Birmingham became the first city in Alabama to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance on Tuesday when its city council voted unanimously in favor of protections for LGBTQ people.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are just two of the categories covered by the measure, which prevents identity-based prejudice in public accommodations like housing and employment. The Birmingham ordinance also covers characteristics like race, national origin, sex, and religion.
The law was pushed through with a 7-0 vote. Two members of the councilWilliam Parker and Kim Raffertywere not present for its passage.
LGBTQ rights groups championed the historic measure.
“Today is a monumental victory for everyone who lives and works in Birmingham who are now fully protected from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations,” said Alex Smith, executive director of Equality Alabama, in a press release. “Before this ordinance was passed, you could get married on Saturday then on Monday be fired from your job, evicted from your home, or denied service because you’re LGBTQ.”
“No one should be discriminated against because of who they are or whom they love, and Birmingham took action today to ensure that,” he continues.
Alabama is one of 31 states that lacks nondiscrimination protections at the state level for LGBTQ employees. Jason Johnson, a gay hairdresser in Winfield, claimed in 2016 that he was denied a job Lamar County School of Technology teaching cosmetology courses after the school board discovered his sexual orientation.
Although no other cities in Alabama have LGBTQ-inclusive protections for workers, two cities in neighboring Mississippi do: Magnolia and Jackson. The state’s capital passed a nondiscrimination ordinance earlier this year.
“It is time for all Southern cities to guarantee the right of LGBTQ people to live their lives free from discrimination,” says Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin.
Advocates note that a major obstacle to this goal will be opposition from highly conservative legislatures in the reddest states in America. A Charlotte nondiscrimination ordinance passed in February 2016 triggered House Bill 2, which effectively struck that decision down. That legislation, which was later amended, upped the ante by passing laws targeting where transgender people use the bathroom.
Alabama’s 2017-2017 legislative session is likely to see similar backlash, especially after the passage of an anti-LGBTQ adoption bill this year. That legislation made it legal for adoption and foster care agencies to turn away gay and lesbian couples.
In anticipation of that fight, Smith tells Metro Weekly that LGBTQ advocates have been building “strong relationships with members of the state’s business community.” Condemnation from companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple have helped halt the passage of discriminatory legislation in states like Georgia and Texas.
The Birmingham ordinance, which is headed to Mayor William Bell’s desk, will establish a Human Rights Commission to handle complaints of discrimination. Entities found in violation of the nondiscrimination policies will face court fines.
Bell has signaled he will sign the ordinance.