COLUMBIA — In an historic occasion for the LGBT community of the Palmetto State, the Columbia City Council passed new public accommodations and housing ordinances banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender-identity.
The motion passed unanimously on March 5. Columbia is the first municipality in the state to offer such protections and only the third in the Deep South. Atlanta and New Orleans offer similar protections.
“We have passed one of the most comprehensive bills in the country, in one of the most conservative states in the country,” said C. Ray Drew, executive director of the S.C. Equality Coalition (SCEC). “South Carolina, and states like ours, represents the front lines of our battle for LGBT civil rights in this country.”
Council members Daniel Rickenmann and Tameika Isaac Devine introduced the statutes and pushed for their passage. Rickenmann and Isaac Devine stated, “When we work together and respect each other, we can make Columbia an even better place to live.”
Drew believes the votes show a dramatic shift in LGBT advances in South Carolina. “This really has made history here. This is largely considered the biggest advance in gay rights here. Almost out of disbelief, people are asking, ‘How could this happen in South Carolina?’”
Harriet Hancock, a longtime activist and board member of the S.C. Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement, was the architect of the 1991 city statute prohibiting discrimination in city employment on the basis of sexual orientation.
She echoed Drew’s comments. “These ordinances represent the single greatest advance in civil rights for the LGBT community in the history of our state.”
Drew said SCEC worked with the city council for more than seven weeks to achieve this milestone. “The best advances in our community are when you work at the local level and start working your way up from there,” he said. “This is a grassroots approach.”
SCEC also partnered with the S.C. Gay and Lesbian Pride Movement (SCGLPM) in building support for the legislation, which has not received any political or religious backlash in the Columbia area.
“There’s a whole new energy in our state. We’re focused and working together. There’s no end to what we can accomplish,” said Ryan Wilson, SCGLPM president.
Drew added that his organization is continuing to work with other municipal governments across the state and that he hopes to have similar successes elsewhere.