Columbus officials — including a Republican city councilmember — are laying the groundwork to become the latest city in Georgia to adopt broad LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections.
City Councilmember Walker Garrett told Project Q Atlanta he asked City Attorney Clifton Fay to review the ordinances passed in other cities to come up with a policy for Columbus [Editor's Note: see update below]. The ordinance would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in private employment, housing and public accommodations.
“We’ve been meeting and looking at the different ordinances across the state,” Garrett (photo) said. “I’m a lawyer so I want to make sure it’s enforceable.”
Garrett said he’s pushing for the ordinance in part to increase Columbus’ score on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index.
Columbus scored a 61 on the MEI in 2019, which was a 25-point increase over its 2018 score. The city currently has nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ city employees only. Passing an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance covering private employment, housing and public accommodations would bring its MEI score up to 91, second only to Atlanta.
“We’ve made so many strides with so many things, but we don’t have a nondiscrimination ordinance,” Garrett said.
The ordinance should get the support of other Republicans like him, Garrett said.
“I’m sure I’ll get some pushback from folks, but to me this is a conservative thing because it’s pro-business,” he said. “There’s a lot of businesses that make their decisions on where they’re going to relocate based on equality standards. This is one more step toward equality.”
Mayor Skip Henderson told the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer that Garrett, Fay, LGBTQ Liaison Jacy Jenkins and the city’s human resources department are working on the ordinance.
“Hopefully, we can have something we can take to (the Columbus Council) by February,” Henderson said. “A lot is going to depend on what we get from the other communities. It’s something we are working on aggressively.”
Jenkins told Project Q that they’re reviewing Atlanta’s ordinance, and that HRC sent her an example draft of an ordinance.
Columbus would be the first city outside of metro Atlanta to pass such an ordinance. Brookhaven became the seventh city in the state to adopt such protections earlier this month.
Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker is also working on an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance. Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz said he’s asked the Athens-Clarke County attorney to review other ordinances that have passed in metro Atlanta. Parker is that commission's first-ever openly LGBTQ member.
UPDATE | Jenkins followed up with Project Q after this story was published to clarify the roles that she, Garrett and others played in the process of putting the ordinance together.
Jenkins started holding meetings with Columbus activists in May to discuss the lack of LGBTQ spaces in the city and attracting and retaining LGBTQ residents. Garrett was brought into the discussions in July, around the same time Henderson appointed Jenkins as the city's LGBTQ liaison.
"In July when I came on as liaison, I started working hard on raising the MEI score and explaining what it was to everyone," Jenkins said. "It’s not the end-all-be-all, but a great goal and metric we can all get behind to make effective changes."
Work began on the nondiscrimination ordinance after the group realized that adopting one would give a large boost to the city's MEI score, according to Jenkins. She brought in Assistant City Attorney Lucy Sheftall, who Jenkins said "has been the driving force" behind the ordinance.
"She drafted an NDO for us to start with and has suggested an incredible amount of legal advice for us," Jenkins said. "Lucy has been the one on all the calls, at all the meetings and suggesting all the possibilities."
Sheila Risper, the city's assistant director of Human Resources & Affirmative Action, has also been a "huge help," according to Jenkins.
"Councilor Garrett came on as an advocate for the NDO for city council and to help bounce off any ideas as a lawyer," she said.