By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
and The Associated Press
Supporters of Covington's newly expanded rights ordinance praised Gov. Paul Patton's decision this week to ban discrimination against state government employees or job applicants on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
"I think that's totally fantastic," said Pamela Mullins, a member of the Covington Human Rights Commission. "This shows that anti-discrimination efforts are more than just a local movement. And it sends a message that Kentucky welcomes basically all people. Conventions and businesses will want to locate in states like Kentucky that are friendly."
Patton signed the order on Thursday. It applies to the governor's executive cabinet agencies, which together employ more than 30,000 people.
The policy was similar to "fairness ordinances" enacted in Louisville, Lexington and Covington.
Covington's new rights ordinance, adopted on April 29, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and 12 other categories. The new ordinance also added penalties for enforcement power and increased the number of human rights commission members from four to nine.
Covington City Manager Greg Jarvis said it's too early to rate the effectiveness of Covington's new rights ordinance. He said no complaints have been filed with the commission since its adoption.
Jarvis said the city would likely sponsor a workshop in the near future to address business owners' questions.
"I think that passing the ordinance in Covington gave the governor more confidence that he had the support for (signing the order)," said Dean Forster, a Covington resident and chairman of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance. "It's very exciting news that the state workers will have the same protections as the people in Lexington, Louisville and Covington."
Sandy Kerlin, a member of the Covington Human Rights Commission, agreed.
"I think that anything we can do to keep anyone from being discriminated against can only be helpful," Kerlin said.
She added she expects the governor's order will be a topic at the first meeting of Covington's newly expanded human rights commission on Tuesday.
Patton leaves office in December, and the next governor could rescind the order. But Patton believes the order "was the right thing to do" and he hopes his successor will keep it in effect, his general counsel, Denis Fleming, said in an interview.
The executive order "makes it a policy of the commonwealth not to discriminate" on any of several bases, including race, religion, sex, age or disability. Fleming said sexual orientation and gender identity were the "key additions" to the policy, having been suggested to Patton by a Democratic legislator, state Sen. Ernesto Scorsone of Lexington.
"This is a wonderful step toward fairness," said Andrea Hildebran, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance.
The 10-year-old group is dedicated to advancing equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people through leadership development, public education and by encouraging participation in the democratic process.
Hildebran said 14 states - none in the Tristate - have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Four also ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Although Indiana issued a governor's policy statement on Aug. 1, 2001 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Kentucky is the first Southern state to do so, Hildebran said.
Not everyone has expressed support for Covington's expanded rights ordinance. The leaders of Citizens for Community Values, a Sharonville-based anti-pornography group, have said they're concerned that Covington's new rights law could be construed as an endorsement of homosexuality.
They have said they plan to closely monitor the situation in Covington and will file suit if they believe the new law has taken away the rights of a Covington landlord or business owner. They also have maintained that human rights laws have no impact on convention business.
Patton's order does not apply to public institutions or agencies not under the governor's direct control - examples being school districts, colleges and universities.
But for the bulk of the executive branch, "it essentially puts state agencies ... under notice" that there can be no discrimination in hiring or pay and no harassment of individuals for any of the stated reasons, including sexual orientation or gender identity, Fleming said.
In a statement accompanying the order, Patton said he wanted to provide "equal employment opportunity to all people in all aspects of employer-employee relations."
The order "reiterates the philosophy of this administration and establishes as state policy the principle that people should be judged by their qualifications and conduct in the workplace and not by their status," the statement said.
U.S. Rep. Ernie Fletcher, the Republican nominee to succeed Patton, said he would have to review Patton's order before making a judgment about it.
"I'm not sure if he had any particular cases of discrimination that he pointed to," Fletcher said in an interview in Lexington.
"I've had two policies that I've held. One is that I oppose any discrimination that exists in the work force. And two: I don't think that we ought to initiate any special rights," Fletcher said.
The Democratic nominee, Attorney General Ben Chandler, was vacationing in Maine and unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said.
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