East Point is considering a broad LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy, but the measure hit some initial resistance from City Council members concerned about its impact on businesses and enforcement.
The measure, if modeled after policies recently adopted in several metro Atlanta cities, would ban discrimination in private employment, housing and public accommodations. East Point would become the eighth city in the region with such a policy.
“In the State of Georgia, you can refuse service to someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. There is not a federal law that prohibits that. There is not a state law that prohibits that,” Council member Thomas Calloway (photo) said when he introduced the measure during a council work session on Feb. 10.
“What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t allow that in our city,” he added.
In 2009, East Point became one of the first cities in Georgia to expand its nondiscrimination policy for city employees to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Now, seven cities in the state have passed broader measures, including Brookhaven in January.
Calloway pointed to policies from five of those cities – Atlanta, Chamblee, Clarkston, Doraville and Dunwoody – as examples East Point can follow as it drafts its own ordinance.
“I think they provide what we are looking for,” Calloway said.
The nondiscrimination policies in those cities prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, disability, marital status, familial status or veteran/military status in private employment, housing and public accommodations. In addition to East Point, Athens, Columbus, Smyrna and Tucker are currently considering adopting similar ordinances.
“The bottom line is it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing. It is long overdue,” Calloway told Project Q Atlanta this week. “We were one of the first cities to really tackle some of these issues a long time ago, especially adding language into our charter. But it's time to re-engage on some of these issues and to go ahead and do what needs to be done.”
But the nondiscrimination policy encountered some initial resistance during the city council meeting on Feb. 10.
Council member Myron Cook pointed to the city charter, which he said includes protections based on sexual orientation, and questioned whether an ordinance was needed.
“I’m trying to figure out exactly what it is we are doing that we don’t already have,” Cook said. “Why is it necessary now to do an ordinance? What is it that I’m missing with my keen eye?”
'Leery' about impact on businesses
Council member Karen René (second photo) questioned how the policy would impact businesses, from national chains such as McDonald's to locally owned ones like Kupcakerie, attempting to accommodate LGBTQ customers.
“I’m thinking how businesses like McDonald’s will accommodate pronouns. If people identify themselves as men and as women, does McDonald’s have to provide a bathroom to accommodate. I think about mom and pop small stores like Kupcakerie,” René said.
“You have people that want to further their agenda and take any slight to push it through. Are we tying up the city in litigation that is unnecessary? I am one of the people that fights discrimination every day. I get it. But I also have to look at the accommodations,” she added.
But René also made it clear that she is open to supporting the ordinance.
“I think this is absolutely a great ordinance for the City of East Point, but I am leery about rolling it out to businesses,” she said. “Explain it to me so I can understand it and support it.”
René also said black transgender men face “vicious discrimination” and that the nondiscrimination policy could address that.
“If this is a law to help some of our people to avoid being discriminated against in any fashion, we should help lead the way on this," she said. "We’ve all had some sort of discrimination, and it is a hard pill to swallow when as an educated person, you know you should be treated better. I will support this measure."
Council member Sharon Shropshire said she was concerned that a business found guilty of violating the ordinance could lose its license.
“I’m against discrimination on any level, but when you talk about the city is going to mediate and find guilty and take away licenses, we already struggle in trying to get businesses,” Shropshire said. “If someone feels they are discriminated and goes to a restaurant downtown, what the city is going to do is revoke their license and that’s a business that is shut down."
The policies adopted recently in other metro Atlanta cities call for the municipality to review initial complaints of alleged violations and then refer the case to an independent mediator. If an allegation is sustained, the business is fined. A business could lose its license only after multiple violations of the nondiscrimination policy.
City Attorney Brad Bowman said he will talk with cities around the region that have passed nondiscrimination policies as he drafts a measure for the city council to consider. A draft of the policy is expected to be presented to the council in April.
“I will reach out to those cities to see what’s working, what is not, what has been effective, what the impact has been so we can gauge that and draft a more effective ordinance,” Bowman said.
Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham called the concerns of council members “valid” and said seeing the draft ordinance will help address them.
“Hopefully, we can lead the way around inclusion and diversity,” Ingraham said.