Thursday, May 1, 2003

New Covington rights ordinance could be catalyst

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Tuesday's unanimous approval of a new rights ordinance here bodes well for similar efforts in Cincinnati and across the nation, national and Tristate gay-rights leaders said.

"The people of Cincinnati have a model for fairness right across the river,'' said Gary Wright, co-chair of the Citizens to Restore Fairness campaign in Cincinnati. He said that group hopes Covington's example will prompt Cincinnati residents to reconsider controversial legislation in the Queen City.

The ordinance got a standing ovation from supporters after Tuesday's 5-0 vote. Covington's new law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and 12 other categories.

"Covington is a shining example for the region,'' Wright said. "People of goodwill can find a way to resolve these issues that does not lead to bitterness.''

Citizens to Restore Fairness is talking to Cincinnati voters and circulating petitions in hopes of repealing Article XII, which prohibits Cincinnati City Council from adopting laws banning discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Wright said the group hopes to get the issue on the ballot in November 2004.

"The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is helping to bring about the day that wherever GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered) people live - whether that's in larger cities like San Francisco, or places like Cincinnati, Covington, Kentucky or (anti-gay preacher) Fred Phelps' hometown of Topeka, Kansas, they can live openly and honestly and be treated with the dignity and respect that all people deserve,'' Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Phelps, whose followers had picketed the funeral of gay murder victim Mathew Shepard, had threatened to picket a February hearing on the proposed changes in Covington's human-rights ordinance. However, he did not make it after his plane was snowed in.

Other critics included Citizens for Community Values (CCV), a Sharonville-based anti-pornography group.

David Miller, CCV's vice president, said his group plans to closely monitor the situation in Covington. CCV could file suit if it believes the new human-rights law has taken away the rights of a Covington landlord or business owner, Miller said.

Miller said his organization is concerned that Covington's new human-rights ordinance could be construed as an endorsement of homosexuality.

He said CCV is forming a political action committee to help fund Tristate candidates who oppose such measures, but said that had been in the works before Covington began discussing a new human-rights ordinance.

Jean credited the Kentucky Fairness Alliance with organizing a diverse base of heterosexual and homosexual business leaders and residents to ensure approval of Covington's expanded human-rights ordinance.

"The quality of life not just for GLBT people, but for all historically oppressed Kentuckians, is that much better due to this fair-minded vote by the Covington City commissioners,'' said Matt Nicholson, Kentucky Fairness Alliance central and Eastern Kentucky organizer.

Covington already prohibits housing discrimination based on disabilities, gender, race, color, religion, national origin, family status and place of birth. The new ordinance adds protection for people over 40, and prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, and parental and marital status.

It also adds penalties for enforcement power.

Wright said people often are leery of making discrimination complaints when there's no recourse.

"In addition to giving people incentive to report incidents (of discrimination), this kind of legislation changes people's minds and behavior and their impression of how they ought to treat each other,'' he said.

"Without a law like Covington's, you have a kind of climate where some people think it's all right to harass people just because of their sexual orientation.''

Mayor Butch Callery praised special counsel Frank Warnock, Covington's business community, Human Rights Commission and dozens of people who spoke at public hearings for their help in developing an ordinance that could serve as a national model.

Less than 24 hours after the vote, Callery said he had received numerous e-mails from residents who described Covington's vote as "progressive'' and "a good decision by the city.''

"I just want to tell you I've been on the commission a long time,'' Callery said after Tuesday's vote.

"This is the most input that I've ever seen occur on any ordinance ... Even though we didn't always agree on some of the issues, I think it turned out to be a very well-read ordinance.''

A Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman described Covington's human-rights ordinance as "a win for the Greater Cincinnati community.''

Since 1993, when Cincinnati became the only city in the country to ban civil-rights protections based on sexual orientation, eight groups representing a $25 million investment in the local economy canceled meetings they'd booked in Cincinnati, said Julie Calvert, vice president of communications for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"After Article XII passed, they contacted us and said, 'We are taking you out of consideration,' " she said.

Progress has been made with the recent passage of Cincinnati's hate-crimes ordinance and the adoption of Covington's expanded human-rights ordinance, she said.

"But the reality is we still have work to do,'' she said.

"Anything that creates a barrier or hindrance to doing business in Greater Cincinnati needs to be evaluated.''


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