Gay man becomes East Point mayor pro tem

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imageA gay man on the East Point Council is now the city’s second highest-ranking elected official, thanks to a vote Monday by the eight-person council.

City Council member Lance Rhodes, halfway through his second four-year term, was elected mayor pro tempore by beating out council colleague Marcel Reed. He will now fill-in for Mayor Earnestine Pittman during any absences.

“It’s exciting because it’s the first time that an openly gay elected official has been elected to serve,” Rhodes says. “It’s just another first for the gay and lesbian community.”

Last month, the city of 43,000 people made headlines when the city council unanimously voted to expand the city’s nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The move put East Point among just 11 other governments in Georgia that include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination ordinances, though even fewer also include gender identity.

Rhodes (photo) proposed the expansion of the city’s anti-bias policy; four years ago, he also led successful efforts to offer domestic partner benefits to city employees.

“Part of what has helped us to be successful in the gay and lesbian community is educating the public in general that those of who are openly gay aren’t only interested in gay and lesbian issues. We’ve been working on getting our financial house in order. Part of demonstrating leadership in the gay and lesbian community is showing that we are focused on what is good for the community as a whole,” Rhodes says.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, praised the city and Rhodes in an email to supporters Friday.

“Georgia Equality, once again, applauds the leadership of the City of East Point for making a stand for equality and fairness by electing an openly-gay man to this position,” Graham writes. “Following the recent unanimous vote to provide employment protections to gay and transgender employees and previous votes to provide domestic partnership benefits and a public domestic partnership registry, East Point has once again proven itself to be a city that values diversity. We’re very proud of Lance for gaining the respect of his colleagues and admire the hard work that has earned him this honor.”

The move by the city council comes just weeks after voters rejected two gay candidates hoping to unseat incumbents. Both Eric Morrow and Ken DeLeon lost their city council bids 53 to 47 percent. But East Point voters ousted incumbent Mayor Joe Macon.

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