The state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization is endorsing Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst and District 3 City Council candidate Madeleine Simmons in the Nov. 5 municipal elections. The announcement comes as the city is reviving efforts to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for LGBTQ people.
Georgia Equality announced Oct. 16 it was endorsing in the Brookhaven, Clarkston, Doraville, East Point and Savannah city races. Ernst is being challenged by community activist Jen Heath in his bid for a second term. Simmons and Dimitrius Owens are running for the open District 3 seat.
“The fight for LGBT equality has moved to the suburbs … as their established communities gain political strength,” Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham said in an interview. “That is where so much action has moved to and rightfully so.”
And with state and federal lawmakers threatening legislation that could legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people, city races become even more important, he said.
“Municipal elections are so important to our movement and every LGBTQ person and ally should vote in their local elections,” Graham said in a press release about the endorsements.
Ernst mentioned his Georgia Equality endorsement during the Reporter’s Oct. 16 city candidate forum. He said the City Council is expected to consider an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance by the end of the year after the issue was first raised six months ago.
“Yes, of course, and we’re already currently working on it,” Ernst said. “[Councilmember Linley] Jones is taking the lead on it and we’re expecting something in the next month or two to take care of that. It’s a no-brainer. It will get done.”
Heath said she also supports a nondiscrimination ordinance to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“These are our neighbors, friends and family,” she said. “We are all grown adults and we have respect for each other. You may not agree with someone’s position or lifestyle, but it doesn’t mean they are less than a human.”
A nondiscrimination ordinance bans local, privately-owned businesses from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. Nondiscrimination ordinances also prohibit discrimination based on other classes such as race, religion, disability, national origin and sex.
Jones asked the city attorney in April for a legal opinion on whether Brookhaven should consider such an ordinance after Richard Rhodes, a gay Brookhaven resident, asked the council to do so. Rhode’s request came in the wake of similar ordinances being passed in the surrounding cities of Doraville, Dunwoody, Chamblee and Clarkston. Atlanta passed its nondiscrimination ordinance in 2001.
Graham said Rhodes was working almost singlehandedly to get a nondiscrimination bill passed in his home city when he died in July. Since then, Georgia Equality has started working with other LGBTQ Brookhaven residents to lobby for its passage.
Graham said Georgia Equality’s endorsements of Ernst and Simmons were also based on their support for reporting hate crimes, appointing LGBTQ people to local boards and commissions, and having a “true understanding of issues facing the LGBT community.”
The lack of an endorsement should not necessarily be viewed as a negative reflection of a candidate’s views on LGBTQ issues, he said.