Augusta lags but advocates have hope for improving LGBT index

Augusta officials - including mayor’s office LGBT liaison Kellie Irving and Commissioner Marion Williams - met with leaders of Equality Augusta and Georgia Equality at a May reception to talk about changing city attitudes toward the LGBT population. SPECIAL

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, a mayor’s statement on equality and a city housing program carry the weight for Augusta in the 2017 Municipal Equality Index on the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.

 

The LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign’s annual ranking assigned Augusta a score of 14, up from a 12 last year, but still trailing Athens (33), Columbus (34), Savannah (44), Columbia (75), Greenville, S.C. (22) and Atlanta, which again garnered a top score of 100. The city has been trying to improve its score.

Augusta received 10 points for the continued presence of an LGBT liaison at the sheriff’s office, two points for leadership having a public position on equality and two bonus points for administering a federally-funded housing program for HIV-positive residents.

The sheriff’s office appreciates the work of LGBT liaison Deputy Zay’Vion Williams, Capt. Allan Rollins said.

“The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is here for all of our citizens,” Rollins said. “Anytime we have a deputy that fits into a community and can represent the sheriff’s office to that community and represent that community to the sheriff’s office, we are happy to put that in place.”

Augusta scored two out of a possible five points for leadership in having a public position on LGBT equality, which local advocates say reflects Mayor Hardie Davis’ May statement of support to Jeff Graham, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Georgia Equality.

“The city of Augusta is proud to support the efforts of Georgia Equality to advance fairness, safety and opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals,” the letter stated, which was read at a May reception by city Compliance Director Kellie Irving, whom Davis appointed LGBT liaison.

The appointment has not yet led to Augusta extending employment protections to LGBT city employees, another area the city could score points. The Augusta Commission voiced support for the addition, but it is folded into an ongoing revision of the city personnel policies and procedures manual that shows no sign of being completed.

After a handful of meetings in 2016, the commission subcommittee reviewing the revisions hasn’t met since May of this year. Irving said other city developments have slowed progress. “Things are happening city-wide that have pushed back dates,” she said.

Irving said she’s met with Williams and Georgia Equality and Equality Augusta board member Matthew Duncan once a month to improve the city’s Municipal Equality Index score and was disappointed that Augusta did not receive additional points for her appointment as liaison.

Duncan said Augusta’s low score does not “reflect the quality of life for the LGBT community in Augusta,” but that a higher score will enhance the city’s ability to attract highly qualified workers and fair-minded businesses.

“Equality Augusta and Georgia Equality are hopeful that Augusta will soon join other Georgia cities such as Macon, Savannah, Athens and Atlanta in enacting a nondiscrimination ordinance that protects our LGBT citizens from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Duncan said.

Should the city not complete the personnel manual by year’s end, Duncan said Augusta Equality may request the nondiscrimination policy be pulled and passed as a standalone item.

Duncan said Augusta Equality is also looking to work with Richmond County Board of Education to enact enumerated anti-LGBT-bullying policies which would gain the city additional index points.

Augusta’s final two points were bonus points awarded for a Housing and Community Development-administered program that provides housing for people who are HIV-positive, known as HOPWA or Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS.

The Augusta metro area ranked high in a 2013 Emory University study for its rate of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men.

Leon Maben, a member of a city housing citizen advisory panel, sat in on a recent HOPWA workshop intended to ensure providers follow federal guidelines. Maben said the program is critical because discrimination takes place in many Augusta neighborhoods when a resident is known to be HIV positive.

“It was good to learn there is help in Augusta for those individuals,” Maben said. “There is still much discrimination against individuals with HIV and AIDS.”

 

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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