Atlanta updates its gender identity protections

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Atlanta quietly gave the city's non-discrimination ordinance a facelift earlier this month, cleaning up outdated and sometimes offensive language about gender identity.

On Dec. 5, the Atlanta City Council voted 14-0 to adopt a new definition of gender identity. The previous definition, which had not been changed since it was originally introduced in 2000, included outdated language that refers to being “transsexual, transvestite, and transgendered.”

Atlanta City Council member Alex Wan (photo), the council's only openly gay member, said he proposed the revised definition as a straightforward effort to improve terminology.

“It was a simple update to the language of the ordinance to reflect more current definitions and thinking around terminology,” Wan said.

The update not only removes the outdated and offensive language, but also eliminates references to being male or female. That allows for non-binary or genderqueer individuals to be covered by the ordinance. Atlanta’s nondiscrimination ordinance, passed in 2000, offers protections on the basis of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, family status, and national origin in public accommodations, housing, and employment. 

In 2013, Wan sponsored a move to ensure that gender identity was included in all of Atlanta's ordinances and code sections that reference non-discrimination and a list of protected categories.

“It was brought to my attention that while 'gender identity' is included in many of the city ordinances, there are sections of the code that needed to be updated to make sure that its inclusion was consistent throughout,” Wan said at the time.

In 2005, the ordinance came under fire from state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, who was angry that the city used the ordinance to levy a fine against the Druid Hills Gold Club when it refused to extend benefits to the partner of LGBT members. Ehrhart pushed a measure through the General Assembly that prohibited the city from fining private employers.

Chanel Haley, the Transgender Inclusion Organizer at Georgia Equality, also chairs the Human Rights Commission, which enforces Atlanta’s non-discrimination ordinance. Haley flagged the issues around gender identity in the ordinance and helped shape the new definition.

“It was important to have the definition of gender identity to be inclusive, but also something that was proven to be accepted by Republicans. We do not want Atlanta to be in a situation like Charlotte, N.C.,” Haley said.

The new definition reads:

Gender identity – a person’s gender identity can be shown by providing evidence, including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender identity, or other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity, and not being asserted for an improper purpose regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.

In October, Atlanta received a perfect score from the HRC's Municipal Equality Index, which rates municipalities on non-discrimination laws, employment practices, the inclusiveness of city services, law enforcement and municipal leadership on equality issues. Nine other cities across Georgia failed.

The revisions to Atlanta's non-discrimination ordinance provided a stark contrast to Charlotte. That city gutted its LGBT protections this week to help lead to a repeal of a statewide anti-transgender law. It didn't work.


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