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Local councilwoman accuses Georgia lawmaker of transphobic comments

State Rep. Vernon Jones and Doraville City Councilwoman Stephe Koontz. FILE PHOTOS
State Rep. Vernon Jones and Doraville City Councilwoman Stephe Koontz. FILE PHOTOS

A local city councilwoman has accused a Georgia lawmaker of making transphobic comments during an interaction at the state Capitol.

Stephe Koontz became Georgia's only transgender elected official when she won a seat on the Doraville City Council in 2017. Koontz said she was at the Capitol on Tuesday when she saw Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia, and tried to talk with him about why he signed onto a piece of legislation targeting so-called "sanctuary cities."

Koontz said a heated discussion ensued and Jones began yelling. The conversation turned into a rant “about how LGBTQ rights are not civil rights,” Koontz said.

“You might be a man one day and a woman the next, I don’t even know who you are,” Koontz quoted Jones as saying.

Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that his “recollection of the conversation is different.” He emailed a statement to the AJC but declined to answer additional questions.

“The constitution guarantees everyone their rights,” Jones’ statement said. “I believe and stand for equality of every citizen, regardless of their race, party, gender or orientation.”

Jones, whose district covers parts of southeastern DeKalb and northern Rockdale counties, has been back in the state House since 2016.

He had previously served in the legislature from 1993 to 2001 before spending two controversial terms as DeKalb County’s chief executive.

Jones mounted unsuccessful runs for U.S. Senate, U.S. House and DeKalb County sheriff before heading back to the state Capitol.

He has a reputation as an agitator and has been a divisive figure during the DeKalb delegation's ongoing efforts to revise county ethics ordinances. During a meeting last month, Jones cursed at fellow Rep. Mike Wilensky.

Koontz said she has thick skin and is used to being a sort of lightning rod when it comes to transgender issues. But she called her interaction with Jones “bizarre.”

“To have somebody that’s supposed to be part of the Democratic Party that’s this transphobic and this homophobic is disturbing,” Koontz said. “Because that’s not what our party stands for.”

DeKalb Democratic Party chairman John Jackson said Jones has a “distinct record of service” to the county but added that it’s “incredibly important he show respect to fellow DeKalb citizens.”

“The remarks he has made to Rep. Mike Wilensky and Doraville Councilmember Stephe Koontz are 100% unacceptable,” Jackson said. “We can disagree on issues but one thing we cannot do is disrespect each other. As his county party chair, I encourage him to apologize to both Stephe Koontz and Mike Wilensky if he hasn’t.”

Koontz said that House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, apologized for Jones’ behavior. Trammell did not immediately respond to an email inquiry Tuesday afternoon.