Tiny Eastern Kentucky town becomes Kentucky's fourth city to ban discrimination against gays

bestep@herald-leader.comJanuary 14, 2013 

The tiny Eastern Kentucky town of Vicco on Monday became the fourth city in the state to approve local ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Vicco, in Perry County, was named for a coal company and had a 2010 population of 334. It joins the much larger cities of Lexington, Louisville and Covington as the only ones in Kentucky with local anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation, said Chris Hartman, who is on the steering committee of the statewide Fairness Coalition. The coalition advocates for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

"Vicco is a town that gets that everyone deserves to be treated fairly," Hartman said.

He said Vicco also apparently is the smallest city in the nation with such local anti-discrimination ordinances.

There was little public opposition to the laws. No citizens spoke out against them at Monday's meeting, said Eric E. Ashley, city attorney for Vicco.

Ashley said the goal of the laws was protecting people, not "putting a stamp of approval" on any sexual orientation.

There might have been more opposition if that had not been clear, he said.

The lone commissioner who voted no had religious objections to the laws but also agreed that people should not be discriminated against, Hartman said.

The commission approved two ordinances Monday.

One says property owners cannot refuse to sell or rent to people, evict them or treat them differently because of their race, color or national origin; gender or gender identity; religion; age; or real or perceived sexual orientation.

The other law bars employers from refusing to hire, or firing, anyone based on the same protections.

The ordinances do not bar employers and business owners from enforcing rules such as dress codes and lease provisions.

The laws include provisions for hearings by the city commission on complaints, and fines for violations.

Right now, there are only six businesses in the small town that will fall under the ordinances, Ashley said.

He said the law codifies only the way people in Vicco already treat one another.

"The City of Vicco is much more progressive than one would think," Ashley said.

City leaders designated Ashley to speak for them and wanted it made clear the new rules are just one positive among many.

The city once ran in the red financially, and its water system — the main revenue producer — was leaking away nearly half the water it treated, Ashley said.

In February 2009, a former mayor and his son, who had been a city commissioner, were ordered to pay back nearly $28,000 after being accused of mishandling city money.

Now, the city has nearly eliminated leaks in its water system, is operating in the black and has a number of projects in the works, including a wastewater-treatment plant upgrade and a park, Ashley said.

The move to adopt the ordinances in Vicco grew out of the Fairness Coalition's work to advocate for such rules in cities around the state, Hartman said.

For instance, the coalition has lobbied in favor of anti-discrimination ordinances in Richmond and Berea, where the issue has been a hot topic.

Neither city has adopted such an ordinance, but Berea set up a human-rights commission.

The next step there probably will be to propose a local fairness ordinance, Hartman said.

The Fairness Coalition is made up of the Fairness Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Kentucky Fairness Alliance and Lexington Fairness.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655.Twitter: @billestep1.

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