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Berea City Council Approves Creation Of Human Rights Panel

The Berea City Council has adopted an ordinance that will create a Human Rights Commission to investigate discrimination complaints.

But activists are upset that the council declined to consider an ordinance  that would offer protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The council had been considering  a fairness ordinance similar those on the books in Lexington, Louisville and Covington, but instead opted for the creation of the commission.

Prior to the meeting, hundreds of activists marched and rallied, urging the council to approve the legal protections.

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Fairness Campaign Director Confident Berea Will Pass Anti-Discrimination Law

The Berea, Kentucky City Council will meet tomorrow. No discussion of two pending anti-discrimination laws is on the agenda, but gay rights activists say the panel is moving closer to passing measures protecting LGBT residents.

The Louisville Fairness Campaign has been instrumental in supporting an ordinance that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in Berea. Last month, a proposal for a city Human Rights Commission was introduced but it did not include any language saying the commission would investigate discrimination against LGBT residents.

“The human rights commission [bill] has been written with the ability to adopt sexual orientation and gender identity sexual orientation protections if…when the City of Berea does,” says Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman. “They would actually be unable to just write sexual orientation and gender identity protections into the human rights commission formation itself, I believe. They would still have to be two stand-alone bills.”

Hartman is confident the fairness ordinance will be introduced soon. The Fairness Campaign plans to continue supporting similar measures in small cities to tip public opinion toward a statewide law.

“The only way to pass a statewide law is to garner grassroots support at the local level,” says Hartman. “Then and only then will state representatives from those areas be compelled to vote for an anti-discrimination fairness law that covers the entire state.

But another LGBT group is against the plan. Jordan Palmer of the Kentucky Equality Federation says city laws put extra stress on local governments to enforce the measures.

“Whereas if it’s a law that encompasses the entire commonwealth it goes through the Kentucky Coalition on Human Rights and that’s an independent state agency that’s heavily funded,” he says. “We continue to focus our efforts on a state level with the Kentucky House and Senate instead of the local level.”

Only Louisville, Lexington and Covington have fairness laws.

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After Months, Berea Still Taking “First Step” on Human Rights Commission

Despite months of meetings on a proposed fairness ordinance and human rights commission, members of the Berea city council still say they’re taking the “first step” on the issue.

In May, the council first considered passing an ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and creating a commission to educate the public. A subcommittee was formed to research and inform the rest of the council on the two ideas.

Some expected the council would vote on the ordinance last month, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the subcommittee held two public forums and about eight meetings.  Tuesday night, the subcommittee will present their findings on a human rights commission to the council.  But committee member Truman Fields says there will not be a vote on whether to actually form the commission.

“We’re getting a lot of material, talked to a lot of people,” Fields said. “We’re going to do something pretty soon.  No, I don’t think we’re going too slow.”

The council will only discuss the human rights commission Tuesday. Two such discussions are required before a vote on an ordinance.

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Berea Delays Making Decision on Fairness Ordinance

On Tuesday night, the Berea City Council announced it will take longer than expected to come to a decision about the possibility of a city fairness ordinance.  The council has held public forums on the ordinance, which would prohibit discrimination in the workplace and housing market due to sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s a very serious issue,” says Diane Kerby, who serves on the council.  “One that deserves as much time as it needs to make sure that we’re making the right decision and that we consider all the various comments and support.”

Chris Hartman’s Fairness Campaign has lobbied for the ordinance.  Although the decision will be delayed, he says he isn’t dismayed by the announcement.

“I’m not concerned that it’s not going to happen,” he says.  “Certainly I want the city to be certain that they’re moving in the right direction.  It’s just the legislative process sometimes takes longer than I’d like.”

Kerby characterizes the public’s opinion as split, with passionate voices on both sides.  She says the council will put off making a decision for as long as necessary and will use this time to consult legal experts.