Despite Progressive Image, Berea's Fairness Law Stuck
Berea has a history of being in the forefront of social change, but an effort to protect citizens based on their sexual orientation faces an uncertain future. WEKU’S Ron Smith has the story. This report contains language that’s objectionable to many people.
Three Kentucky cities, Lexington, Louisville, and Covington, have fairness ordinances that protect gays, lesbians and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public accommodations. Some Berea residents want the same protections. Others don’t think they’re necessary. The battle lines seem pretty clear. Opponents like Minister Kenneth Carroll say Christianity is on their side.
“They can’t come in and change us and evidently we can’t change them. Only thing we can tell them is what the Word says,” says Carroll.
And “the Word,” according to Reverend Carroll’s interpretation of scripture, says homosexuality is wrong. Berea College student C-J Dickerson disagrees. The gay, African-American complains he’s been harrassed several times. First, a group of guys made sexual gestures toward him in reaction to a gay pride shirt he was wearing.
“And then a second one just happened about three weeks ago with my partner whom I am now living with, and the word faggot came out of a truck as he was driving off really, really fast,” recalls Dickerson.
Dickerson and Carroll are closely monitoring how Berea’s council is dealing with the issue. Proponents were disappointed that a council committee took preliminary steps to create a human rights commission but omitted protections for gay, lesbian or transgender people. But, Councilmember Truman Fields says such provisions could resurface.
“I think the fairness ordinance is certainly not dead. It will come up again. We will present it to council and see what council wants to do,” said Fields.
Fields says a future ordinance could be amended to include gays, lesbians and the transgendered. But he admits it could be awhile. Another important player in the human rights debate is Berea Mayor Steve Connelly. He could eventually cast a tie-breaking vote. It’s not hard to tell that Connelly is in his law office. His red Toyota pickup parked on Chestnut street sports two bumper stickers…I love Berea, and Berea Proud. Inside, Connelly traced the grief Berea has suffered. He blames the state legislature, which this year refused to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. That, the mayor says, shifted responsibility for enacting such laws to cities.
“The responsibility would be solely on Berea to investigate, make a judgement, enforce, possibly defend on appeal a complaint against a local employer on the grounds that there was arguably discrimination,’ contends Connelly.
Connelly says the fairness ordinance requires more study. At this time, Connelly says Berea does not have the experience, capacity or money needed to take on that responsibility.
One alternative is to establish a countywide human right commission. Berea is exploring the possibility with the City of Richmond and Madison County. Versailles, Midway and Woodford County already have such a commission.
For the time being, the issue continues to be framed by those people who speak out. People like Reverend Kenneth Carroll.
“This is my little model town. And it’s been my children’s little model town, they’re raising their children and I believe we can all get along together. You know we have for all these years. Why would we want to change now, just for somebody’s lifestyle?”, asked Carroll.
And gay Berea College student C-J Dickerson.
“I don’t want to say people have to accept homosexuals or the alphabet community, but they can at least respect us and the fact that we are humans and that we are people,” said Dickerson.
At this point, Berea’s fairness ordinance remains in limbo. Its city commission is meets again this week (Tuesday), but the proposal is not on the agenda.