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Friday, August 23, 2019

Residents Ask Fort Thomas to Consider Fairness Ordinance

Fort Thomas resident Terry Webster asks council to ensure all citizens and visitors to the city are welcomed and protected.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor

Fort Thomas could be the next Northern Kentucky city to pass an ordinance ensuring fairness for all its citizens. At the August meeting of Fort Thomas city council, residents requested the city consider passing the Fairness Ordinance, a local ordinance that would make it illegal to discriminate against LGBTQ people in our community.

Although the state of Kentucky has a civil rights law protecting against discrimination in housing, services, public accommodations and employment based on of race, color, religion, national origin, gender or disability, it is one of 28 states that does not mention gender identity or sexual orientation.

Nearby Dayton, Kentucky, recently voted to pass a fairness ordinance making it the 12th city in Kentucky to do so, said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign. In our area Covington was among the first group to pass the law, joining Louisville and Lexington 20 years ago. Many smaller communities have passed the laws recently and momentum is building, he said. 

Civil rights at the state level

Hartman explained the reason for taking the approach to ask municipalities to pass local ordinances. Efforts to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the state civil rights law have stalled due to a lack of political will in both the state legislature and the senate on both sides of the aisle. He is the main lobbyist in Frankfort on the issue.

"We have long enjoyed bipartisan opposition on this issue," he said, "but now we are starting to enjoy some great bipartisan support. There are Democrats and Republicans in the house and senate who have supported this measure, however, the will of leadership has not been to bring it forward."

He said momentum to add the language protecting the LGBTQ community is bolstered by communities stepping up and adding the ordinance locally. "We feel the way this will happen is if everybody’s hometowns adopt a fairness ordinance. When I started we had three, now we have a dozen, I think we will have 15 by the end of the year. We will reach the tipping point by which the state will respond and adopt a statewide ordinance."

Yet, the need for a local ordinance is not just about supporting statewide efforts. It can have an important impact on people living right here in Fort Thomas.

How a fairness ordinance can impact lives

Terry Webster of Earnscliff Court brought the request to council. "I’ve been a resident here for 15 years...Quite simply I’m asking my city Fort Thomas to consider adopting a fairness ordinance, which will provide protections to citizens and visitors in our community who identify as part of the LGBTQ community."

He added that the commonwealth currently has an anti-discrimination law that spells out protections for different groups of people. "Missing from that very specific list are any protections for those in the LGBTQ community. That means that anyone in our community could lose a job, be denied service in a restaurant or bank, be turned away from renting an apartment or buying a condo or a house. I don’t want that for my adopted home town, especially if we are experiencing new housing down at the fort and also with the planned development here in midtown," he said.

"I know that a lot of people want to shy away from this because it’s viewed as political, but I don’t. For me it’s an issue of fairness, something that is the right thing to do for people in our community...I’m not an expert on this...I’m simply speaking as a proud father of a son who is part of the LGBTQ community, and I’m asking this because I want for my son the same kind of legal protection that I have. That’s what’s fair, it’s the right thing to do."

Although he had not planned to speak on the ordinance, Fort Thomas resident and native David Roth said he was moved to speak. "I want to say how much I support a fairness ordinance and how much it means to me personally. I grew up in Fort Thomas, went to Johnson, went to Highlands. Moved away for a time and then returned to Fort Thomas because I missed it. I missed my family and my community. I was lucky enough that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage and so I was able to be legally married to my husband, and we are both proud residents of Fort Thomas."

Roth shared a very personal experience. "When I was younger, I was terminated from a job in Kentucky for being gay. And to this day it’s still something I think about and it still haunts me. When something like that happens to affects you on a deep level. It’s like saying you are not welcome in a community. That you are not enough, you are not valuable, you don’t have worth. It hurts and it leaves a lasting impact."

He urged council to think about the people this will help, and the message it will send that this is a welcoming community, open to all and is a great place to live for everyone.

Reverend Adam Forbes, a Fort Thomas resident and pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Camp Springs, also spoke in favor of the ordinance. He reminded those present that Fort Thomas has a reputation as a safe and supportive community.

He added that passing a fairness ordinance fits in with the values of Fort Thomas as a place of refuge and community. "Thinking of fairness, thinking of safety, thinking of community is a part of who we are. It’s a core part of our DNA," he said.

How a fairness ordinance works

Chris Hartman, executive director of the statewide Fairness Campaign, offered resources and support for the city to draft a fairness ordinance.

Hartman outlined some details on how the fairness ordinance could work. "Fairness ordinances are simple. Your city attorney could craft an ordinance that works for your community here. Sometimes cities create a Human Rights Commission that deals with the enforcement of such ordinances. Sometimes in cities that don’t have a human rights commission, like Dayton, Morehead and many others, the city administrator would intake complaints and try to mediate in a situation," he explained.

"Almost all of these discrimination complaints are resolved through mediation so there is very seldom an administrative hearing that would have to be held. But, in the case of not having a human rights commission, if having a hearing was needed, basically the council would serve as the adjudicating body to those complaints."

Hartman said he shared information with council member Ken Bowman, and provided a collection of resources and materials including model ordinances. He also provided a packet of material from the Covington Human Rights Commission that includes drafted ordinances for cities with and without a commission.

"I was there the night Covington issued the challenge to other cities in the area,” he said. “For a long, long time, more than a decade, they were the only city in Northern Kentucky with these discrimination protections. We would love to see every city in Northern Kentucky extend these same protections."

He concluded by challenging Fort Thomas to join the growing list of cities in support of fairness for all its citizens.

The council referred the matter to its Law, Labor and License committee to explore and make recommendations to the city.

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