Statesboro approves sweeping protections for LGBTQ people

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Statesboro made a powerful stand in favor of nondiscrimination, equity and inclusion on Tuesday by adopting a broad policy that protects LGBTQ people, promotes diversity in city contracting and purchasing, and creates a citywide campaign for equity.

The nondiscrimination ordinance – modeled after ones passed in 10 other cities in Georgia – protects LGBTQ people in private employment, housing and public accommodations. It also calls for tracking hate crimes and training city police on how to investigate and report them.

The inclusive measure bans discrimination based on actual or perceived race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and military status.

The ordinance goes further than most other nondiscrimination measures in the state by including provisions to award 20 percent of city contracts and purchases to minority- and female-owned businesses. It also calls for equity and diversity training for city employees, prioritizes federal grants for historically disadvantaged communities and creates a citywide equity campaign.

City Council vetted the measure during three public hearings, and it passed in a 4-1 vote. Council member John Riggs voted against it. 

Carving out exceptions

Council member Phil Boyum introduced the ordinance in July and said it will bring people together to mediate any claims of discrimination.

“It was important to me to bring that extra of mediation in so that we could get the two parties to sit down,” Boyum said Tuesday.

The ordinance calls for the municipality to review initial complaints of alleged violations and then refer the case to an independent mediator for non-binding and voluntary mediation. A complaint must be filed within 180 days of the alleged act of discrimination and include a $25 filing fee.

If the complaint is not resolved through mediation, the case will be turned over to municipal court for a hearing. A first offense brings a $500 fine, which increases to $1,000 for additional offenses. The city council can also vote to revoke the business license of repeat violators of the ordinance.

The fees for the mediator are assessed to the non-prevailing party in the complaint, though the hearing officer can waive that.

The ordinance carves out exceptions, including a religiously oriented business that hires employees to perform work related to religious activities, non-profit private clubs not open to the public and religious organizations operating non-commercial facilities.

‘This ordinance discriminates’

Riggs, before he voted against the nondiscrimination ordinance, defended the city’s record combatting discrimination. He said that he supported parts of the measure but that other portions of it fostered discrimination.

“I love everybody, and I show it every day to everyone that I see, and I do not discriminate, and I can’t vote for this ordinance because it discriminates,” Riggs said. “This ordinance has many, many wonderful things in it that I’m wholly in favor of, but I cannot vote for them because of the discrimination. I love everyone and I show it.”

Statesboro is the latest city in the state to pass an LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Similar measures were approved in Smyrna on Aug. 3, Savannah on July 23 and East Point on June 15.

At least 11 cities in Georgia now have similar policies – Atlanta, Brookhaven, Chamblee, Clarkston, Decatur, Doraville, Dunwoody, East Point, Savannah, Smyrna and Statesboro.

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said that city leaders sent a “powerful message” to LGBTQ people in Statesboro.

“We’re grateful to see local leaders in Statesboro taking action to protect members of the LGBTQ community,” Graham said in a press release. “This powerful ordinance will provide tangible protections to LGBTQ people and send an important message of inclusion and equality.”

The effort to pass the ordinances in cities across the state has been spearheaded in part by Stephe Koontz, the transgender Doraville City Council member who took office in 2018 and helped that city pass a nondiscrimination ordinance later that year.

“I knew writing and passing a non-discrimination ordinance that was legal in Georgia was a big deal, but I had no idea how widespread that action would end up being,” Koontz told Project Q Atlanta. “I’m excited to know that hundreds of thousands of Georgians are now protected from discrimination, and hope at some point this pressures the state to pass one.”

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