Rachael Kates stood at the podium during public comment at the June 10 Dunwoody City Council and praised the council’s decision to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance that prohibits local, privately-owned businesses from discriminating against minority groups, including LGBTQ people.
“I wanted you guys to know that living in a place where someone who comes at me as a queer person or a Jewish person, that I will be able to go to the city [for help] and something can be done … it’s everything to me,” Kates said, adding the ordinance also allows LGBTQ people to “feel safe.”
Kates also noted June is Pride Month, a month celebrated across the country to commemorate the June 28, 1969 Stonewall riots against a police raid at a gay bar in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. The demonstrations are largely credited with spurring the modern day LGBTQ rights movement in the U.S.
“Our mothers and fathers rioted at Stonewall for this and I thank you for standing up for us,” Kates said.
Dunwoody’s ordinance comes on the heels of similar ordinances passed in recent months in Doraville, Clarkston and Chamblee. Atlanta passed an LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinance nearly 20 years ago.
The city’s ordinance bans 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, age, disability, marital status, familial status or veteran/military status.
As part of the ordinance, the city put a process in place for people to report alleged discrimination to the city with city-appointed mediators and hearing officers investigating such claims. Additionally, the ordinance formalizes that the police department will receive training on hate crimes and report hate crimes to the FBI.
The ordinance exempts religious corporations or associations and nonprofit private clubs that are not open to the public.
Councilmembers John Heneghan and Pam Tallmadge proposed the ordinance. They both said a gay resident asked them to do so after reading about a similar ordinance being approved in neighboring cities.
Heneghan 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.
One person did speak out against the nondiscrimination rdinance. Ted Freye, holding his Bible, told the council homosexuality was a sin and he urged them to not approve the ordinance. He was alone in his public opposition.
Robert Wittenstein, former Dunwoody Homeowners Association president, thanked the council for its work and said the city has always been a place where diversity is welcomed and valued.
“And this ordinance helps deliver that message,” he said.
Allison Padilla-Goodman, the regional director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast Region based in Atlanta, is a Dunwoody resident. She commended the city’s decision to include in the ordinance hate crimes training for police officers as well as mandating the department track and report hate crimes to state and federal law enforcement authorities.
“I’m a proud Dunwoody resident and even prouder for the council to consider this ordinance,” she said.
The ADL has worked for many years to pass a hate crimes law in Georgia, one of only four states without such a law. The state House passed a hate crimes law including sexual orientation during the past session but it did not pass out of the Senate. Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan supports a hate crimes law and has advocated for Georgia to pass a hate crimes law.
“Hate crimes are a major issue nationwide,” Padilla-Goodman said. Last year the ADL saw a 17 percent spike in hate crimes against people because of their race, religion and national origin, she said.
The ordinance was included in the City Council’s consent agenda with several other items. The consent agenda was passed unanimously without council comment.
After the vote, many of the approximately 30 people attending the meeting applauded.