BEREA — Citizens had their say Tuesday night about an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people in housing, employment and public accommodations.
More than 250 people packed the Russel Acton Folk Center. Those in favor of the ordinance sat in blue T-shirts on one side of the room, while opponents wearing red T-shirts ("Just say no to favoritism") sat on the opposite side. One by one, individuals got up to speak; the forum lasted for about an hour and 45 minutes.
Ordinance opponent Danny Philpot said he's never known Berea to be an unfair community.
"We're not as bad as we act like we are," Philpot said. "Why fix something that's not broke?"
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Sheila Johnson, another ordinance opponent, said she worked as a waitress for 15 years at a local restaurant "and never did we turn anyone away."
But ordinance supporter Beth Feagan said, "Just because you haven't been denied service doesn't mean it doesn't happen."
And Dodie Murphy, a licensed clinical social worker, said she has counseled gay adolescents in Berea who experience depression and suicidal thoughts because of the hatred they face in schools.
"These children are hurting. Adults are hurting," Murphy said.
Even the gay community expressed different opinions about the ordinance.
Dylan Gorski, who identified himself as gay and as an opponent of the ordinance, said, "If there is a restaurant that won't serve me, I won't go there."
"If we truly want fairness, why not put this on the ballot to decide?" Gorski said.
But the Rev. Rachel Small Stokes, the associate pastor of Union Church in Berea who married her wife in New York in 2012, said she walks "with an extra layer of fear" because there are no protections extended to them.
"What this ordinance would do is give me one less layer of fear," Stokes said.
The Berea City Council voted in 2011 to resurrect a human rights commission that would investigate claims of religious, racial, sex, age, and physical-disability discrimination.
But that ordinance did not extend protections in regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. The ordinance discussed Tuesday would.
The council held first reading of its draft ordinance Sept. 2 and has scheduled a second reading and vote for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 7. That vote will occur at the Police and Municipal Building, 304 Chestnut Street.
The ordinance exempts people, religious institutions, and charitable organizations operated by religious institutions from allegations of discrimination if they have a "sincerely held religious belief."
Any person claiming a violation may submit a written complaint within 180 days of the alleged violation, or one year if the alleged violation pertains to housing.
The Berea Human Rights Commission reserves to itself the resolution of all claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The commission would have an investigator look into the circumstances, and the investigator would report the findings to the commission.
If, after receipt of the report, the commission determines there is no probable cause to believe that a violation has occurred, the commission shall dismiss the complaint.
If the commission determines there is probable cause, the commission "shall endeavor" to eliminate the alleged violation by a conciliation agreement, the ordinance says.
If the hearing officer finds that a violation has occurred, he may recommend penalties of $100 to $250 for first or second offenses, and $500 for third or subsequent offenses.
The ordinance also requires the commission to make quarterly reports to city council concerning all complaints received and their dispositions.