The Athens-Clarke County Commission swatted back at alleged discrimination in some downtown bars by unanimously approving a resolution that could lead to alcohol licenses being revoked if discrimination is found.
The resolution approved on Tuesday calls for the county attorney and county manager to draft recommendations on revising the county's alcohol licensing ordinance to consider complaints of discrimination. The move comes in the wake of complaints that some downtown bars discriminate in admissions based on race, gender and sexual orientation.
The resolution asks that the attorney’s office and the manager’s office “study and make recommendations to the Mayor and Commission for actions that may be taken at the local level ... including but not limited to the ongoing consideration of possible revision to the county alcohol licensing ordinance to make a violation of local, state or federal anti-discrimination or civil rights ordinances or laws a basis for the denial, suspension or revocation of an alcoholic beverages license.”
The resolution, largely the work of Commissioners Andy Herod, Kelly Girtz and Mike Hamby, with assistance from the manager’s office and Mayor Nancy Denson, comes just a matter of weeks after an anonymous survey conducted through the University of Georgia’s Student Government Association produced dozens of anecdotes regarding the use of dress codes and private party claims to keep people out of a number of downtown bars on the basis of their race or sexual orientation.
Denson (photo) called the resolution "a statement of values in the community."
An incident at an Athens bar in October gained national media attention and prompted the UGA's Student Government Association to conduct an online survey. What that uncovered was disturbing, according to Online Athens.
The dozens of incidents detailed in the survey, some dating back two years, described some bars’ use of “dress code” and “private event” exclusions to keep ethnic minorities and homosexuals out of their establishments.
For example, one survey respondent claimed a “bouncer kept out a group of African American women from a bar with the excuse that they were wearing crop tops — my friend and I (both of whom are white) were just let into the bar and we too were wearing crop tops,” while another respondent claimed to have been “denied access because of my dress, and the bouncer said, ‘We don’t let fags in here.’”
Still another respondent wrote a white male bouncer at one downtown bar “saw us, a group of well dressed black girls, coming and started to look weird. He proceeded to check our IDs and then on the last person, he claimed to have a ‘private party’ happening.”
Athens-Clarke County already has in place a non-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, one of about 60 jurisdictions across the state that does so, according to Georgia Equality.
But even with the ordinance, Athens flopped on the most recent HRC Municipal Equality Index, which ranks municipalities on LGBT policies. Athens received a 19, though the ranking does not award the city for its non-discrimination ordinance – one of five main areas the report factors into its scores. It 2014, Athens scored a 46.
It's not clear how long it will take county officials to draft their recommendations for the commission. One sticking point may be how the county proves allegations of discrimination in admission to the bars.
And bar owners on Tuesday cautioned that bars shouldn't be singled out. Via Online Athens:
A few downtown bar owners attended Tuesday’s session. During one of the public comment periods at the meeting, Mark Bell, owner of downtown bar 9e’s, cautioned commissioners that any ordinance they might put in place as a result of the Tuesday resolution should apply to all businesses in the county, not just to downtown bars.