Kentucky Voices

Ky. Voices: Lincoln's call for diversity endures; Ky. lawmakers must show leadership

KY. LAWMAKERS MUST SHOW LEADERSHIP

November 17, 2013 

Today, in an age when our society continues to progress and transform, we continue to struggle with equity and fairness.

Recently, Lexington was fortunate to have an amazing mural added to the back of the Kentucky Theatre. Showcasing Abraham Lincoln, this great kaleidoscopic piece of public art, enlivening the statuesque Lincoln, brings to light the diversity he fought for during his time serving our country.

His famous Gettysburg Address was delivered 150 years ago, noting that our nation was "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

All men (and women) created equal. Yet, still today, we have so many ignored, not provided the equal protections of the law.

Lexington has supported fairness and equality of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community for nearly 15 years through the passage of the Fairness Ordinance.

But should you cross over to Jessamine, Clark, Woodford, Scott, Madison or Bourbon counties, the protection of the LGBT community is not secure.

These protections are only provided for citizens living in Lexington, Louisville, Covington, Vicco, and Frankfort, and it seems Morehead will join them soon.

Some argue that including sexual orientation and gender identity in discrimination protections is a special right. It should not be a special right to fire, evict or refuse service to someone because of who they love.

Some argue expanding discrimination protections is an attack on religion. In most instances, there is a religious exemption from these protections. With the recent passage by the state legislature of the Religious Freedom bill, it is clear there is support for those exemptions.

However, it is still disheartening to hear a religious organization, such as Sunrise Children's Services, openly state it will continue employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Sunrise receives approximately $26 million in state contracts. It is unfortunate to hear the state supports these actions.

A statewide fairness bill has been presented to our legislature for over 10 years. Its purpose is to broaden discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It has yet to get past a committee hearing.

Meanwhile, a survey done by the Shapiro Group shows that 83 percent of Kentuckians believe there should be protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Of that number, 77 percent of Republicans believed discrimination protections should be broadened. And in every Kentucky congressional district, 78 percent or more approved the expansion of discrimination protections.

Clearly, our citizens believe in equal protection, but our elected officials are not following the will of Kentuckians, both at state and national levels.

Recently, our U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known as ENDA. However, both Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul stood up for ignorance and intolerance and voted against ENDA.

Lexington has taken the step forward. We have expressed our desire to protect all of our citizens. We move forward, and hope our state will soon follow, with our nation right behind. As we make that movement forward, we glance at and learn from the past.

Although we have moved nearly 150 years beyond his time, Kentucky's greatest son, Abraham Lincoln, best noted his belief in fair and equal protections and access as he spoke to an Ohio regiment during the Civil War.

Lincoln stated, "It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations."

Craig Cammack of Lexington is an advocate on fairness issues.

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