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The tiny eastern Kentucky town of Vicco became the fourth city in the state to adopt a fairness ordinance barring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents, but Elizabethtown won’t be joining its ranks.
In a series of interviews, city officials said they have no interest in voting on the same ordinance proposed in Vicco because current laws prohibiting discrimination are sufficient.
Councilman Marty Fulkerson said Tuesday the proposed ordinance was dead on arrival when proposed in late November.
“I do not see it coming up for a vote at all,” Fulkerson said.
A draft ordinance was offered by the Fairness Campaign, a statewide organization seeking an upgrade of the state’s discrimination laws. Local residents challenged Elizabethtown to adopt a law prohibiting discrimination for employment, public services and accommodations and housing based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The Fairness Campaign is an effort of the Fairness Coalition comprised by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Kentucky Fairness Alliance and Lexington Fairness.
The propoal prohibits all discrimination based on age, color, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, disability or familial status.
Fulkerson said he believes laws imposed in Elizabethtown are adequate to dispel discrimination and found it ironic that the Fairness Campaign preached tolerance and anti-discrimination yet handed the city an ordinance discriminating against those younger than 40. The proposed ordinance as written would have offered protection against age discrimination for those older than 40.
The city’s present employment policy prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, physical or mental handicap, veteran status, age or marital status. The policy also adheres to the requirements of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Law of 1968 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We consider ourselves an equal opportunity employer,” City Attorney D. Dee Shaw said Tuesday.
Similar ordinances have been adopted in Covington, Lexington and Louisville and the city could modify the ordinance as it wished.
Shaw submitted a memorandum to Mayor Tim Walker just days after the group’s presentation, which stated the ordinance as proposed would create a nine-person human rights commission that would have a two-fold purpose: Promoting fair treatment and equal opportunity for all people by creating programs and disseminating information to educate and raise awareness while also serving as a regulatory body that could “receive, initiate, investigate, seek to conciliate, and hold hearings on complaints of discrimination.”
Shaw said the commission would have authority to impose fines from $100 to $250 for violating the ordinance and the ability to suspend or terminate an occupational or business license for three or more “willful violations.”
Councilman Tony Bishop said he was opposed to any commission gaining authority to disrupt or strip a business license and said he was unsure if another bureaucratic layer is necessary.
Bishop said he has heard little to no input from the community on the issue and is not convinced discrimination is a problem in Elizabethtown.
“I’d be willing to listen,” Bishop said.
Walker said he would make no effort to adopt the fairness ordinance and a vote on the legislation would have to receive a sponsor from a council member. So far, he said, no official has stepped forward to lead the effort.
Councilman Ron Thomas said he has not discussed the ordinance with any members of the council or ascertained any interest in moving forward, indicating current laws are enough.
“I don’t feel that kind of discrimination is going on in Elizabethtown and, quite frankly, I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.
Councilman Bill Bennett was not serving on the council when the Fairness Campaign approached the city, but he attended the meeting and echoed his colleagues. Bennett said enacting more laws and keying in on particular segments of society is unneeded.
“We all live under the same laws and Constitution,” he said.
Councilwoman Edna Berger said she believes the Fairness Campaign is “stirring up trouble” and manufacturing a problem that doesn’t exist in Elizabethtown. She said the organization could be pooling its energies and efforts into more productive issues, such as volunteering at a nursing home or combating child abuse.
Berger said she knows openly gay individuals who operate successful businesses in Elizabethtown without facing retaliation because of their sexual orientation.
“I don’t know that we have a problem here in Elizabethtown,” she said.
Berger also said she does not know if the city should be focusing on discrimination policies catering to homosexuals.
“I don’t know that they are discriminated against any more than people who are obese, people who smoke or people of color,” she said.
Shaw said the ordinance would not just protect gay individuals but provide a “layer of protection” for everyone.
Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, took umbrage with the council’s view of the ordinance. As it stands, Hartman said, no federal or state laws prohibit someone from being fired, denied housing or removed from a bus solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and any comments to the contrary are “false.”
“To use that as a basis not to act on the fairness ordinance is a misrepresentation of the truth,” he said.
Hartman also said the council failed to note blatant discrimination reported by Andy Frueh, the Elizabethtown resident who described how he and his partner were denied housing in the city because they are a gay couple. Frueh spoke directly to the council in support of the ordinance.
The Fairness Campaign has approached several cities around the state. Hartman said part of its goal is to inform residents of the lack of discrimination laws on the books. As for the council’s view that discrimination is not prevalent, Hartman said it is no excuse to ignore the ordinance.
“You do not wait for someone to become the victim of discrimination before you act to protect them,” he said.
Councilman Kenny Lewis said he believes city government could work something out agreeable to all parties but said he cannot support certain provisions within the proposed ordinance. He did not elaborate regarding the objections.
“I think the simplest ordinance would be the golden rule that we were taught growing up: Treat others the way you want to be treated,” he said.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.