Brookhaven could soon join the movement of metro Atlanta cities passing nondiscrimination ordinances that include protections for people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Councilmember Linley Jones said at a Dec. 2 community meeting that a nondiscrimination ordinance banning businesses from discriminating against minority groups including LGBTQ people is being written now and would be introduced at the Dec. 10 council meeting. A vote on the ordinance would then follow in January after District 3 Councilmember-elect Madeleine Simmons is sworn into office, she said.
“We’re all going to want to spread the message to be here Dec. 10, and we’re all going to want to spread the message that this is where Brookhaven stands …,” Jones said to a group of more than 20 people gathered at the community meeting at City Hall.
Jones co-hosted the meeting with Simmons to get community input on an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance.
In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, City Attorney Chris Balch said, the current draft of the local ordinance would ban discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, marital status, familial status and veteran status.
The current draft also includes a provision that would encourage professional mediation services between a person who files a complaint and the alleged violator rather than a potential lawsuit, Jones said.
“It is designed to put [the complaint] at rest here at home,” she said. Mediation also allows settlements to remain confidential, she said.
Jones asked everyone in the room to share their thoughts and most said they supported the City Council approving the nondiscrimination ordinance. Such ordinances are needed at the municipal level, several local residents and advocates said, because there is no state law banning discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“We don’t have a state law and I think we need to have the intentions of our community known,” said Nanette Vaughn. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Kim George said she thought Brookhaven’s ordinance, along with recent LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances passed in neighboring cities, could “apply pressure” for lawmakers to pass a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance.
But passing a local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance creates another level of bureaucracy and could have unintended consequences, added Catherine Bernard.
“I am skeptical of the idea that a new law will be a long-term solution,” she said.
Jones and Simmons said they have not received any negative feedback or opposition to an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance. Jones had said recently the city may pass a resolution showing support for the LGBTQ community rather than voting on an ordinance. At the Dec. 2 meeting, she said she supported an ordinance and supported the council voting on an ordinance. A resolution is a declaration while an ordinance gives the city enforcement authority.
Simmons worked over the summer with local residents who want the city to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance, including state Rep. Matthew Wilson (D-Brookhaven). Wilson attended the Dec. 2 meeting as did Cathy Woolard, who formerly served as president of the Atlanta City Council when it passed its version of an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance nearly 20 years ago. Woolard is also a lobbyist for Georgia Equality, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, that is assisting in the writing of the ordinance.
Doraville City Councilmember Stephe Koontz, who led the effort in her city to adopt an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance in 2018, was also at the meeting. She emphasized the meeting not only protected LGBTQ people, but others who face discrimination due to their religion or disabilities.
“This is not a ‘gay bill,’” she said. “Everybody needs to be protected.”
Brookhaven first looked at passing an LGBTQ ordinance in April when gay resident Richard Rhodes asked the City Council to do so. Rhodes died in July at 81. Georgia Equality and Rhodes’ good friend Jon Greaves started working with local residents to finish what Rhodes started. Greaves asked Jones and Simmons at the Dec. 2 meeting to try to acknowledge Rhodes in the ordinance.
In the past year, Chamblee, Clarkston, Decatur, Doraville and Dunwoody have passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances that ban private businesses from discriminating against minority groups, including against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The growing movement is in response to state legislators’ attempts to pass a so-called “religious freedom” bill that advocates say would open the doors to businesses and other organizations being able to freely discriminate against LGBTQ people.
The local ordinances are essentially a workaround of state law and federal law by making it illegal in their cities to discriminate against LGBTQ people in areas of employment, housing and public accommodations, such as restaurants, hotels and doctor’s offices.
This story has been updated.