Today, Mayor Van R. Johnson, II announced the creation of PROUD Savannah, a commission dedicated to ensuring Savannah’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities can work and live in a welcoming and safe environment.
"We want all Savannahians to feel at home here no matter who they love, how they identify or how they express themselves," Mayor Johnson said. "I’m excited to engage in meaningful discussion with Savannah’s LGBTQ+ community to make sure our City is inclusive for everyone."
PROUD stands for Principles, Resources, Outreach, Unity and Dedication, and it encompasses the committee’s vision to advocate for equality for all Savannahians.
"As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I, along with several members in this room, have worked hard on this movement, some of us most of our lives," said Alderman Purtee, the first openly gay person elected to the Savannah City Council. "We’ve also been working diligently on an amendment to our current non-discrimination ordinance to make a more fair and inclusive Savannah. We plan to present this to the City Council at our next City Council meeting."
The group includes LGBTQ+ community members, local allies and activists, nonprofit leaders, City staff and elected officials.
The members are Mayor Johnson, Alderman Kurtis Purtee, Candance Hardnett, Erika Hardnett, Pam Miller, Angie Celeste, Evonia Pollard, Travis Coles, Eric Paulk, DeMarcus Beckham, Dusty Church, Star Cpl. Tracy Walden, Cpl. Barry Lewis, Officer Samantha Heard, Captain Maria Guttierez, Communications Director Nick Zoller and Parking Services Director Sean Brandon.
"The goal of PROUD Savannah is to work alongside the other equity committees of Savannah to ensure that all people, regardless of race, color or creed, are treated fairly," said Candance Hardnett, who is leading the committee. "LGBTQ people come in all shapes and all backgrounds. PROUD Savannah understands that equity for one is equity for us because LGBTQ people are found everywhere from every walk of life."
The group will also work to create and implement policies following the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index or MEI to improve Savannah’s score. The MEI demonstrates ways many cities can and do support the LGBTQ people who live and work there.
"When people are looking to locate businesses, when people are looking to visit, this is one of the things many look at," Mayor Johnson said. "We want to not only make sure we have a good score, but also have the policies and resolve to do what the score indicates."
PROUD Savannah is one of several taskforces Mayor Johnson has introduced in recent weeks. The others are Savannah Faith, made of city religious leaders, Advocates for Restorative Communities in Savannah (ARCS), focused on reintegrating justice-involved individuals into the community, and Savannah CARES - Citizens Accountability and Review of Emergency Services, which will complete a review of the Savannah Police Department’s use of force policies.