As Decatur celebrates Pride Month, local activist blasts city over lack of nondiscrimination ordinance
Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett at the June 17 City Commission meeting declared June LGBTQ Pride Month in Decatur, but one local resident said the city needs more than a proclamation.
Clare Schexnyder, a Decatur mom and activist, said what the city needs is a nondiscrimination ordinance like the ones passed in the cities of Dunwoody and Clarkston. Those ordinances prevent businesses from discriminating against anyone and provide a means for residents to file discrimination complaints with the city.
“Decatur should have been the first city in DeKalb County to do this,” Schexnyder said during public comments. “Instead, Doraville, Clarkston, Chamblee and Dunwoody have done the right thing, and we sit here, with not even an ordinance drawn up and before the commission.”
Commissioners said that the issue is something they are exploring. The city in the past has declared itself to be a Welcoming City and a Compassionate City to show its support for all residents. The city also has a board focused on diversity, Better Together.
Mayor Patti Garrett said Better Together is involved in crafting the nondiscrimination ordinance.
“I met with the Anti-Defamation League,” Garrett said. “We have copies of the other cities’ ordinances. We’re looking at what would be the best language for the city of Decatur … Whatever we’re putting in it needs to be workable for the city of Decatur. We absolutely are working on it.”
Commissioner Brian Smith pointed to the city’s other efforts at inclusion to show that the city does care about this issue.
“I think we say everything except having an actual non-discrimination clause,” Smith said.
Commissioner Kelly Walsh said that even though there isn’t an ordinance, that shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign the city isn’t making it a priority.
“I would hope our neighbors don’t see where we are in the process as a lack of desire, but as a proactive choice and decision to be prudent and take our time, learn from other cities and in fact be as forward-thinking as we can,” she said, adding, “I think we’ll get there. I’m supportive of it, but I do think there can be unintended consequences that I would love to learn [about] from other cities as they’ve already done it.”
Here’s the full text of Schexnyder’s remarks at the June 17 City Commission meeting:
I’m here tonight to ask for the City Commission of Decatur to bring up and pass a non-discrimination ordinance immediately. For years, Decatur has been seen as a progressive city. An “island of blue in a sea of red.” We prided ourselves on being green, forward thinking and diverse. But I fear that view of Decatur is fading fast.
Four other cities in DeKalb County have passed non-discrimination ordinances in the past year – joining the city of Atlanta. Decatur should have been the FIRST city in DeKalb County to do this!! Instead, Doraville, Clarkston, Chamblee and Dunwoody have done the right thing, and we sit here, with not even an ordinance drawn up and before the commission.
As members of Decatur’s city commission, I believe you should take our city’s identity as a diverse community seriously. I feel strongly it’s important to push the needle from tolerance to inclusion.
In talking with Mayor Garrett by email back in April after Clarkston passed its ordinance, she said Decatur had hoped the state would pass a hate crimes bill in the last assembly, but sadly it did not.
If we wait on the state to do the right thing, we may be waiting for a long time! We cannot wait. It’s your job as leaders in the community to protect the vulnerable and those who may not have a voice.
This ordinance would provide a level of protection for employees and consumers of Decatur businesses against discrimination based on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, or military status. It is a little-known fact that Georgia does not have any protections for discrimination based on the statuses mentioned above – if someone is a member of a protected class and wants to file a lawsuit, they are required to file a federal lawsuit, which is a challenge for many people who might have been wronged. Most LGBTQ people are not covered as a Federal protected class at all, and therefore currently have no recourse at the state or federal level if they experience discrimination.
The goal of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance I’m proposing for Decatur is to provide realistic, reasonable protections locally; and to discourage anyone operating a business or offering public accommodations here from engaging in discriminatory practices. Atlanta has not experienced any backlash or problems arising from their ordinance, and according to Georgia Equality and other groups in this state, we should not expect problems arising for Decatur from this one.
Research suggests that Non-Discrimination ordinances are tied to economic development for the cities that adopt them. Corporations that are looking for a new location are frequently drawn to municipalities that have protections in place for their employees.
I’m saddened and dismayed (and I know the LGBTQ community and organizations in the state have given up on Decatur taking the lead on this issue.) It’s way past time for you to play catch-up.
You can now look to other city leaders (like Doraville and Dunwoody) for a model for an ordinance that has been vetted and will work. Fortunately, other DeKalb County cities took the first step, and we should follow without delay!
One way to go further, would be to encourage all city of Decatur businesses and public spaces to have gender neutral bathrooms when at all possible.
– Clare Schexnyder
To learn more about Dunwoody’s ordinance, click here.
To learn more about Clarkston’s ordinance, click here.
Editor’s note: This story was reported by viewing a live video stream of the June 17 meeting.