LGBT advocates help put Atlanta’s ‘banishment ordinance’ on hold

Turner said he made the banishment recommendation after the APD received numerous complaints from residents about prostitution, johns and drugs in their neighborhoods.

Banishment is not illegal or unconstitutional in Atlanta. It is unconstitutional however to banish someone from the state.

The proposed ordinance would bar convicted prostitutes from “areas of prostitution,” or even from the entire city after a second prostitution conviction. 

Reese McCranie, spokesperson for Mayor Kasim Reed, said while the banishment ordinance — also known as Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution, or SOAP — is on hold, it still could one day be considered by the City Council.

“We want a diverse group of people on the work group and expect within a week the people will be named,” McCranie said in an interview Tuesday, Feb. 26. He was not yet sure if an LGBT representative would be on the work group.

“We want the members of the group to steer where the discussion goes. Councilman Bond and others want to be as comprehensive as possible and take other points of view into consideration,” he said.

Alex Wan, the sole openly gay member of the Atlanta City Council, said he has not yet decided how he feels about the idea of banishing prostitutes from the city limits and is continuing to listen.

MPSA strongly favors banishment

The Midtown Ponce Security Alliance, which has taken a harsh stance particularly against transgender prostitutes, continues to lobby hard for the banishment of prostitutes from Midtown.

Peggy Denby, president of the MPSA, was the only person who spoke in favor of the ordinance at the Feb. 25 work session, saying she was particularly wanting “men” and “male” prostitutes out of her neighborhood.

On Feb. 26, Denby said she didn’t know how to react to the city’s decision to hold the banishment ordinance. She also didn’t know yet if she would be selected to be on the working group.

“I don’t know yet and won’t know until we see what the mayor has in mind. It may give us a more comprehensive piece of legislation — I hope that it retains the banishment part,” she said.

Steve Gower, who is gay and vice president of MPSA, has spent a great deal of time chronicling prostitution in Midtown. He and the MPSA believe the most prevalent problem is among what they call “transvestite” prostitutes.

He said the formation of a work group may actually benefit those, like him, seeking to have banishment enforced.

“I don’t think it would hurt to have a well thought-out ordinance and to explore the various approaches. If there is that much controversy then it would be good to educate people about our experience with this problem, and taking this approach would give more time to draw these issues out,” he said.

“But something like a banishment provision or similar would be instrumental in addressing the problem. I would certainly hope that this task force would have representatives from neighborhoods afflicted with street prostitution, including us,” Gower said.

‘Homophobia, transphobia, racism’

Speakers against the proposed ordinance included Dee Dee Chamblee, a longtime transgender activist and founder of La Gender, and Paulina Helm-Hernandez, co-director of Southerners on New Ground, an LGBT organization serving those in the rural South.

Cheryl Courtney-Evans, another transgender activist and founder of Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth, submitted a letter to the committee urging members to not support the ordinance.

“The transgender community is already a marginalized one in the City of Atlanta. We have faced discrimination and been shut out of housing and employment opportunities, as well as fallen victim to profiling, ‘revolving door justice’ and jailing around a ‘prostitution problem,” Evans said.

“Now Atlanta Chief of Police Turner has allowed the vociferous complaints of a relatively few (and perhaps well-connected) Midtown residents convince him to develop this ordinance that will not solve this problem, but exacerbate it,” she said.

A letter opposing banishment was also submitted and signed by LGBT organizations Georgia Equality, JustUs ATL and La Gender.

“The ordinance is rooted in homophobia, transphobia and racism. We fall prey to a myriad of allegations that are baseless simply because we are viewed as ‘different.’ It is a result of lifelong discrimination that we are forced into underground economies and are subject to the most egregious forms of violence, bullying and marginalization. By and large, engaging in sex work is an act of survival, not of choice,” states the letter.

But Gower and the MPSA argue that street-level prostitution is a public health hazard, that drugs are brought into the neighborhoods and lead to violence, and that used condoms and used needles discarded on lawns and in the streets can be picked up by children causing injury.

A letter in support of SOAP posted on the MPSA website states, “We continue to experience a terrible, terrible prostitution problem in this neighborhood. Many times I have walked outside my front door and have witnessed sexual activities taking place, and involving these prostitutes (and, of course, have called 911).

“The police are very responsive, but the problem continues to occur and utilizes valuable resources of the City. We have used condoms littered on the sidewalks and belligerent prostitutes walking the streets at night. There is no question in my mind that drug-use by these prostitutes is occurring as well. The SOAP ordinance may very well be the answer to solving the prostitution problem in my neighborhood.”

Carlos Campos, spokesperson for the APD, said Chief Turner “is pleased that APD will have representation on the task force and looks forward to finding a solution to this critical issue that has a positive outcome for all involved.”


Top photo: Stiff backlash to Atlanta Police Chief George Turner’s proposal to banish those convicted of prostitution caused the measure to be put on hold while a task force recommends ways to deal with illegal sex work. (File photo)