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said,” Denson said. “The mayor and commission at that time were not too open to it. What they decided to do was pass an ordinance specifically addressing discrimination at bars downtown, when bars were selectively enforcing their dress code.”
Athens equality advocates wanted more. They felt the ordinance should apply to all businesses, not just bars, and it needed to expand to a full civil rights committee. They marched on City Hall again, at one point even singing “This Little Light of Mine” until the mayor finally gave in and put the proposal on the agenda.
The county chose to move forward with researching the implications of creating such a committee and how it could assist in addressing discrimination, and is expected to bring forward its recommendation to the County Commission and mayor next month, Denson said.
Adding voices to the conversation
Denson praised mayoral candidates Girtz and Simms for their leadership on moving the resolution forward, specifically noting Girtz as a “huge ally.” In 2016, the push began for an Athens Civil Rights Committee as part of the Athens-Clarke County Commission. A recommendation from the county staff is expected to be presented in June on whether or not to move forward. (Photo by Richard Chambers, via Wikimedia Commons)
If the committee comes to fruition, it will have several functions, including offering guidance to Athenians who feel they were discriminated against, and potentially plan community awareness events.
“It will kind of do a few different things. The biggest thing I see is that they will actu- ally do an annual report on the entire county, including the government and the community as a whole, with how we’re doing on inclusivity … then also possible recommendations on what could be done to make the discrimination go away,” Denson said. “This body would not have legal authority the way some other human relations commissions have in the past, specifically the one in Atlanta. It would be different in that way, although it’s possible that moving forward, that authority could be given to a body like this.”
Having a diverse slate of people governing Athens-Clarke County could also bolster the functions of the committee, as it may give minority communities the confidence to add their voices to the table.
“Being a part of that community, I have a different viewpoint or different eye than most would have. I recognize and understand our discrimination issue a little more than the average white male because I’ve seen it. I’ve been through it,” Knight said. “We have to get more citizens engaged in our local government and that’s a community that’s not engaged right now. Very few people in the LGBT community have a voice at the table.”