Starting Small: Kentucky City Leads Nation In Fairness Legislation

| February 7, 2013
Chris Hartman.

Chris Hartman.

By CHRIS HARTMAN
Your Voice Contributor

“Kentucky – it’s a state of Fairness.” As our coalition of organizations has worked across the commonwealth over the past several years to advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) anti-discrimination protections, that’s what we’ve been hearing. Most folks seem to agree everyone deserves the opportunity to earn a living, put a roof over their head and eat at their favorite restaurant without the fear of being turned away just because of who they are.

Last week, Vicco, a small Appalachian town of just over 330 residents, confirmed everything we’ve heard by becoming the fourth municipality in Kentucky – and smallest city in America – with an anti-discrimination Fairness law.

When this Eastern Kentucky community’s city commission met Monday morning to consider the Fairness ordinance, they calmly and rationally laid forth the potential pros and cons of elevating LGBT members of their community to the same protected class status afforded women, people of color and others who have historically been the targets of discrimination.

Following a frank and transparent dialogue that got to the heart of the issue – that LGBT Americans lack the basic civil rights afforded other minorities – the commission concurred that a Fairness law would reflect the values Vicco already held. Though one commissioner preferred not to sign the ordinance for personal religious beliefs, he adamantly agreed with other community leaders in the room that no one – including LGBT people – should be treated differently from anyone else in the workplace, housing or public accommodations.

Many Americans are surprised to learn that almost anyone in 29 states without Fairness laws can still be fired from their job, denied a place to live or kicked off a bus or out of a park if someone thinks they are LGBT. Folks are shocked these sorts of protections aren’t already covered by federal law, or that the Supreme Court has not yet addressed this disparity in basic human rights.

The reality is that it’s going to take dozens, perhaps hundreds of Viccos across the country to push our U.S. Congress to uniformly address the country’s lack of equal civil rights.

“There’s a gap, basically, and this ordinance means to fill it,” Vicco’s City Attorney Eric Ashley explained plainly to members of the city commission. “This is not elevating any group above another, this is just making everyone equal.”

Ashley could not have made it any clearer as he raised his hands, one above the other, to illustrate the second-class status of LGBT Americans and the need to raise them to the same level of protections as everyone else.

The commission’s chief concern in passing the law was not that LGBT people shouldn’t have equal protections, but that news of the Fairness ordinance might overshadow the city’s other recent advancements. In just a few short months, Vicco has balanced its budget for the first time in over a decade, established a new community park and completely overhauled the city’s water treatment plant – its only source of revenue – which had been literally leaking away 47 percent of its profits but is now up to nearly 100 percent efficiency.

Vicco gets it, and is moving forward in more ways than one. And according to a recent poll by The Schapiro Group, virtually every Kentuckian agrees with their advancement of LGBT Fairness – 83 percent of our state’s Republicans, Independents, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, Christians and others agree with fair and equal treatment of all in employment, housing and public accommodations. Even those who object to different sexual orientations and gender identities on religious principles agree that no one should be treated differently when applying for a job, looking for a place to live or visiting their local store.

Why, then, have fewer than 11 percent of our commonwealth’s legislators signed on to statewide anti-discrimination Fairness protections in the Kentucky General Assembly? Some might argue they’ve not heard from enough constituents in their district on the issue. Several years ago that could have been true, but as residents have begun grassroots movements recently in Berea, Richmond, Elizabethtown, Shelbyville, Bowling Green and nearly a dozen other communities, those arguments are quickly losing ground.

Fairness is coming – to all of Kentucky and America – the only question is when. Our state has traditionally been known as the civil rights leader of the South, having been the first southern state to enact an enforceable civil rights act in 1966, and the first to pass a fair housing law two years later.

If we don’t act soon on LGBT Fairness, Kentucky will lose its legacy as a southern civil rights leader.

Vicco, though small, has taken a huge leap forward as our state’s first community in a decade to pass Fairness protections. It is now our responsibility to follow their lead, bravely urge our local officials to pass their own Fairness laws, and tip the balance in Kentucky and the rest of the country to extend equal protections for all.

Chris Hartman is director of the Fairness Campaign and a steering committee member of the Fairness Coalition. The Fairness Coalition consists of members and allies of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Fairness Campaign, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Kentucky Fairness Alliance and Lexington Fairness. They will join hundreds of Kentuckians to rally for statewide Fairness protections and a stronger anti-bullying law in the Frankfort Capitol rotunda Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 1:30 p.m. Learn more at www.FairnessCoaliton.org.

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