Koutoulas: Winchester needs a fairness ordinance

Published 10:04 am Thursday, August 22, 2019

In January 1999, Louisville became the first municipality in Kentucky to enact a fairness ordinance. While broader protections would follow, that first bill only addressed discrimination in employment.

When Louisville merged with Jefferson County several years later, the Louisville Metro Government passed a more comprehensive law. The new law protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, public accommodations and in the workplace.

In the years since then, 11 more Kentucky cities and towns have enacted similar protections. These include Lexington, Frankfort, Paducah, Covington, Morehead and Danville.

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Earlier this month, the northern Kentucky city of Dayton became the latest municipality to join the ranks.

Although the list is growing, about three-fourths of Kentuckians still live in towns without a fairness ordinance.

Winchester is among the latter group. Persons living in our community can be legally turned away from seeking a job, denied a raise or promotion or denied housing simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identification.

So what is a fairness ordinance anyway? It is merely a law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Because neither U.S. nor Kentucky law guarantees these rights, it has been up to local jurisdictions to enact these laws.

We’ve done better in other areas. Since 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we have had federal protections for persons based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

In the ensuing years, the U.S. has enacted other laws designed to protect persons based on age, disability, pregnancy and childbirth.

Congress enacted all of these bills and others because of unfair discrimination. But until recently, there has not been a serious push at the federal level to include protections for LGBTQ people.

As you may have heard, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed an amendment to the Civil Rights Act which would extend its protections to LGBTQ persons. However, it is unlikely to be considered by the current Senate and would be unlikely to get a signature from the current president.

So it has been up to states and local jurisdictions that are so inclined to provide protections.

In doing some background research, I was unable to find where the issue has ever come up locally. Among our neighboring towns and cities, only Lexington has a fairness ordinance.

Maybe some simply aren’t aware of the issue — but it’s quite real. If an LGBTQ person is fired or otherwise discriminated against in the workplace solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identification, that person has no legal recourse in most of Kentucky. This includes Winchester.

The same holds for housing. A gay man or woman can be denied equal access to housing, with no legal remedy for the injured party.

I can think of no logical reason to allow discrimination based on any natural human condition, and sexual and gender orientation falls in this category.

Think about it. As we have recognized for years, a person has no control over the color of their skin, for example. As such, we realize — most of us, anyway — that it is patently unfair and cruel to mistreat people based on their race. (Even here, we haven’t always lived out these protections.)

But as a society, we still fail to recognize treating a person unfairly based upon their sexual orientation is equally wrong and counterproductive.

Just the other day, I heard someone say something like, “It’s their (gay people) own fault. They need to get straightened out and get with someone from the opposite sex, the way the Lord intended.”

In addition to being incredibly cruel and asinine, that statement reveals a complete lack of understanding of how sexual orientation works. Asking a gay person why they choose to be attracted to the same sex is ridiculous.

Do any of us know why we are attracted to the people we are? As long as I can remember, I’ve liked women. I can’t tell you why — and I can’t just change my mind and start liking men in the same way. So why should I expect my gay friend to change his mind and start liking women?

Do you see how little sense that makes?

In light of these facts about human nature, it’s difficult for a person like me — white, middle-class, male, heterosexual — to imagine the plight of those who experience fear, harassment and discrimination every day just for being the “way the Lord intended” them to be.

And what harm would it do me if our town granted my gay, bisexual or transgender friends the same protections I enjoy? I can think of no downside.

Can you?

Final thought: If you agree Winchester needs a fairness ordinance, would you be willing to join me in calling upon city leaders to take up the issue?

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Twitter @PeteKoutoulas.