Franklin County

Frankfort discussion about possible fairness ordinance draws big crowd

FRANKFORT — A crowd of about 200 people gathered before the Frankfort Board of Commissioners on Monday night to comment on whether the city needs a fairness ordinance.

City Attorney Rob Moore said he had created two drafts of a fairness ordinance at the direction of the board, plus a "resolution in favor of nondiscrimination."

Moore said one draft ordinance was a new document, while the other was a revision of the city's housing ordinance. Either version would prohibit discrimination in housing, public accommodation or employment based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

There are exemptions, though.

For example, people hiring an in-home nurse or domestic, and landlords renting a room in their home or half of a duplex in which they live would not have to comply with the fairness ordinance.

Religious organizations would not have to hire someone who does not agree with their religious beliefs, Moore said.

Moore said the draft ordinances also provide for exemption under the state's newly adopted Religious Freedom Act, which states in part that "government shall not substantially burden a person's freedom of religion." He said that provision was included because "it's required by Kentucky law."

He said he looked at fairness ordinances adopted by other Kentucky cities when drafting the proposals he provided to the board of commissioners.

Four Kentucky cities — Lexington, Louisville, Covington and the tiny town of Vicco in Perry County — have ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Berea Mayor Steve Connelly said in February that he would sign an executive order banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation among city employees.

The Frankfort Board of Commissioners did not vote on the issue Monday and did not announce when they would take up the topic again.

The portion of the work session that dealt with the fairness ordinance was moved from city hall to the Kentucky History Center to accommodate the overflow crowd, said Mayor Bill May.

Frankfort citizens on both sides of the issue engaged in a sometimes emotional debate that lasted more than two hours.

More people spoke in favor of the ordinance than against it.

Maya Burke, 17, a high school student from Frankfort, told the board that "legal discrimination based on who people like seems silly to me."

"Imagine the who we like of sexuality as the what team we like of college basketball," she said. "UK fans and U of L fans being evicted from their apartments, getting fired from their jobs left and right or kicked out of restaurants and parks just because they're different."

Several preachers addressed the board, both in favor of and against the ordinance.

"This resolution is not about whether people might agree or disagree with other people's sexual orientation," said Scott Rollins, minister of Highland Christian Church in Frankfort. "And this resolution does not ask that people set aside their religious beliefs. But this resolution is about everyone's equal access to employment, housing and public accommodation within our community."

However, Hershael York, pastor of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, said the topic was "a moral issue."

"We're not hearing testimony about people being denied housing," he said. "This is about compelling property owners and business owners to a point of view that they do not hold."

David Rayborn, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, agreed, asking the board to "carve out an exception for businesses owned by people of faith."

My religious freedom does not cease to exist outside the front door of my church or my home," he said.

Other speakers urged the board to consider what the ordinance might cost the city to implement. Some said it would create "special rights" for one group, and others said an ordinance would not solve the problem of discrimination.

Still others who addressed the board spoke of bullying against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, saying the ordinance would go a long way toward discouraging such acts, and they likened the issue to what black Americans faced during the Civil Rights Movement.

Speaking in favor of an ordinance, Nicholas Holmes said he was not gay, but because he's unmarried and has artistic interests, people sometimes think he is.

"I've been in a few job interviews where there was an uncomfortable pause," he said, when he felt compelled to clarify his orientation. "I feel ashamed for that. My action was rooted in fear. ... Discrimination is real."