Berea could expect few complaints about unfairness to gays, transgendered, group says

rights panel might cost $750 a year, say those who seek gay, transgender inclusion

gkocher1@herald-leader.comAugust 17, 2011 

BEREA — Based on its population and the experience of larger cities, Berea could expect one complaint about sexual orientation or gender identity every two years if it were to create a human rights commission including those categories as protected classes, a group contended at Tuesday's city council meeting.

Bereans for Fairness, a group that supports the inclusion of gay and transgender as protected categories, presented that information in a "fiscal impact statement" to the council.

"We're here tonight to communicate that fairness in Berea is fiscally feasible," Jason Howard, a member of Bereans for Fairness, said in an interview. "That it's something that the city can afford."

A proposed ordinance would create a human rights commission that would investigate claims of religious, racial, sex, age and physical-disability discrimination, but the ordinance would not include language for gay, lesbian or transgender people. Bereans for Fairness wants those categories included in the ordinance.

Creating those categories of discrimination, which are not recognized by state law, means the city would have to investigate complaints and enforce compliance on its own and at its own cost, according to a committee that studied the issue and recommended the proposed ordinance.

That has given some council members pause, even though the budget situation of Berea was described Tuesday night as stable and relatively healthy.

According to the assumptions of the report presented Tuesday, it might cost Berea $750 a year to have a human rights commission that covers all the categories.

The numbers were based on consultation with Louisville, Lexington and Covington, the only three cities in Kentucky that now recognize gays and transgender people as protected classes.

Mayor Steve Connelly has said Berea should start a commission without sexual orientation or gender identity as protected categories.

That way, he contends, the city could evaluate the extent of those complaints and then add those categories later.

He noted that Lexington and Louisville had human rights commissions for decades before they added those categories.

"It would be worse to reach for the top and fall to the bottom because we didn't have the capacity to carry through the promise that we held out," Connelly said in an interview after the meeting.

Some might read the low number of projected complaints as showing that the city does not need to add the categories to the ordinance. But Howard said the point is that all citizens deserve protection and that protecting them would not put a financial burden on the city.

The next public discussion about the proposed ordinance probably will be Aug. 30, when the elected officials of Berea, Richmond and Madison County meet to discuss, among other things, the possibility of creating a countywide human rights commission.

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