Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal said a proposed city ordinance to ban privately-owned businesses from discriminating against minority groups including LGBTQ people is “fine by me” but said he believes everyone in the city is already treated equally.
The City Council considered the first read of the ordinance at its May 20 meeting and a second and final read is set for June 10. If approved, Dunwoody would become the latest in a growing number of metro Atlanta cities passing such ordinances.
“First of all, I think we already treat everybody equally here in the city,” Shortal said in a May 21 interview. “I’ve never had any cases [of discrimination] come up to me by people, and I talk to a lot of people.
“I think we’re family here. Everyone is equal,” he added. “Nobody is at an advantage or disadvantage.”
The city’s ordinance would ban local, privately-owned businesses from discriminating against people based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinance also prohibits discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, marital status, familial status, or veteran/military status.
Councilmember John Heneghan, who is proposing the ordinance with Councilmember Pam Tallmadge, said most of the protected classes included in the ordinance are protected by state and federal law. But, he said, the ordinance is necessary because there is currently no state law prohibiting discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Some people felt we needed to do this. … If it makes other people feel more comfortable, that’s fine by me,” Shortal said. “If this gives some people reassurance, if that’s what folks need, that’s fine by me.”
Shortal said he believed federal law already protected everyone included in the city’s ordinance.
“Quite honestly, I think this is all covered by federal law,” he said. As a retired Marine Corps brigadier general, Shortal said the military also prohibited discrimination against the groups of people included in the city’s ordinance.
“I’m in the military so I know it’s covered there,” he said, adding he used to teach classes about how to treat people equally. “You are who you are. Whether religion, race, origin, sexual preference. Nobody has an advantage or disadvantage. Everything should be based on performance.”
When asked to clarify what he meant by “it’s covered by the military,” Shortal answered, “Just about everything.”
There are not overall protections for LGBTQ people in the military, however. President Donald Trump implemented a ban on transgender service members that went into effect in April. The ban reversed a 2016 policy. Openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people could not serve in the military until 2011.
Federal law is also not settled on protections for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The U.S. House of Representatives on May 17 passed for the first time the Equality Act, a bill that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, the workplace, public spaces and services, education and other settings.
If Dunwoody’s ordinance is approved, the city would join the growing ranks of metro Atlanta cities putting such ordinances that include protections for LGBTQ people on their books. The municipal ordinances strike back at attempts by the General Assembly over the past several years to pass so-called “religious freedom” bills. Such a bill would essentially prohibit governments from restricting a person’s exercise of their religion. Opponents of the bill say the bill would lead to businesses discriminating against LGBTQ people.