Community's laws should reflect its belief in fairness

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Guest column by Rose Marie Rocha

I‘ve always thought of Elizabethtown as “fair” city — at least for my partner, Sue, and me. We’ve never been turned away from a restaurant or had a problem finding a place to live just because of who we are.

But when I learned that those fears are very real for many other Kentuckians and Elizabethtown residents because of a lack of anti-discrimination fairness laws, I was deeply saddened and set to work volunteering for members of the Fairness Coalition to change it.

Firing someone from their job, denying them an apartment or house or barring them from their favorite restaurant just because someone thinks they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender just isn’t fair, but it’s still perfectly legal in most of Kentucky.

An Elizabethtown fairness ordinance would protect everyone in our community by prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based upon someone’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or familial status.

As I appeared before the Elizabethtown City Council last week to express my support for this simple anti-discrimination law, I heard a young local man tell his own deeply personal, emotional tale of discrimination.

He and his partner had been searching for the perfect apartment for some time and finally found it. Excited, they were eager to sign the lease and move in on the spot. Instead, they were turned away and informed it was against company policy to rent a one-bedroom to two men. They were devastated.

Sadly, there are many more stories like theirs from other parts of our community and state — discrimination that still is legally allowable and proves, time and again, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are treated as second-class citizens under our laws.

Not far away this year in Richmond, a young lesbian couple taking maternity photos was ejected from a community park because “their kind” was not accepted there.

How many more stories must we hear? How many stories may we never hear for the fear that coming forward and sharing their tales of discrimination might jeopardize their job or home?

As a veteran, I worried daily that my sexual orientation would be found out by my fellow service members and I would be forced to leave the military. Today, our young military men and women no longer share those fears because of our federal government’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but those protections don’t exist here. If a young veteran can fight for his country without fear of discrimination, he shouldn’t have to come home and fight for a job in Elizabethtown or Kentucky just because of who he is.

It’s time for Elizabethtown to take the lead and say we believe everyone deserves the opportunity to work hard, earn a living, put a roof over their family’s head and eat at their favorite restaurant without fear of being turned away because of who they are.

These are our children, our grandchildren, our aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, co-workers, church friends and neighbors. We should send a strong message that our city is one that values the dignity of every single human being, just as Christ did.

There never has been a greater time than now to pass these simple anti-discrimination protections. Covington, Lexington and Louisville already have them and their cities have benefited immeasurably, because we know fairness is great for business.

It’s the reason all of Kentucky’s Fortune 500 companies have their own policies prohibiting this type of discrimination. We also know that when companies and employees are making important decisions about where to move their business and families, they look increasingly for these types of anti-discrimination protections, showing the community is an open, diverse and accepting one.

If you agree Elizabethtown should be a city of fairness, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, 83 percent of Kentuckians support fairness — Republicans, Democrats, Independents, conservatives, liberals and Christians alike. That’s something to be proud of.

Let’s make our community’s laws reflect our true, fair Elizabethtown values.

Rose Marie Rocha is a long-time Hardin County resident, a member of Metropolitan Community Church of Elizabethtown and U.S. military veteran. She has volunteered more than a decade with Fairness Coalition organizations, including Kentucky Fairness Alliance.