The Montgomery City Council voted down an anti-discrimination ordinance Tuesday night, leaving supporters of the ordinance in a stunned silence and prompting Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed to issue dire warnings about the message the council sent.
The 5-4 vote against the measure, which would have offered protections for minorities in a wide range of city services, seemed to surprise Reed, who told the council that he would no longer be able to tell businesses that shared those values that they’re welcome in Montgomery.
“If I am asked if we are a city devoted to diversity and inclusion of all people then I have questions on that,” Reed said after the vote. Reed also said during the meeting that he would have to give those businesses the phone number of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.
Birmingham passed a similar anti-discrimination ordinance in 2017.
The Montgomery ordinance would have offered protections to a wide range of minority groups and prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.
It was the protections for gender identity that drew the most criticism during Tuesday’s public comments, with speakers repeatedly referencing men being able to enter women’s restrooms. Reed called the comments some of the most offensive he’s ever heard, and others pointed out that there currently are no locks on public restroom doors preventing men from entering women’s restrooms.
Following the meeting, one of the “no” votes, Councilwoman Audrey Graham, told WSFA-TV that she felt “bullied” into voting for the ordinance because she didn’t have time to figure out exactly what it does. The ordinance had been presented to the council over a month ago, but a vote on it at the last council meeting was delayed specifically so council members could understand it better.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Action Fund, which worked with Reed to draft the ordinance, said it was encouraged by Montgomery taking up the ordinance but disappointed in the outcome.
“Attaining these protections remains a vital concern for Montgomery residents, who need and deserve an NDO that fully supports the communities it is created to protect,” said Scott McCoy, the Action Fund’s interim deputy legal director. “We look forward to revisiting the issue at the appropriate time with input from the mayor, city council and most importantly, the communities who are directly affected.”