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Covington KY Urged to Protect Transgendered

Commission hears from both sides on rights proposal

[COVINGTON, KY] - Cynthia Jeffries is a born-again Christian, a registered Republican and a Vietnam veteran. The 51-year-old Independence resident also is a transsexual who favors the protections that an expanded Covington human rights ordinance would offer.

Growing up, no one knew the Covington native's true identity. Jeffries kept it a secret for fear of repercussions, such as the broken windows and gestures of hatred that the Northern Kentucky resident had seen directed at other transsexuals.

"I simply ask the city of Covington to do the right thing and make sure that all people are protected under the law,'' Jeffries told the Covington City Commission at a hearing Tuesday.

Jeffries was among 33 people who expressed support for an expanded human rights ordinance that would add protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, saying it would bring needed social and economic change to Northern Kentucky's largest city. Fourteen people said they thought the law was unnecessary and would offer special rights to certain groups of people.

At a Feb. 11 hearing, 40 people spoke in favor of the expanded ordinance, and three were opposed.

"I believe this proposal is a request for preferential treatment,'' said Lisa Conley, who directs a child care center at South Side Baptist Church in Covington.

Conley added that she and others who operate businesses in Covington would face unfair restrictions on who they could hire and could be subject to a lawsuit if someone claimed they were passed over for a job or a promotion because of factors such as sexual orientation or gender identity.

No vote was taken Tuesday. Covington Mayor Butch Callery has said city officials hope to use the feedback from the public hearings to create a better ordinance that would serve as a national model, if adopted.

The first reading of the expanded human rights ordinance is set for April 15, and a vote will be taken April 29.

Callery said the new ordinance remains a work in progress, as members of the city's human rights commission continue to address questions raised by groups such as the Covington Business Council and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

"As we go through this process, the original draft is going to be changed," Callery said Tuesday. "Our goal is to have the best ordinance possible."

Several speakers, including Alex Weldon, said that they chose to live in Covington and raise children there because of the community's diversity. Others said that passage of an expanded human rights ordinance would protect them from discrimination on the job or keep them from being evicted from an apartment.

"I am a lesbian," said an emotional Rachael Winters. "Who I love should not be a reason to fire me from my job, to bar me from my home."

Covington resident Tony Miller said that growing up, he didn't speak about relatives who were gay for fear that they would be the target of slurs or discrimination.

"In God's eyes, we are all the same," said Miller, who urged Covington officials to add sexual orientation as one of six additional protected classes in the city's human rights ordinance.

If the effort to expand Covington's human rights ordinance succeeds, a Cincinnati group that's opposed to the change has said that it will end up in court.

"If any individual under this new ordinance is denied their right to free speech or their religious beliefs, we would sue on their behalf," Phil Burress, president of the Sharonville-based Citizens for Community Values and chairman of Equal Rights Not Special Rights, said before Tuesday's hearing. Mr. Burress said that the latter group would represent people such as a landlord who refused to rent to someone based on his or her belief that homosexuality was wrong.

Callery has said that his decision on the human rights ordinance won't be affected by the threat of a lawsuit. He said that most people he's heard from have said they don't want people from outside the city telling Covington residents what they should do.

The proposed ordinance would add marital, parental and familial status, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation and place of birth to the list of classes now protected (age, sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin).

It also would ban discrimination in public accommodations and employment.

The proposed ordinance would exempt churches and religious organizations from the sexual orientation and gender identity portion.

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