Folly Beach adopts law of inclusion
FOLLY BEACH -- For years Folly Beach has been known as a place where anything goes. It's the Edge of America.
"Out here, if you're not a minority, you're the minority," said Tommy Cooke, 29, who has lived on the island for six months. "That's part of the reason I moved here. That and the waves. Who cares what color your skin is or who you sleep with? As long as there are waves, we're good."
On Tuesday, Folly Beach City Council made that inclusive attitude official, unanimously approving a law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, said Warren Redman-Gress, executive director of the Alliance For Full Acceptance, a Charleston-based organization working for equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
It is also illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, familial status or disability. Violators can face a $500 fine or 30 days in jail.
Folly Beach becomes the third municipality in the state to pass a sexual- orientation discrimination law. Charleston and Columbia have equality ordinances for accommodations and housing; Folly's covers only accommodations, which includes inns, hotels, motels, restaurants, stores and most anyone else doing business on the island.
(Richland County also has a nondiscrimination ordinance.)
"Folly has always been Folly," said former City Councilman Charlie McCarty, 78, who brought the law to council. "We've always been open to accepting without question. I can honestly say I haven't seen (discrimination on Folly), but does that mean that we shouldn't ordain that it can't be done on Folly Beach? (The law) makes a statement about what we're already preserving."
The biggest discrimination issue on the island recently has been the struggle to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act to make streets and businesses accessible, he said.
McCarty, who describes himself as a "policy wonk," said he was surprised to learn that city laws included no mention of the words "discrimination" or "nondiscrimination."
Christine Johnson, executive director of the civil rights organization S.C. Equality, said that organization has a statewide initiative to encourage municipalities to adopt nondiscrimination ordinances.
Last summer, she and Redman-Gress approached Folly officials, and "since then, we've been waiting for the right potential sponsor," Johnson said. "Councilman McCarty embraced the opportunity."
McCarty, who retired from council at the end of Tuesday's meeting, said residents were supportive of the law.
"I didn't really anticipate it, but once the word got out, I got totally favorable pushes from all over the Lowcountry on this," McCarty said. "I was surprised at that. I didn't do it to gain compliments."
He was happy it was one of his last actions on council.
"I very much wanted this legislation to go through before I left office, so I didn't have to cross over from a council seat to an audience seat and then get up as simply a citizen to speak on it," he said. "I wanted to speak for all of council."
When council agreed to the second reading of the law Tuesday, it cleared the way for an immediate final reading, making it a law.
"I was so pleased when we got a consensus of all of our city councilors and our mayor," he said. "This one scooted through in a two-meeting fast track from first (reading) to third to enactment."
Johnson praised Folly for being proactive.
"Folly Beach has really stepped up and made a statement about commitment to community, culture and policy that values all people and all families," she said. "We need more champions of diversity and tolerance in our state."
Redman-Gress said his organization is looking at approaching other municipalities.
"Our hope is that one by one, cities will recognize the need to do this," he said. "Folly is a community that depends on tourism, and to be able to say 'We explicitly protect our citizens and intend to be welcoming for all' is a great business statement."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Facebook.