Atlanta mayor names gay attorney as his LGBT advisor

Said Shahar, “I am honored and privileged to work with a mayor who cares deeply about LGBT equality, and who values diversity as integral to Atlanta’s strength and vibrancy.”

Shahar’s role as “advisor on LGBT issues” will include counseling the mayor and working with community organizations, according to the press release.

“In this role, she will counsel the mayor on LGBT issues arising on the local, state and national levels and she will work with community groups to identify strategies for achieving equal protection and treatment for Atlanta’s LGBT residents, workers and visitors.”

Shahar is likely best known for suing Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers after he rescinded his job offer to her in 1991 when he learned she was planning a same-sex commitment ceremony

Bowers had successfully defended the state’s sodomy law in 1986 and said Shahar would not be able to enforce the law if she worked in his office. Shahar sued Bowers but the district court and federal courts ruled in favor of Bowers. In 1998, the Supreme Court declined to hear her case.

As an attorney with the city of Atlanta, Shahar successfully argued in 1999 for the city against then-Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine to ensure benefits would be made available to domestic partners of city employees. Oxendine had refused to approve the city’s domestic partner benefits plan because he said it encouraged “illegal sexual relationships.”

Cathy Woolard, a member of the Atlanta City Council at the time, joined the lawsuit because she wanted her partner to have insurance.

The city’s victory in this case marked the first time a government in Georgia was able to provide domestic partner benefits and opened the doors to more municipalities and counties to do so.

Shahar’s appointment as LGBT advisor marks a change in strategy for Reed, who is up for reelection in November. No high-profile opponent has publicly announced running against Reed, but the mayor has had his share of problems with the LGBT constituency despite coming out for marriage equality last year.

In an interview in 2010 with GA Voice, Reed was still stinging from the rejection of LGBT voters in his 2009 race for mayor against Mary Norwood, who at the time was already in full support of marriage equality.

He won the election by some 700 votes, but lost District 6, home to Atlanta’s highest concentration of gay voters, by a landslide.

Reese McCranie, who is openly gay and worked closely with the mayor as his deputy spokesperson, became spokesperson for the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in June, leaving no openly gay people working on his senior staff. In October 2010, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Luz Borrero, a lesbian, left the mayor’s staff to join a nonprofit.

In the Wednesday press release, Reed noted he “has been a long-time advocate on behalf of LGBT issues. During his terms in the Georgia House of Representatives and Georgia State Senate, he sponsored the only hate crimes bill ever to pass the General Assembly and defended the LGBT community’s right to adopt children. As a co-sponsor for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Mayor Reed proposed a measure that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by civilian and nonreligious employers.

“In 2004, Mayor Reed also voted against the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Georgia. In 2012, Mayor Reed announced his support for marriage equality.

Reed also points out in the press release the Atlanta Police Department has two LGBT liaisons.

The mayor cannot seem escape anger from some LGBT Atlantans for the unconstitutional raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay Midtown bar.

While the raid occurred in 2009 under former Mayor Shirley Franklin’s watch, it was Reed who refused any kind of settlement with patrons of the bar. A federal lawsuit resulted in the city having to pay out more than $1 million to Eagle patrons as well as an overhaul of Atlanta Police Department policies. Several anti-gay officers involved in the raid were also fired. The mayor also eventually apologized to the plaintiffs for what happened to them.

In the end, the city spent approximately $3 million settling with Eagle plaintiffs as well as paying for an investigation into the raid that violated the constitutional rights of patrons.

An Atlanta man who sought a job with the APD successfully sued the city for $250,000 after he said he wasn’t hired for the job because he is HIV positive.

GA Voice readers have also picked Reed to be in the top three of its “Biggest Foe” category in its annual Best of Atlanta awards in 2013 and 2010.

UPDATE: Ed Westreicher of HRC Atlanta Board of Governors, issued this statement today commending Reed for Shahar’s appointment:

“Atlanta has a rich history of progressiveness and many people have contributed to making Atlanta a welcoming city for its LGBT citizens. Over the past year, HRC has worked side-by-side with the Mayor and Atlanta City Council to address remaining inequities and adjust policies and services impacting the Atlanta LGBT community. This work is important as our city positions itself as a leader in inclusiveness and equality for all its LGBT residents.”

Photo: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed (by Laura Douglas-Brown)