Covington Looks into Wider Discrimination Protections
[COVINGTON, OH] - It's an issue that has pitted church against church and neighbor against neighbor. Next month, it's coming to Covington. In January, the Covington Human Rights Commission will consider a proposal to expand anti-discrimination protection to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people. The proposal also would include place of birth (such as Appalachia), along with familial, marital and parental status as protected categories.
The proposal also would impose tougher penalties for violations.
"The passage of this kind of ordinance sends a clear message to everybody that Covington is a friendly place for business (and) a friendly place for conventions," said the Rev. Don Smith, commission chairman.
Covington Mayor Butch Callery has said he will call for a public hearing before voting on the proposed changes.
Current ordinance: Protects people from discrimination in "housing, employment and public accommodations based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex or age."
|Proposed ordinance: Adds sexual orientation or gender identity, family status, marital and/or parental status, and place of birth as protective categories to make it a more universal ordinance.|
|Sexual orientation refers to protections for someone "based upon his or her imputed heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality."|
Gender identity refers to protections for someone who has "a gender identity as a result of a sex change, surgery or manifesting, for reasons other than dress, an identity not traditionally associated with one's biological maleness or femaleness."
|New enforcement proposal: The revised ordinance would require that complaints of human rights violations go directly to Covington's Human Rights Commission, rather than to the city manager, as is the current practice. Penalties also would be added to give the commission enforcement powers.|
The vote came after a supporter of Henderson's fairness ordinance opted not to seek re-election, and a gay rights opponent filled his seat.
To avoid a repeat of the Henderson situation, members of the Covington Human Rights Commission opted to wait until after the recent city elections before proposing legislation that would protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people from discrimination in the workplace and community.
"The idea was to get this in place as far from the (next) election as possible so that people could get used to it and see the benefits of it," said the Rev. Mr. Smith, pastor of Community of Faith Presbyterian Church in Covington. "I didn't want to be like Henderson and have (the proposed changes) in effect for just a year."
Besides taking discrimination complaints, the commission also is charged with developing programs to promote better human relations, advising the city government on how to meet residents' human and social services' needs, and conducting training and workshops.
Aside from helping groups that currently aren't protected from discrimination in Northern Ken-tucky's largest city, supporters say the proposed changes would benefit the region economically.
Across the Ohio River, the Rev. Hal Porter, pastor emeritus of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church, agreed.
In 1993, Cincinnati voters repealed an ordinance that provided legal protection for homosexuals by a vote of 62 percent to 38 percent. The city subsequently adopted Article 12, a charter amendment that bars it from providing "preferential treatment" to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
In the past nine years, Cincinnati has lost about $64 million in convention business when various groups' concerns about Article 12 prompted them to go elsewhere, the Rev. Mr. Porter said.
"Cincinnati's the only city in the country that has an ordinance in its city charter that (prohibits the city from passing laws to protect) gay, lesbian and bisexual persons from discrimination," the Rev. Mr. Porter said. "The Citizens to Restore Fairness committee is seeking to repeal that."
Only two complaints
The Rev. Smith said the five members of the Covington Human Rights Commission decided the city's human rights ordinance needed to be broadened after receiving only two complaints since the commission was formed in July 1998.
Although Covington's human rights law outlines a process whereby the city manager can resolve complaints without taking them before the human rights commission, Covington City Manager Greg Jarvis said that the two complaints he presented to the commission are the only two he recalls receiving.
In April 2000, records at the Covington branch of the Kentucky Human Rights Commission showed, the local human rights commission reviewed a complaint that someone had handed out racist fliers at the Latonia Terrace housing complex.
In August 1999, a Robbins Street resident complained about police towing her car after she got into a dispute with neighbors over parking, state records showed.
The records did not indicate the outcomes of the two cases, and the Rev. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jarvis could not recall the details.
The Rev. Mr. Smith said members of the human rights commission were concerned that the lack of complaints meant there were too few protected categories, so they sought to broaden the ordinance.
"A lot of people think there's no reason to complain, because they're not even covered" under Covington's human rights ordinance, said Covington resident Charles D. King, a commission member.
Mr. King, who's also a member of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance's steering committee, said he has gotten five phone calls in the past year from gay people who have had their houses vandalized or who have suffered from "in-your-face-name calling," but have nowhere to turn for help.
Covington's current human rights ordinance also carries no penalties, so there's no incentive for offenders to correct an unfair situation, said John C.K. Fisher, local field office supervisor for the Kentucky Human Rights Commission.
The amended ordinance would correct that, the Rev. Mr. Smith said, possibly through fines or the suspension or revocation of business or rental licenses of any Covington business or landlord who discriminates.
Nationwide, 240 governments - none of which are in the Tristate - ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, said Andrea Hildebran, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, the state's leading gay rights organization. Ditto for the District of Columbia and 12 states (again none in the Tristate,) she said.
As a member of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance, Mr. King joined about 50 people who went door to door throughout the city last summer to explain the changes proposed for Covington's human rights ordinance.
Once supporters told Covington residents that they wanted homosexuals to have the same rights as everyone else - not special rights - "people were very supportive," he said.
Should Covington officials decide to add anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, they would join Lexington and Fayette County and Louisville and Jefferson County, where similar provisions were added to their human rights ordinances within the past four years.
Because there are no protections in place, there's no way to accurately measure the extent of the problem, but Ms. Hildebran said her organization routinely hears about "many many instances of employment discrimination" involving gays and lesbians - everything from being passed over for a promotion to getting fired if they come out on the job or someone at their place of employment discovers they have a partner of the same sex.
Across the Ohio River, gay rights activists say they hope that Covington's efforts will prompt Cincinnati officials to review controversial legislation there.
The Rev. Mr. Porter, who serves as co-chairman of Citizens to Restore Fairness, said that committee plans to develop and publicize a campaign to repeal Article 12 "within the next year or so."
"I commend (supporters of an expanded Covington human rights ordinance) for their efforts and I hope they will prevail," the Rev. Mr. Porter said. "I hope they will shame Cincinnati into doing the same."