Monday, February 10, 2003

Groups rally around gay rights

Covington plan supported at meeting

The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Members of church and civic groups gathered Sunday afternoon at Trinity Episcopal Church to support a proposed expansion of the city's human-rights ordinance.

The proposal, which would extend the ordinance's nondiscrimination clause to include more categories - sexual orientation, gender identity, age, marital status and parental status - is expected to be hotly debated at a public hearing Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at The Madison.

"This is something that is overdue, not just in Covington, but in the whole country," said Rev. Don Smith, chairman of the Covington Human Rights Commission and pastor of Community of Faith Presbyterian Church.

The commission is backing the ordinance.

Smith characterized the extension of rights to gays, lesbians and transgendered people as "the third last great wave of the civil-rights movement."

Said Hensley Jemmott, first vice president of the Northern Kentucky branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: "When this thing passes, I want to be able to say, `Our NAACP stood up and said yes, be fair and include everyone in all the rights and privileges citizens are entitled to.' "

Said Marie Braun, president of the Northern Kentucky Disability Coalition, which has been working for the rights of the disabled since 1994: "It's wrong to discriminate against anybody. Please do the right thing."

The Rev. Joseph Pennington, rector of Trinity Episcopal, said the church's 15-member vestry unanimously approved a letter in support of the ordinance expansion.

He said some members of his parish would be protected by the sexual-orientation clause and that Covington had lost some Trinity church members to the suburbs because of harassment they had experienced in Covington.

"We have studied the biblical position on homosexuality. We are well aware of eight to 10 quotes that will be debated until the Messiah comes," Pennington said.

But if we are to take the Bible literally, he said, "My wife would be chattel goods. And I don't think my wife would like that. The question is: Is there to be discrimination or is there not?"

Dean Forster, 35, a Covington architect and co-chair of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance, spoke in favor of extending the ordinance, a position his group supports.

"The fear of being `discovered' as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person is shared by many of the residents of Covington, those who are gay and those who are not, but are perceived to be so," Forster said.

Forster listed some of the Tristate companies that do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation: Kroger, Procter & Gamble, Delta Air Lines, Cinergy, Toyota and Federated Department Stores.

"Your gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbors seek no more protections from discrimination than any other citizen of Covington," he said.

There are five votes, including Mayor Butch Callery's, on the Covington City Commission. Three must vote for the extension for it to pass.

The first reading of the ordinance could come before the commission as soon as Feb. 18, with a second reading and possible vote as soon as March 4.

If passed, those discriminated against in housing, public accommodations or the workplace could bring a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

If the situation were not resolved there, the complaint could go before city commission or to circuit court as a civil matter.

Robert Lotz, a Covington lawyer who spoke in favor of the expanding the ordinance, said the proposal is written to help end discrimination but "does not threaten business with economic sanction" for violations.

More than 261 municipalities and states have sexual orientation nondiscrimination clauses, according to the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance.

In Kentucky, Lexington and Louisville have such ordinances. The cities of Owensboro, Paducah and Madisonville have groups working for ordinances.

In Henderson, a sexual-orientation protection clause was passed but then rescinded.

A bill to pass a sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination ordinance for the state of Kentucky, backed by Rep. Kathy W. Stein, D-Lexington, is in committee in the legislative session in Frankfort.

Forster said his group estimates there are about 1,500 to 5,000 gay, lesbian and transgendered people in Covington. The group says it arrived at this figure by extrapolating the 3 percent to 10 percent nationwide estimates to Covington's population.

The Rev. Fred Phelps, a Topeka, Kan., activist who has picketed events including the baptism of quadruplets born to a surrogate mother for two gay dads in Lexington and the funeral of gay beating victim Matthew Shepherd in the state of Wyoming, has said he will picket the Covington meeting.

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