Second vote for city’s anti-sexual orientation, gender identity discrimination measure to come after first approval


Image: Rose Scoggins

Bentley Hudgins, a Mercer senior, urges the Macon-Bibb County Commissioners to vote to adopt the changes to the county charter at the April 18 meeting.

Rose Scoggins, Staff Writer

The Commission Chamber of the Macon-Bibb County Government Center was standing room only at the April 18 meeting of the Board of Commission.

The majority of the attendees were there to witness the vote to amend sections 31 and 32 of the Macon-Bibb County Charter.

The proposed amendments to the sections were focused around four words: sexual orientation and gender identity.

According to the proposals from a Board of Commission document, the words would be added to the list of non-discriminatory factors in section 31 to ensure that “all appointments and promotions in Macon-Bibb County shall be made without regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The words would also be added to section 32 so that “the Commission shall afford equal opportunities for employment and promotion to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity,” according to the document.

Bentley Hudgins, a senior undergraduate student at Mercer, was involved in helping bring awareness to the public about the proposed changes by organizing a Facebook event called “Crowd Out Discrimination.”

Hudgins said coming up with the name for the event was influenced by a history of prior events in Macon.

“On March 11, we had the March on Macon,” he said. “The idea at the March on Macon was to have an intersectional demonstration of how human rights and civil rights and equality and equity and all these things we value are valued in the community.”

After the march, Hudgins received a proclamation from Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert for a Macon Unity Day.

“It set a precedent and gave us a foundation to work off of,” Hudgins said.

After laying the foundation, Hudgins said he met with 2nd District Commissioner Larry Schlesinger.

“We talked [to] figure out a strategy that [would] demonstrate the large amount of support that is in the community and that [would] be the most effective way to make a statement to the commission,” Hudgins said.

According to the Facebook event page, the strategy that they came up with was to have as many people attend the meeting as possible.

“When people are present physically, your voice is heard more directly,” Hudgins said. “The more people that you can get engaged in the democratic process, the truer that democratic process is.”

While there were many people that supported the amendment, there were also some opposed to the changes.

Public comment on agenda items, including the vote for the changes, were allowed at the beginning of the session.

Three people from the supporting and opposing sides of the amendment changes, including Hudgins, were selected by their side to address the commission.

After public comments and other agenda items, the Macon-Bibb County commissioners had the chance to speak to the audience about their views before voting on the changes.

Schlesinger, who is the commissioner sponsor for the changes, said that he would be voting yes to apply the changes.

“We need to set a tone in this county, [and] we need to lead when it comes to these things. We need to set an example for others to follow,” he said during the meeting. “Inclusion is one of the most important examples that we can set, and it needs to be put in writing for everyone to see.”

While Schlesinger and commissioners Gary Bechtel, Elaine Lucas, Bert Bivins, Virgil Watkins and Al Tillman all voted to adopt the amendment, commissioners Mallory Jones, Joe Allen and Scotty Shepherd all expressed their opposition.

Jones said he opposed the amendment because according to his research, there is no evidence that Macon-Bibb County needs to adopt the changes.

The research Jones said he conducted was through Ben Hubbard, the Macon-Bibb County human resources department director since 1983.

“I asked Mr. Hubbard [to] check and let me know [if there] have been any complaints regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. Mr. Hubbard checked,” Jones said. “It was a staggering number. It was zero. Zero complaints for the past 34 years.”

Although Jones, Allen, and Shepherd all felt that the ordinance should not be adopted, the vote passed 6 to 3 in a roll-call vote.

After Reichert announced that the ordinance had been adopted, the supporting members of the crowd cheered and clapped.

The short celebration was interrupted by Reichert after speaking with County Attorney Judd Drake.

“I have been advised that I misspoke,” he said. “Since this is an ordinance and changes the charter, it requires a second passage two weeks from tonight. It has to be approved a second time.”

After finding out that the proposal would need to be voted on again, Hudgins said he began making plans to host an event for the next vote on May 2.

“This is just the beginning, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I can’t help but to be beaming with pride for the work we’ve accomplished thus far,” he said. “I’m incredibly honored to be a part of a national movement, and it’s humbling and encouraging to see the Macon-Bibb Community stand together for the rights of everyone.”