Ky. should keep leading on fairness for all its citizens

At issue | Feb. 25 Herald-Leader article, "Supporters of fairness bills call for an end to all sexual discrimination"

In January 1966, with Gov. Edward T. Breathitt's signing of a law described by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., as "the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights bill passed by a southern state," Kentucky became the first state in the south to adopt a Civil Rights Act with enforceable repercussions for acts of discrimination.

Two years later, Kentucky was again first in the south, this time in the passage of a statewide fair-housing law, which cemented our commonwealth's legacy as the nation's southern civil rights leader.

At its core, the purpose of the Civil Rights Act is to guarantee equality for everyone. It ensures all Kentuckians have the same opportunities to earn a living, be safe in their communities, serve their country and care for the ones they love.

When there has been a history of a particular group's lack of access to these fundamentals of the American dream, the just and appropriate response has been to add that group to existing antidiscrimination laws.

Today, our state has the opportunity to once again stand as the pioneer of fairness and equality among its southern peers, and we challenge each and every Kentuckian to add their voice to the call for comprehensive civil rights in the commonwealth.

On Jan. 5, a proposal for a statewide fairness law was introduced to amend our state's Civil Rights Act to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as protected classifications.

This would prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kentuckians in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Even today, any person suspected of being gay or transgender outside Lexington, Louisville or Covington may be legally fired from their job, denied housing or withheld access to any public accommodation— such as a bus ride or service in a restaurant.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia currently enforce such fairness protections, and of the 29 states that do not, more than 70 of their cities and counties extend protections to their gay and transgender citizens.

Approximately 25 percent of our state's population resides in the three communities with existing fairness laws, and census data indicates that large numbers of individuals also commute into these communities during the workweek.

Consequently, approximately 30 percent of Kentuckians are protected from this type of discrimination, yet this simple equality proposal has never even come to a committee vote.

This year marks more than a decade since Lexington and Louisville passed their fairness ordinances — the same year a Decision Research poll documented 73 percent of Kentuckians supported statewide fairness protections.

This law is long overdue in our commonwealth, and if we do not act quickly, we will surely lose our place in history as the nation's southern leader of equality.

On June 2, 2008, Gov. Steve Beshear adopted an executive order stating a broad and inclusive policy of nondiscrimination in state government employment. Beshear recognizes the time has come for Kentucky to join the 21 other states that have already enacted laws protecting gay and transgender people, and we must too.

Just as Kentucky led the South in 1966 by becoming the first southern state to pass a civil rights law applicable to employment and places of public accommodation, and led the region in 1968 by becoming the first southern state to pass protections in housing, we must now boldly, resolutely take up the challenge to lead the South into a new era of equality for everyone.

We must affirm our commonwealth's legacy by becoming the first southern state to stand united for fairness.

If you cherish Kentucky's rich history as the southern civil rights leader, then look not only to our past, but also to our fair and equal future.