The city of Sandy Springs needs a formal non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, City Councilman Andy Bauman said in written statements issued March 21. He said was inspired by a debate over a state “religious freedom” law widely criticized as discriminating against gays, lesbians and bisexual and transgender people.
“As a Sandy Springs councilman, I am obligated to ensure that discrimination has no place in our community, and in the governance and operation of our city,” Bauman wrote. In a note to constituents, he added, “We are an open and tolerant community and I believe that formally adopting these policies is entirely consistent with our community values.”
The city already has a non-discrimination policy that includes “sexual preference”–an old term referring to gay people now widely considered incorrect and offensive, according such LGBT groups as GLAAD–but it applies only to the city’s own hiring and employment, while Bauman is calling for a broader policy. The city outsources the vast majority of its services, but the policy applies via contract to those company’s workers as well, according to city spokesperson Sharon Kraun. At least three of the firms that provide city services under outsourced contracts also have their own policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Kraun said.
Bauman said his action is in response to the state Legislature’s March 16 passage of HB 757, which would prohibit forcing religious institutions to conduct same-sex marriages and would allow faith-based organizations to deny services or employment to LGBT people. Bauman calls the bill a “thinly veiled and shameful attempt to sanction discrimination,” and notes that Gov. Nathan Deal, whose decision whether to sign or veto the bill is pending, strongly criticized an earlier version of it.
HB 757 has been heavily criticized by many large corporations and business associations. The Buckhead Coalition, an influential Atlanta group of 100 CEOs and community leaders, joined the opposition on March 21. The Coalition said in a statement that it “has respect for all who strive to theologically protect diversity in religion. However, we empathize with the many fearful of potential discrimination the ‘Religious Liberty’ HB 757 Georgia Legislation could cause…We plead with our governor to veto this legislation.”
“This is not just a moral and legal issue. It is an economic imperative,” Bauman wrote, noting that Sandy Springs is home to many multinational corporations.
Bauman said he does not believe the city has ever discriminated against someone for any identity- or belief-based reason, and noted that city employment applications include sexual orientation in an equal-opportunity statement. “My concern, however, is that we do not have an ordinance or formal adopted policy to back this up, and to apply (legally) to our city contractors to whom we outsource the majority of jobs in Sandy Springs,” Bauman wrote.
His proposed policy would cover all protected classes in federal and state law, as well as sexual orientation, which is not currently fully protected in either. The policy would apply to any organization doing business with the city or using public facilities, including public parks and the future performing arts center in the City Springs project, he said.
The current city non-discrimination employment policy, a copy of which Kraun provided, covers people in a “protected category such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual preference, age, disability, marital status, sickle cell trait, pregnancy, abortion and other childbirth-related concerns, disabled veterans and veterans of the Vietnam Era.”
About 40 Georgia cities and several counties, including DeKalb and Fulton, have some type of non-discrimination policy covering sexual orientation, according to the LGBT rights group Georgia Equality. But the vast majority of such policies only apply to the government’s own employment practices.
Non-discrimination policies in local cities vary widely. The city of Atlanta has a comprehensive set of laws barring discrimination, including bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in any type of city decision as well as in many practices of private businesses and landlords, including the selection of customers. City lawyers are reviewing HB 757 to see if it would conflict with or invalidate any of those non-discrimination policies, a city spokesperson said.
The cities of Brookhaven and Dunwoody, like Sandy Springs, have non-discrimination policies that apply to the city’s own employment and use language that refers to both sexual orientation and gender identity, according to city representatives.
Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham said that Atlanta’s policy is the only comprehensive LGBT protections in the state. Savannah recently expanded its policy to cover municipal contracting and licensing, and Athens/Clarke County has a task force studying possible policy expansion, he said.
“We have not yet had an opportunity to reach out to Councilman Bauman, but applaud his efforts to move this conversation forward,” Graham said.
In his statement, Bauman praises the “courage” of local state Reps. Beth Beskin and Joe Wilkinson for voting against HB 757. Some other local elected officials voted in favor of the bill, including state Rep. Wendell Willard, who is also Sandy Springs’ city attorney.
The Sandy Springs City Council’s next scheduled regular meeting is April 5. Bauman said he does not know whether his proposed policy will be on the agenda for discussion.