SAVANNAH - It's largely a symbolic gesture, but Savannah's gay and lesbian leaders are hailing as a triumph the anticipated addition of the words "sexual orientation" to the city's nondiscrimination policy.
When City Manager Michael Brown returns this week from a trip to Indonesia, waiting on his desk will be a proposed ordinance change that would make it illegal for the city to consider sexual orientation when making hiring and firing decisions.
The First City Network, a homosexual advocacy group, has been pushing the addition for more than a decade.
Group Co-Chairman Kevin Clark said that for the past two years the group has not fought for inclusion in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, which bans the group from marching, to help ease the nondiscrim-ination policy through.
"Most felt that in a town like Savannah, if we really wanted to do this it would be best not to stir the pot," Mr. Clark said. "We know our opponents are out there, and we didn't want to give them any ammunition."
Mr. Clark petitioned the city to change its policy in November, citing six other cities in Georgia that have such a provision; included is Tybee Island, which adopted its ordinance in 1996. Atlanta, Decatur, Lithia Springs, DeKalb and Fulton also have similar policies.
City Human Resources Director Beth Robinson researched the data and drafted a proposal for Mr. Brown, who can make the change without City Council approval. Ms. Robinson said she expects Mr. Brown to approve the change, and several aldermen contacted last week said they have no objections.
Ms. Robinson said even without the ordinance, firing any employee based on sexual preference is illegal. The addition, she said, is more of a clarification.
"Any of our employment decisions are always merit-based decisions," she said. "I guess it's necessary in the sense that certain discrimination is inappropriate in any form or fashion. If this provides a level of protection to extend that, then it may be necessary."
The change would add sexual orientation to a list that includes race, color, creed, national origin, age, sex and physical handicaps. It does not extend health benefits to a city employee's gay partner.
"This should have happened a long time ago, in my opinion," Mr. Clark said. "We've been working very hard on this. I am elated we have come this far."