A nondiscrimination ordinance introduced by Commissioner Robert Patrick was unanimously passed by the Board of Commissioners on July 11, 2023.
“I’m very proud of the colleagues that I serve with,” said Patrick, who represents District 1 and is the presiding officer. “The ordinance talks about classes and groups of people, but those are family members, those are friends, those are our brothers and sisters. They’re our people. More often than not, when America comes together and starts talking about how we work together to get things done, we’re a better country and we do some amazing things together.”
The nondiscrimination ordinance bars businesses and employers from subjecting anyone to unequal treatment based on an array of factors including race, religion and sexual orientation among several others.
“We can’t legislate morality,” added District 7 Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, who co-sponsored the ordinance, “but we can protect our citizens.”
After the vote, the commissioners raised a pride flag outside of the Manuel J. Maloof Government Center with DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond and local leaders, including State Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates), the first opening gay state representative, Doraville City Councilmember Stephe Koontz, a transgendered leader, Former Atlanta City Council President Cathy Woolard, the first gay person elected to Atlanta City Council, Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality, Former State Rep. Matthew Wilson who’s also current First Vice Chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, and Dr. Kenneth Samuel of Decatur’s Victory for the World Church, who offered a prayer giving thanks for the passage of the ordinance.
“This is an important and very necessary ordinance,” said Thurmond. “We will not allow hate and discrimination and bigotry to define who are as a county.”
Noting that government-sanctioned discrimination is increasingly on the rise elsewhere – including a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision explicitly allowing businesses to deny service to gay and lesbian couples, Patrick said he was proud of the antidiscrimination legislation he first proposed nearly two years ago, but saddened that it was even necessary.
“I never thought we’d reach a point where we’d have to have an ordinance saying Americans should be treated like Americans,” said Patrick. “I wish we could say this vote takes care of it,” he said, but an increasingly “unfriendly environment” makes that unlikely.
Citing an atmosphere in which “even the courts tend to lean away from inclusion and diversity,” added Cochran-Johnson, the current atmosphere is one in which “we must all take a stand.”
Prior to the vote numerous speakers spoke in support of the ordinance including CEO Thurmond; Drenner and Graham, among others.
No one rose in opposition to the ordinance, which passed on a 7-to-0 vote.
The ordinance prohibits of discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, genetic information, familial status, political affiliation, political opinion, sexual orientation, parental status, gender identity, or protective hairstyle by anyone offering goods or services to the public.
People who suspect they’ve faced such discrimination may file a complaint with the county, which will investigate and may convene a hearing providing the complainant and person or business accused of discrimination a chance to testify.
If the hearing officer finds that discrimination has indeed occurred, the violator can be fined up to $500 per violation. Repeat offenders also face having their business licenses suspended or revoked.
Patrick also successfully led the effort to pass an antidiscrimination ordinance when he was a member of the Doraville City Council, where he served two terms before being elected to the DeKalb County Commission in 2021.
The DeKalb County ordinance contains a provision ensuring that if any part of it is declared unconstitutional by a court, the rest of its provisions will remain in force.