Doraville passes historic LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance

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The city of Doraville passed a sweeping nondiscrimination ordinance to protect LGBTQ people, making it only the second city in Georgia with such protections.

“What we did tonight really sends a big statement out to the region. It’s a new day,” said Stephe Koontz (top photo), the transgender city councilmemberwho took office in January and spearheaded this effort. “We’re maybe a different place than people had painted us as, and I think that we can be a crown jewel for the north side of Atlanta. I think this is a start of that.”

The Doraville City Council passed the measure by a vote of five to one on Monday at a council meeting filled with several attendees wearing Doraville Pride shirts.

The nondiscrimination policy would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in private employment, housing and public accommodations. The city of Atlanta is the only other municipality with those protections.

The policy would also prohibit discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry or military status.

Up until Monday’s vote, Doraville’s nondiscrimination policy only had protections for LGBTQ city employees. Some 60 jurisdictions across Georgia offer nondiscrimination policies that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation. About 15 of those jurisdictions include gender identity in their protections.

“I think it’s a first step of many,” Doraville Mayor Donna Pittman told Project Q Atlanta. “Words are pretty cheap to say that this is what we are, but to actually show proof tonight that this is what we support and this is what we believe in … I think it’s a wonderful thing moving the city forward and I hope that other cities can follow suit and do this as well.”

Doraville City Councilmember Pam Fleming was the only “no” vote on the ordinance, saying that it should be a resolution instead of an ordinance that’s part of city law.

“We don’t need to be effecting an ordinance to say, well if you come into this business and you have the perception that you’re being discriminated against, then go to the city clerk’s office with a $50 bill and you sign up and say I’ve been discriminated against by this business,” Fleming said during discussion on the ordinance. “It’s much broader than businesses. We need to be looking at ourselves when we think about discrimination.”

Cathy Woolard spoke in support of the ordinance during public comment. Woolard was Atlanta City Council president in 2000 when Atlanta adopted an ordinance protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Gender identity was added to those protections in 2013.

“I think Doraville would benefit greatly by passing this because it’s a statement of your values as a community,” Woolard said. “You’ve written a clean, simple clear law that is very easy to do.”

Woolard said there have been 12 discrimination complaints under the Atlanta ordinance in the last three years, and only one has been sustained.

“That tells you that frivolous cases do not come pouring through,” she said.

Metro Atlanta cities joining effort

Monday’s passage of the ordinance is a big step for Koontz after working on it with civil rights groups and attorneys for six months. Next is using it as a model to bring to other metro Atlanta cities. She said she expects Clarkston to pass a version before the end of the year, that she has the support of half of the Chamblee City Council and that she’s talking to officials in East Point, Decatur, Dunwoody and Brookhaven about it.

“I’m surprised that we beat Decatur to this,” she said.

Doraville City Councilmember Joseph Geierman (second photo) became emotional after the ordinance passed. He said that he wasn’t accepted for being gay where he grew up.

“It means a lot to me to know that Doraville is a place that welcomes me and my husband,” Geierman said.

To file a complaint under the ordinance, Doraville residents must do so with the city clerk within 60 days of the alleged act of discrimination. A $50 filing fee is required, but that fee may be waived later in the process.

Both parties go to voluntary non-binding mediation. If the issue isn’t resolved there, the complaint is referred to a hearing officer. If the officer finds a violation has occurred, the offender can be fined up to $500 for each violation. The “non-prevailing party” is responsible for paying the mediator’s fees and hearing officer’s fees.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said he was “proud of and grateful for” Koontz’s work.

“Not only does it put Doraville solidly on the map as a community that values diversity and inclusion, it sets a new standard for smaller municipalities – letting them know that they can pass the same type of protections that residents of the City of Atlanta have enjoyed for nearly two decades,” he said.

“Her efforts, along with those of Councilman Joseph Geierman, to build bipartisan support for this policy prove the importance of having out LGBTQ elected officials at all levels of government. That's especially important on a day like today where we could see the number of out elected officials double at the state legislature and elect the first gay man to the Gwinnett County Commission,” he added.

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