Pride Festival Celebrates Victories, but Challenges Remain

by Chris McDaniel on June 20, 2011

Chris Hartman is standing on a rainbow float being pulled by a white Chevy Tahoe. Pulling the megaphone up to his mouth, he yells to the thousands gathered for the Kentuckiana Pride Parade.

“Friends, give it up for elected officials who voted for Fairness!” yelled Hartman, standing next to those who voted for anti-discrimination legislation in 1999. “And the Fairness Campaign co-founders! And give it up for yourselves for coming out to celebrate pride!”

The Pride Foundation chose Hartman to be the grand marshall of the parade, which serves as an annual celebration for the LGBT community.

“So many of us have grown up together that this is really like a family reunion. We look forward to this day every year,” said Darren Morgen, who is part of the Pride Foundation. “Chris Hartman, he’s doing a good job representing those people not necessarily receiving equality.”

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Hartman is the director of the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, which is celebrating their 20th anniversary this month. Louisville is one of three Kentucky cities with a Fairness ordinance which bars discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Now the Fairness Campaign is attempting to pass laws like these in more cities. The laws only exist in large metropolitan areas such as Lexington and Covington, and passing it in a more rural town like Berea would be a major success for the gay rights movement in the state.

Berea has population of around 15,000 and is supported largely by the local college. The city council has been holding forums for the public to voice their opinions on whether the law should be considered.

The council will decide soon whether to take the ordinance to a vote. If passed, it would be a big success, says Hartman.

“It would be an example of what we already know,” he says. “Communities across Kentucky do want this, and the only thing holding us back are the legislators.”

There is no statewide Fairness law, and various organizations have cited recent allegations of discrimination in Hazard, Kentucky as evidence such a measure is necessary. When two men hugged and kissed at a public pool, an employee asked them to leave, saying they should read the Bible more often. It’s unclear if the request to leave and the Bible quip were meant in reference to public displays of affection, or to homosexuality in general. Hartman says he doesn’t know if it was anti-gay discrimination or not, but if it is, it’s a perfect example of why Kentucky needs a state-wide fairness law.

But back in Louisville, thousands are celebrating.

And in Kentucky’s largest city, the LGBT community does have things to celebrate. The First Unitarian Church in downtown Louisville is the latest to stop signing marriage certificates until same sex marriage is legal. Dawn Cooley is the reverend of the church.

“We have a banner outside our church that says civil marriage is a civil right,” she said. “Because civil marriage imparts certain benefits, it should be available to everyone.”

Cooley differentiates civil and religious marriage. She’s performed religious marriages for between 10 and 20 same sex couples. For those marriages, she says the ceremonies are basically the same, except that she doesn’t sign a marriage license at the end. But now she won’t do that for any marriage ceremonies.

“In a church, we express our values. I think that being a public voice for justice, for peace, to stand against oppression is certainly the role of this congregation,” Cooley said.

Straight couples that get married at her church will now have to get a justice of the peace to sign their certificate. And while the Fairness Campaign didn’t lobby the church to change its policy, Hartman says he’s happy to see more support for LGBT rights.

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