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MY WORD: Shelby County needs a Fairness ordinance

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By Ann-Lynn Ellerkamp

Dozens of Shelbyville residents crowded our city hall last November calling on Mayor Tom Hardesty and the city council to consider passage of a simple, anti-discrimination fairness ordinance. The proposed law would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations based upon a person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age (over 40), disability, familial status, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Federal and state Civil Rights Acts currently protect most of these groups of individuals from discrimination, but that's not true of sexual orientation and gender identity, leaving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people legally vulnerable to be fired from a job, denied a place to live, or be kicked out of a restaurant or park, and that's not fair.

Only the cities of Covington, Lexington, Louisville and Vicco in Kentucky offer local anti-discrimination Fairness protections, and we'd like to see Shelbyville be next.

After our presentation to the city council, Mayor Hardesty commented, "I don't really have an opinion, but I think Shelby County is still a conservative county, and I don't think the community will back it."

What Mayor Hardesty and others might not know, however, is that the majority of Kentuckians do support Fairness – 83 percent, actually, including conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike, according to a recent survey by The Schapiro Group.

Most everyone agrees people should have the opportunity to earn a living, put a roof over their heads, and eat at their favorite restaurants without the fear of being turned away just because of who they are.

There are a lot of misconceptions in the community about what a Fairness ordinance would do in Shelbyville, which I'd like to clear up a bit.

Many folks fear an anti-discrimination law would mean their church would be forced to hire or marry LGBT people, which simply is not true. Most all Fairness ordinances include employment exemptions for religious institutions and businesses owned or operated by a religion. And Fairness laws in no way address the question of same-gender marriage, which is prohibited by Kentucky's constitution.

People also fear that, as landlords, they may have to rent a room in their home to an LGBT person. But there are also exemptions in Fairness laws for small renters and small employers. Housing exemptions typically include folks renting units in their homes, and employment exemptions usually apply to businesses with fewer than eight employees, or whatever our city council deems appropriate.

Our city has a unique opportunity to be on the cutting edge of civil rights in our state and country. Most everyone has someone in their life they love who is LGBT – a child, grandchild, uncle, aunt, co-worker, or close friend – and they want to see their friends and family treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else, and so do I.

I hope our mayor and city council will consider drafting, debating and passing a simple anti-discrimination Fairness law to make Shelbyville a true civil rights leader in our commonwealth. More information can be found at www.FairnessCoalition.org.

Ann-Lynn Ellerkamp lives in Shelbyville.