Dems ask lawmaker to apologize for comments to transgender official

February 20, 2020 - Atlanta - Rep. Vernon Jones, D - Lithonia, confers with a colleague as the General Assembly returned for the 16th legislative day. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
February 20, 2020 - Atlanta - Rep. Vernon Jones, D - Lithonia, confers with a colleague as the General Assembly returned for the 16th legislative day. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

The Democratic Party of Georgia and its LGBTQ Caucus are calling on state Rep. Vernon Jones to apologize for comments he allegedly made disparaging a local transgender official.

Doraville City Councilwoman Stephe Koontz, a transgender woman, said Jones mocked her gender identity during a tense Tuesday morning encounter at the state Capitol, saying she “might be a man one day and a woman the next, I don’t even know who you are.”

Jones, D-Lithonia, later told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his “recollection of the conversation is different.”

State Sen. Nikema Williams, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, issued a statement late Tuesday calling Jones’ alleged comments “completely unacceptable” and asking him to apologize.

“Moving forward, I urge him to learn from our LGBTQ community, and commit to leading with inclusion, not division,” Williams said.

The Democratic Party’s LGBTQ Caucus — which advocates on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer constituents — issued a similar statement.

“Rep. Vernon Jones’s words to Councilwoman Stephe Koontz were hateful, and we call upon him to apologize publicly and to meet with the caucus,” vice chair Patricia Lassiter said. “There is no place for transphobia or homophobia in our party. Our big tent is a place for growth and the opportunity to practice true Democratic values. Rep. Jones, this is your chance to be the Democrat you were elected to be.”

Transgender people are those whose gender identity does not match the sex they were identified as having at birth. When she won a seat on the Doraville City Council in 2017, Koontz became Georgia's only transgender elected official.

Koontz said the encounter with Jones started when she asked him about his support for a piece of legislation targeting so-called "sanctuary cities." She said Jones eventually started shouting "about how LGBTQ rights are not civil rights."

Asked Wednesday about the calls for him to apologize, Jones referred to the statement he issued Tuesday.

In addition to taking issue with Koontz’ characterization of their conversation, Jones’ statement said he “believe[s] and stand[s] for equality of every citizen, regardless of their race, party, gender or orientation.”