Participating in a city council meeting can be intimidating. And the intimidation factor is magnified in Bowling Green last Tuesday when the city commission had a special working session to discuss the proposed sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination ordinance.
I was one of a dozen who spoke against it.
Fifty-two, including many college students and a mostly younger demographic, argued that without the law people could be arbitrarily fired from a job or kicked out of their rented dwellings for simply being homosexual or identifying with the sex opposite of their biological gender.
It was interesting that both sides resorted to Scripture to support their case. One young college student who identified as a Christian felt that his religion was being “weaponized” to use against him. It was was a tense moment.
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I stayed as long as possible, but with 30 more speakers to go and with my family waiting for me at home over an hour away, I needed to leave. Many friends left during the break and I hate to admit, left me a little afraid.
Earlier in the evening, my face was plastered on a screen in the overflow room downstairs where proponents gathered and saw me testify. I’d have to walk through that crowd and back to my car. In the dark. Alone. I managed a few glares but made it safely back to my car.
It dawned on me that I wasn't the only person who was afraid. My opponents were fearful as well. Real fear of losing a job, of being kicked out their rental, being maligned in society. There is no doubt many believe the proposed ordinance would shield them from such threats.
As real as their fears, I argued that the ordinance was unnecessary and actually strikes fear into another class of people. Graphic designers, florists, photographers and bakers fear they will lose their businesses if they stand for their convictions. All across the country, some choose to stand while others give in to the fear.
Speaking in favor of the ordinance was a young man who suffered a hostile work environment and ended up losing his job. I was moved by his story. In his suffering, I discovered common ground where I can stand with him when it comes to hostility in the workplace.
Wouldn’t the better solution be for each of us to act as an immediate ally against injustice in the workplace and stand with a co-worker bullied or maligned on the job?
The common bond every person in the council meeting shared is that each is created in the image of God and endowed with dignity. People of goodwill may disagree on whether special protections are needed, but all can agree that no human being should be demeaned, ridiculed or marginalized.
In the end, isn’t this battle about being a good neighbor?
The people I know who have spoken against this ordinance in Bowling Green don’t want to see anyone marginalized or hurt because of their sexual orientation.
But they don’t want to see people of faith compelled to violate their consciences when it comes to participating in an event that violates their religious convictions, either.
Richard Nelson of Cadiz is executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonprofit public policy group. The center’s assistant director Brandon Porter also contributed to this column.