Decatur adopts LGBTQ-friendly law as annual rights list ranks Ga. cities.

The City of Savannah says it is waiting for clarity from the U.S. Supreme Court and state and federal law before it expands LGBTQ rights. The Supreme Court heard arguments in a discrimination case earlier this year. Allison Stevens/Georgia Recorder

This week, Decatur became the sixth Georgia city to approve a policy to protect people from discrimination by businesses due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The new law figures to drastically raise Decatur’s score in next year’s Municipal Equality Index, an annual report that scores local governments inclusion of the LGBTQ community in policies, laws and services. Decatur scored 54 on a 100-point scale in the report released this week, docked 30 points for lacking clear LGBTQ inclusion policies.

While the anti-discrimination ordinance includes protections based on religion, race and other standard criteria, the added policy is spurred by LGBTQ organizations working with local officials. Decatur is now the sixth Georgia city to have anti-discrimination ordinance that covers housing, employment and public accommodations.

“Decatur is committed to the values of equity, inclusion and diversity and the adoption of this Ordinance is a tangible way to demonstrate that commitment,” Mayor Patti Garrett said in a statement.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, in a report released this week says Georgia cities lag well behind comparable cities across the country.

The index examines 506 U.S. cities on criteria ranging from non-discrimination policies, reporting of hate crimes and the city’s provision of transgender health benefits for its employees. The Georgia cities that were evaluated averaged a 37 compared to an average of 60 nationally, the report said.

The biggest boost to the scorecard a city can gain is through adopting a wide-ranging non-discrimination law, which adds on 30 points. The scorecard also awards points to cities that offer equivalent benefits to LGBTQ employees, or provide a police liaison to the community.

Savannah, Athens-Clarke County, Columbus, Roswell, Augusta-Richmond and Sandy Springs were among Georgia’s governments found wanting by the Human Rights Campaign for not having the non-discrimiation law.

“Georgia actually lacks any form of statewide civil rights law that protects any group of people against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. “That’s why it’s critically important for local municipalities to extend these protections, not just to their own employees, but those people who live, work and visit.”

The highest scoring Georgia city is Atlanta, which has earned a 100 since the index was created in 2013. The lowest score was for Roswell, which got a five because of a county non-discrimination policy.

The high mark for Atlanta marks a change from its reputation in the recent past, when a highley publicized  raid of a gay club by Atlanta police officers resulted in a lawsuit that forced the city to change training and polcies.

A Savannah official protests its 40-point score should be 20 higher because it has an LGBTQ liaison, allows domestic partners to get benefits, reports hate crimes to the FBI and provides an inclusive workplace.

City leaders are delaying new anti-discrimination policy that might be overuled in lieu of supporting state or federal law, Savannah spokesman Nick Zoller said.

The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide if anti-discrimination law prohibits an employer from firing someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Savannah’s leaders pride themselves on being welcoming to anyone, Zoller said.

“We’d be more than happy to walk (Human Rights Campaign) through how we’re (inclusive) to the wide swath of minorities groups in Savannah,” he said. “Savannah, truly like much of the U.S., is a melting pot.”

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.