Recently I've been thinking about taking more day trips. Kentucky is great for just such a thing.

By what I see and read, it appears Owensboro city officials agree and are interested in alluring more visitors, sports tourists, pilgrims of bluegrass, and other travelers who want to get to know our commonwealth a little better.

That is, after all, a major impetus behind the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum the O.Z. Tyler Distillery, and the Owensboro Convention Center, among other investments that have been painstakingly made in our town.

These things are for us to enjoy too, obviously, but we like to get on the map, show off our stuff, and make visitors feel welcome here.

There is so much of this state I haven't seen or heard of, even.

For instance, have you ever heard of Vicco, Kentucky?

I hadn't either.

That's why I love The New York Times and it's why I used to love "The Colbert Report," Comedy Central's now defunct late-night talk and news satire TV program, featuring Stephen Colbert.

Both The Times and "The Colbert Report" featured Vicco, Kentucky, bringing our state's smallest town (population 344, with 326 of them being white) into the national spotlight.

Why?

Because Vicco, Kentucky's smallest town, became America's smallest town to pass a Fairness Ordinance.

In 2013.

That's right, six and a half years ago, what the New York Times called "a coal smudge of a place," voted 3-1 to pass a fairness ordinance, which outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation.

That's all that means. It's pretty simple, really. A fairness ordinance simply makes it illegal to refuse service, housing, or employment to a person on the basis of their sexual orientation.

It isn't trickery; it's common decency.

In Vicco, and in 12 other Kentucky towns and cities, you cannot be refused these basic human rights on the basis of the anatomy of the person you love most in the world.

(It is noteworthy to mention that all four Vicco commissioners are white, heterosexual, native-born residents; the out-gay mayor, Johnny Cummings, who is also the town's hairstylist, did not vote, as he only does so to break a tie.)

Twenty years ago, Louisville became the first Kentucky city to adopt a fairness ordinance. Since then, Lexington, Covington, Vicco, Frankfort, Morehead, Danville, Midway, Paducah, Maysville, Henderson, Dayton, and Georgetown have followed suit.

On Sept. 9, the Scott County city of Georgetown (population 35,000) became the thirteenth Kentucky city to pass a fairness ordinance. The vote was 5-3, and it was the culmination of nearly five years of work among local leaders in that city.

Five years!

How long have our own city and county leaders been discussing the issue?

It seems, after a cursory search of the M-I's website, since at least 2014.

Which is great news! That means we have been talking about this for five years, too.

If we follow Georgetown's model, that means we have an ordinance that should be ripe for the picking.

So what is going on that we don't have a fairness ordinance on the docket? What is all the fuss about? What in the world stands in the way of our acting locally to protect the rights of all people, since the state legislature is unwilling to enact such a law to offer blanket protection over the entire commonwealth?

What I hear from most deniers of local discrimination is that A) this kind of thing doesn't happen in Owensboro, and B) this interferes with our religious liberty.

First, why yes, of course, this kind of thing happens in Owensboro. And it happens every single day.

This very newspaper has printed at least one article recently featuring local citizens who have experienced deep discrimination due to their sexual identity.

The reason we don't notice it and have to have the issue forced on the front page of the local paper is because "we" don't identify as homosexual and, therefore, "we" aren't privy to the kind of hate, slurs and egregious and unjust prejudice that homosexual persons experience all the time, in the same way that white people will never understand the plight of black people in this country.

White people should not be in sole custody of the responsibility for making laws to protect the civil rights of black people.

Heterosexual people should not be in sole custody of the responsibility for making laws to protect the civil rights of LGBTQIA+ people.

But we do not have fair representation on our city and county commissions. This is not meant as an insult, but as a statement of fact.

How many persons of color, LGBTQIA+ persons, or other minority members sit on our elected councils?

So we are left with the rather dim hope of entrusting our elected leaders to act courageously and decently and to do the right thing, regardless of whether they believe there is enough political will or enough votes to see it through.

We ask them to stand up, unite our city, speak to our fears, reassure of us our core values, and remember aloud the words of leaders past who gave their lives for love, for kindness, for fairness, for decency, and for civility.

But those elected leaders would like to be elected again.

In every time and place, such pressure incites fear for those who seek re-election.

And, of course, this means that often stuff doesn't get done, justice never sees the light of day.

How sad?!

But since it only affects "a very few of them," we don't have to be too sad for too long.

And the discrimination continues in the very way we host the conversation about discrimination.

We talk about people who are excluded from the table where the decisions about those very people are made.

Which means that clearly, and secondly, this is not a religious issue. It is a civil one.

If it were a religious one, we would welcome all to the table, discuss decently our disagreements, and err always on the side of kindness, because literally every religion in the world has something to say affirming fairness, kindness, inclusion, and embrace.

Fairness is kindness. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Better than any museum, fairness means all are welcome. Until we have that ordinance, many are not. There go all our tourism dollars.

To our city and county leaders: it's time.

Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, is an ACPE Psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery in downtown Owensboro. Visit ww.themontgomeryclinic.com. He also co-created and co-hosts "You'll Die Trying," a podcast available everywhere.

(1) comment

Gary Adams

Thank you, Dr. Carroll for your cogent column. As usual, you get to the heart of the matter. So refreshing!

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