The City of Frankfort is drafting an ordinance that would seek to protect lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. But if you were among the more than 40 residents who left after the first two-and-a-half hours of Monday night’s City Commission meeting, you probably missed that. That’s because Commissioner Lynn Bowers changed her mind on the issue after the board took a brief break.
Federal and state law does not recognize sexual orientation and gender identity among protected classes, such as race. A local anti-discrimination ordinance, like ones enacted in a handful of other Kentucky cities, could add such protections.
An ordinance could include exceptions for church organizations, small employers and people renting rooms out of their homes.
The proposed ordinance, which commissioners must still vote on, was almost watered down to a resolution after commissioners heard numerous comments from audience members, who included Baptist pastors, homosexuals, heterosexual Christians on both sides of the issue and at least one atheist.
Hershael York, senior pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church, began the discussion by speaking against the ordinance. Speakers who came after York countered and echoed his comments.
Those who spoke covered points ubiquitous in homosexuality debates: Whether it’s a choice; what Jesus didn’t say about it; what Leviticus did say about it; the proper role of religion in government; the religious skepticism of some Founding Fathers; and the Christianity of others.
They also discussed discrimination against homosexuals, reverse discrimination against Christians who oppose homosexuality, comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement, being on the right side of history and the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” argument.
Following their often-impassioned but largely civil comments, Bowers launched into a “rambling” speech, as she herself described it, saying she could only support a broad law.
“I cannot vote for an ordinance that would add one class to a protected group,” Bowers said at one point, “because we have too many classes that are out there that are too busy getting about life to sit down and cry about how discriminated they are.”
Her comments offended several audience members.
“You have offended our intelligence,” said a woman sitting in the nearly full council chambers.
In a January City Commission meeting, Bowers had appeared to support anti-discrimination policies.
“Let’s just do a resolution,” said Commissioner Katie Hedden, who had earlier in the meeting said she’d like to see an anti-bullying resolution more than a fairness ordinance.
Bowers agreed on a resolution, which are statements of the commission’s feelings that lack enforcement power.
Commissioner Robert Roach, an apartment complex owner and manager who has publicly led opposition to the ordinance, was against even a resolution.
Commissioner Tommy Haynes said it wasn’t a current priority, and that people, not an ordinance, helped him with his own struggles against racial discrimination.
Mayor Bill May was the only commission member to speak clearly in favor.
Though Monday was not a voting meeting, the mayor needed at least two commissioners on his side to direct City Solicitor Rob Moore to draft a proposed ordinance. And Bowers did not seem to support one.
“Can we look into the ordinance draft?” May asked, visibly disappointed and with a long look at the end of the table where Bowers and Hedden sat.
Eventually, Roach said, “I think you still have the same two nos and the same two yeses.”
With that, the commission approved drafting only a resolution and took a short recess. But after the commission reconvened, Bowers changed her mind and joined May and Hedden in directing Moore to also draft an ordinance.
Bowers said she “got some more questions answered” by speaking with Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville gay rights organization. Hartman had previously spoken in favor of an ordinance.
Bowers said she still doesn’t know whether she will eventually vote for the proposal.
The proposed ordinance and resolution will appear at the June work session. What language those proposals will include was not specifically outlined by the commission.