Members of the Berea City Council will hold a public forum Tuesday to consider amending a local ordinance that would extend civil rights protections to residents based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
In Kentucky, only Louisville, Lexington and Covington have those laws on the books and gay rights groups have tried unsuccessfully to push similar bills in other cities. If approved, the Berea ordinance would make it illegal to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals in employment, housing, and public accommodations.
Louisville Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman says the public meeting is a positive sign that lawmakers in the central Kentucky town are catching up with a recent survey that shows the majority of Kentuckians are against discrimination.
“The local communities in Berea and throughout the rest of the state we know empirically are in favor of these types of discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kentuckians,” he says. “However, the legislative bodies in these areas and in the state simply will not as swiftly as public opinion changes, pass the laws to keep up with them.”
In Louisville, it took a decade before the Fairness Ordinance was approved by the Board of Alderman in 1999. It was a controversial debate that sparked protests, arrests and multiple votes.
Since then, gay rights efforts have had mixed results across the commonwealth.
In 1999, city commissioners in Henderson, Ky., amended their civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. After a considerable backlash, the measure was repealed two years later when opponents charged the city had sanctioned an “immoral lifestyle” without the community’s consent.
Opponents to the fairness bill in Berea’s religious community have encouraged council members to vote against any fairness ordinance, arguing The Bible does not support homosexuality.
Others have said members of the LGBT community are seeking validation for their lifestyle in law in an effort to chip away at opposition to a statewide fairness law, which has failed to get out of committee in the General Assembly for the past several years.
“I don’t believe it’s at all necessary. There is no discrimination in Berea regarding gender identity or sexual orientation. This is a political push to expand recognition of special rights,” says Kent Ostrander, executive director of the Family Foundation of Kentucky. “It’s foolishness to codify into law some kind of identity for gay, lesbian and others that suffer from sexual confusion.”
Despite some setbacks and vocal opposition, advocates says the gay rights movement is heading in the right direction as a result of local efforts to end discrimination.
“In order to pass a statewide fairness law we feel that passing more local fairness ordinances in cities like Berea, Richmond, Morehead and beyond will ultimately push the state legislature to pass a comprehensive statewide fairness law,” says Hartman.
The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Police and Municipal Building. The city council will also consider the establishment of a human rights commission.
Public comments will be heard by council members.