‘A ma­jor dis­crim­i­na­tion prob­lem’

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

Peo­ple like to ask Ant­won Stephens if Athens, Ge­or­gia is ready for a LGBT mayor.

He thinks it is — and he or fel­low can­di­date Richie Knight have good chances at be­ing the first. Both threw their hats in the ring, along with Athens-Clarke County com­mis­sion­ers Harry Sims and Kelly Girtz, for the 2018 elec­tion.

Stephens, an Athens na­tive, has a laun­dry list of things he wants to change in his home­town if elected, and LGBT rights is one of them. He’s also pas­sion­ate about mak­ing Athens a stand-out com­mu­nity on its own, rather than one that some­times seems more like a sub­urb of At­lanta, and he wants to change the cy­cle of stu­dents who rent for two or three years and leave the city af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

“That doesn’t ben­e­fit the city of Athens but very lit­tle,” he said. “We have busi­nesses come in the sea­sons stu­dents are here and then they leave. There are no high-pay­ing jobs. Min­i­mum wage is still very low.”

He fa­vors in­sti­tut­ing a prop­erty tax in­cen­tive to keep grad­u­ates in Athens, and is in fa­vor of a fis­cally re­spon­si­ble “green” trans­porta­tion sys­tem that pro­vides free pub­lic rides.

Though be­ing the first openly gay, first black and youngest mayor are all im­por­tant qual­i­ties to Stephens’ can­di­dacy, it’s not as big a deal to Knight.

“I don’t want to be a first any­thing. I just want to be a guy that cares about the city,” he said.

Knight, who owns a mar­ket­ing busi­ness, an­nounced his can­di­dacy early this year, in part be­cause he’s fo­cused on lis­ten­ing to fel­low Athe­ni­ans. One ma­jor is­sue cit­i­zens raised is youth eco­nomic mo­bil­ity, where stu­dents aren’t fin­ish­ing high school and then find them­selves un- or un­der­em­ployed.

“That con­trib­utes di­rectly to our as­ton-

May 26, 2017

ish­ing poverty rate, which is over 38 per­cent when you fac­tor in the whole com­mu­nity, and still over 26 per­cent when you take the col­lege bracket out,” Knight said. “Our trans­porta­tion is in big need of ex­pan­sion. Our buses don’t go to our ma­jor in­dus­trial parks. We have huge gaps in this green­way project we’ve been work­ing on for 20 years. Maybe it’s time we think about some pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships, or pri­vate fund­ing, to fin­ish these projects.”

As the may­oral race heats up, the Athens-Clarke gov­ern­ment is urged to ad­dress the ele­phant in the room. And they’re not talk­ing about the one that comes with the Crim­son Tide to San­ford Sta­dium ev­ery few years. “We’ve got a ma­jor dis­crim­i­na­tion prob­lem. It’s been one that we’ve swept un­der the rug. I think there are enough groups that are mak­ing this an is­sue that peo­ple can no longer ig­nore,” Knight said. “There’s things hap­pen­ing that we as a city gov­ern­ment have to rec­og­nize and come up with some sort of penalty on the busi­ness side.”

He said it’s al­most more of an is­sue of the com­mis­sion and mayor “step­ping up and do­ing the right thing” than it is about civil rights.

Stephens called out Mayor Nancy Den­son for not sup­port­ing the pro­pos­als for the com­mit­tee.

“I have been a vo­cal sup­porter of that,” he said. “I be­lieve that should be a steady town hall meet­ing of peo­ple in the city of Athens who are mi­nor­ity Amer­i­cans, the LGBT com­mu­nity, where they can get to­gether about talk­ing to the com­mis­sion and to the mayor.”

The push to have a civil rights com­mit­tee in Athens-Clarke County be­gan in 2016, af­ter the Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia came out with a com­mu­nity study show­ing there was no­table dis­crim­i­na­tion down­town. Much of this was on a racial bias: a bar called Gen­eral Beau­re­gard’s re­port­edly had a drink named for a racist slur, and sev­eral bars im­posed dress codes that seemed to fa­vor non-black pa­trons.

“We or­ga­nized a big march on MLK Day, this was in 2016, on City Hall. Hun­dreds of peo­ple came out and at that time we had sat down and dis­cussed, this is the time for us to be push­ing for a hu­man re­la­tions com­mis­sion. We had seen other cities push for this,” said Tim Den­son, pres­i­dent of Athens for Ev­ery­one. “There’s an ob­vi­ous need here.”

The county com­mis­sion re­leased a res­o­lu­tion de­nounc­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion, and pro-equal­ity or­ga­ni­za­tion Athens for Ev­ery­one lob­bied to add gen­der iden­tity.

“It was just a res­o­lu­tion; had ab­so­lutely no teeth to it at all. We said the state­ment is fan­tas­tic, but we need a next step, which is to cre­ate a body to do what this state­ment CON­TIN­UES ON PAGE 5

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