Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will no longer be allowed in Brookhaven. That was the conclusion reached by the City Council Jan. 14 as it voted unanimously to pass an ordinance, sponsored by Councilmembers Linley Jones and Madeleine Simmons, that bans local businesses from discrimination against minority groups, including LGBTQ people.

“This is our opportunity to step up and join the other cities in setting an example that discrimination is not tolerated in Brookhaven,” Simmons said before the vote was taken. “Not only is it good for business but it’s really good for our residential community to show residents and folks coming to visit that Brookhaven has a welcoming atmosphere.”

Brookhaven became the seventh municipality in Georgia to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ people, meaning they cannot be denied a job, a home, or service in a public place. The city follows in the footsteps of Atlanta, Decatur, Doraville, Clarkston, Chamblee and Dunwoody.

The ordinance allows a person alleging discrimination to file a complaint with the city manager. The city manager would then inform the city attorney who would investigate the allegation and work with both parties to reach a resolution to the complaint. If the parties fail to reach a resolution with the city attorney, the case would go to city-appointed hearing officer, who would make a final determination. The losing party would be able to appeal to DeKalb County Superior Court.

If found guilty of discrimination, a person or business could face a $1,000 fine for the first violation and $2,000 for subsequent violations. A business with more three violations could lose their right to operate in Brookhaven, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance also provides for voluntary mediation. That would allow the person alleging discrimination and the alleged violator to enter private mediation talks with a mediator not associated with the city.

Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, an organization dedicated to LGBTQ rights, issued a statement saying, in part: “Local victories like these make a world of difference to LGBTQ Georgians, and they also build a case for more robust state and national laws. When our lawmakers see dozens of cities acting proactively to stop discrimination, they pay attention.”

During the public discussion portion of the council meeting, Jon Greaves, a local resident and supporter of the measure, said a lack of understanding of what it means to be transgender is often the source of discrimination because “this struggle for transgender rights is relatively new within the broader civil rights effort.”

Jennifer Arellano, a hairstylist, said in public comments that she recently experienced discrimination at a local bank. “The staff were very rude and used an ugly expression,” she said. “It was scary. They cancelled my bank account because I’m a transgender woman – because of transphobia.”

The ordinance has its share of detractors. Resident Michael Southern approached the podium and expressed surprise at the lack of resistance to what he called an “enforcement free-for-all,” adding, “It’s not appropriate for Brookhaven to jump ahead of federal and state efforts to try to deal with this. You should have more public discussion of these kinds of issues. This seems to be getting pushed through extremely rapidly.”

Cathy Woolard, a former Atlanta City Council president who now is a lobbyist for the LGBTQ rights group Georgia Equality, disputed one of Southern’s points, saying 20 states in the country already have some kind of civil rights laws on sexual orientation and gender identity. Georgia Equality was involved in writing the Brookhaven ordinance.

Also in attendance at the meeting was state Rep. Matthew Wilson (D-Brookhaven), who is gay and lives in Brookhaven. In a tweet after the vote, he said he was “very proud of my city leaders” and “thankful for their leadership as we continue to advocate for statewide protections as well.”

Resident Joyce Lanterman told the council, “I think it’s important to support the rights of marginalized groups. I don’t understand why anyone would feel differently.” Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., she said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice, and I believe that, but it doesn’t bend itself. We have to get out and push.”

–Kevin C. Madigan