a policy in 2016 that strengthened protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and applied them to all aspects of city business for the first time. It previously only applied to city employment practices. However, the city has no protections for residents discriminated against by private businesses.
Sandy Springs City Councilmember Andy Bauman, who called for the 2016 change to Sandy Springs policy, said, in response to questions from The Reporter, that he is not sure what ordinances could be enacted, but wants evidence of discrimination to be presented if it exists.
“If there is data or anecdotal evidence of discrimination of this (or any) sort being an issue in Sandy Springs such that existing city, state or federal law is not sufficient to protect our citizens, then I would ask that to be brought forward for consideration — not by just me, but by the mayor and entire council,” Bauman said in an email.
Bauman said he would want to receive input from the community, review data and consult legal staff, the mayor and other council members before deciding on a policy.
“I believe it would be irresponsible to formulate policy otherwise,” Bauman said. “I have no current opinion on whether the city should adopt any further policies or ordinances – similar to Atlanta or otherwise.”
A man said in a July 13 Yelp review that he contacted a landscaping company for a project in Sandy Springs, but was denied service after the business learned he is married to a man. A man who claimed to be the business owner confirmed the denial on the site and said he believed the man’s marriage to be “perverse and foolish.” The incident was reported in local and national LGBT media. Calls to the company were not answered.
Bauman said he was not aware of the recently reported incident, but he hopes, if the allegations are true, people don’t continue to patronize the business.
“Obviously, if true, I would hope this is the most isolated of incidences and my heart goes out to this or any family on the receiving end of discriminatory treatment,” Bauman said. “I would also hope that if true, such a company would be publicly shamed and all people of good conscience would choose not to use that company so that they would eventually go out of business.”
Bauman has previously vocally opposed state “religious freedom” bills that could allow discrimination. He said he still views religious freedom bills as “unnecessary and discriminatory.”
The city of Atlanta has laws that bar discrimination 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.
Bauman said he is only “vaguely familiar” with the city of Atlanta policy, and would want more information on what could be done, he said.
“The quick answer is anything is possible and of course I would have an open mind,” he said. “As a City Councilman, I’m not sure what ordinance Sandy Springs would adopt in this regard.”
City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the city could not enact such an ordinance, but the head of an LGBT advocacy group says that is a misunderstanding of the law.
“Any city ordinance dealing with anti-discrimination would apply to the city not discriminating,” Kraun said in an email. “We do not have the authority to police private sector complaints of discrimination.”
Jeff Graham, the director of the LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality, said that because Georgia lacks a statewide non-discrimination law for any group of people, many cities believe that they cannot enact local ordinances. He said legal experts have argued, and Georgia Equality believes, that is a misinterpretation of the state’s authority.
Graham said Atlanta has enforced the ordinance, though the instances of complaints are relatively rare.
“Overall, I believe there is simply a lack of understanding that the LGBT community is not covered by the same federal laws that protect against discrimination based on characteristics such as race, age and disability, and the importance of local municipalities taking action to ensure their constituents are protected,” Graham said.
Sandy Springs has scored low — 22 out of a possible 100 — in 2016 and 2017 on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual rating of how well cities protect and support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents. Atlanta received a 100 from the advocacy group both years.
Update: This article was updated to clarify that Councilmember Andy Bauman is not calling for a policy change and that he was responding to questions about the reported incident. Additional comments were also added.