A Brookhaven City Council member is asking the city attorney for a legal opinion on whether the city should consider an ordinance prohibiting local businesses from discriminating against minority groups — including LGBTQ people — in the wake of similar ordinances being passed in surrounding cities.
Councilmember Linley Jones said April 18 she has asked City Attorney Chris Balch for an opinion on whether a nondiscrimination ordinance is the proper route for the city to take to ensure all residents are treated equally.
“The city and I support equal protection for all,” she said.
An ordinance could be one way to broadcast that position, she said. She acknowledged there could be other ways to do the same and noted Brookhaven has been designated a “Welcoming City.” Welcoming City designations are made by Welcome America, a nonprofit group that focuses on integrating immigrants in local communities.
The move by Jones to seek more information on a nondiscrimination ordinance comes on the heels of the city of Chamblee approving April 16 its own nondiscrimination ordinance. On April 2, the city of Clarkson also passed a nondiscrimination ordinance.
Both ordinances ban local, privately-owned businesses from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The ordinances also prohibit discrimination against people based on their race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, age, ancestry and military status.
These cities are following the lead of Doraville. In November, the Doraville City Council became the second city in the state to pass such a nondiscrimination ordinance. The city of Atlanta approved a similar ordinance in 2001.
Doraville’s effort was spearheaded by Stephe Koontz, the only openly transgender elected official in the state, who said at the time she hoped her city’s action would inspire other cities in metro Atlanta and across the state to approve their own ordinances.
Koontz worked with Georgia Equality, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, to come up with her city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Koontz and Georgia Equality also worked with the cities of Chamblee and Clarkston on their ordinances.
Georgia currently does not have a law prohibiting businesses, employers or landlords from discriminating against groups of people.
The ongoing push by some Republican legislators to pass a so-called religious liberty bill is the key reason LGBTQ activists say it is important for local municipalities to take a legal stance on banning discrimination. They say such a law would pave the way to open discrimination against LGBTQ people and other minorities.
Dunwoody officials have said they are not considering a nondiscrimination ordinance. Sandy Springs spokesperson Sharon Kraun has said the city “has no authority to police complaints by private citizens discriminating against private citizens.”
Jones said she believes local governments have a role in ensuring local businesses do not discriminate against people. But it is hard because cities do not infrastructure in place, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to investigate and enforce claims of discrimination.
“The most effective place is for this to come from the top, but it hasn’t happened at the national and state level,” Jones said.
“This is entirely in keeping with the purpose of government, to ensure equal protection and equal treatment,” she said. “The government has a critical role to play in that.”