Members of the Daviess Fiscal Court heard testimony from community members at a regular meeting Thursday both in favor of and in opposition to a fairness ordinance being proposed in Owensboro-Daviess County.
The fairness ordinance being drafted would add gender identification and sexual orientation to an existing law barring discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin and age in housing and employment.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, fairness advocate Chad Benefield presented the court with a seven-page document chronicling 20 alleged accounts of discrimination against LGBTQ community members in Owensboro and Daviess County. The document contained stories of alleged discrimination in terms of housing, receiving bank loans and employment, as well as claims of discrimination in local restaurants and businesses.
“This is a story of a local professional female who received a job offer from one of the most prominent employers in Owensboro-Daviess County and was informed that her job was very public and her private life should always be kept private,” Benefield said. “The employee felt warned and threatened by this conversation as if it it was a condition of employment. It turns out that it was, and she left town within seven months.”
After the fiscal court session, Benefield told supporters of the ordinance that some people were afraid to talk about the discrimination they’d experienced.
“I left stories out because people were afraid of retaliation,” he said.
After Benefield’s presentation to commissioners, those in opposition to an ordinance took to the podium to voice their concerns.
John Fowler, pastor of Owensboro-based Southside Fellowship Church, spoke on behalf of a coalition of local pastors calling themselves the Joshua 6:16 Mandate, referencing the fall of the walls of Jericho in the Old Testament. While he was not ready to identify other members of the coalition, he said their plan is to present a document chronicling their opposing viewpoints to the court at its next meeting in two weeks’ time.
“I represent a coalition of churches in Owensboro that is rather large,” he said. “It represents a large segment of our county, and we have a different perspective on a fairness ordinance in our county, and we just want to make you (the court) aware that we will be presenting a document to you outlining our position.”
Gary Boswell, a former Daviess County commissioner, spoke to his time as a business owner and owner of rental properties. He said he wanted to stress that, in his time in both, he never discriminated against anyone based on their sexual orientation, color or in any way and that the signatures pledging support for an ordinance represented a small portion of the population.
“I can tell you for sure, in the circles that I run in, I have not met a single person that is in support of it,” he said. “You could see from (the) Democratic national debate, and I am concerned, where some of this stuff is headed. When it comes to our religious freedoms, Christians and other people who are opposed to these types of lifestyles which we don’t approve of ... we are concerned that our rights will also be in jeopardy.”
Community member Andy Gamblin, who holds political aspirations locally, fears that the passing of an ordinance could be a “slippery slope” and “threaten the core of the family,” he said.
“No one should be discriminated against,” he said. “I just don’t think we need to be going down that road. I feel like it would open up a Pandora’s box and cause more trouble. It would let other things come down. Let’s say that you have a transgender pedophile, and they go into a women’s restroom, and there is a little girl. What if he was under the scope and no one knew? It does happen. It is destroying the family. They have a thing in the Supreme Court where they (LGBTQ) want to be considered a race. They weren’t born that way. They choose that lifestyle. ... It (the ordinance) is going against the Bible. When you go against the Bible, it is wrong. When you look at what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord destroyed (them) due to sin.”
Waylon Ramming, a supporter of the ordinance, ended the public comment portion of the meeting. He, with his husband, hails from Philpot and works and rents properties in and around Owensboro.
“My former employer in Evansville, a Fortune 1,000 company, received a letter from the largest state investment company in the U.S. asking to see their non-discrimination policy, or they would withdraw their $300 million and go somewhere else,” he said. “That company has since been purchased by a Fortune 300 company, and those non-discrimination policies still stand. It is the way of the world, and it is the way to be a part of a larger community, and I hope that we continue to grow Owensboro and Daviess County. The ordinances that other communities have passed simply establishes a minimum standard of conduct that allows LGBTQ people to participate in commerce with equal footing. It says, ‘Come here, come to my restaurant and you will be treated with dignity. You can live in my rental building, you can be employed and stay employed regardless of who you go home to as long as you do your job.’ “
After the fiscal court meeting, advocates for the ordinance discussed their next steps at the Human Relation Commission’s fairness meeting at Brescia University.
Benefield said the ordinance being drafted by county attorney Claud Porter is modeled after the city of Georgetown’s ordinance. To arguments about that the ordinance might affect religious expression, Benefield said the ordinance will contain exemptions for religious schools and institutions.
Like the Georgetown ordinance, the local document will also exempt people from complying with the ordinance if the refusal to comply is motivated by a “sincerely held religious belief.”
“A lot of the concerns (Fowler) has as the leader to a religious organization are addressed in the ordinance,” Benefield said.
Human Relations Commission executive director Kaitlin Nonweiler said after the meeting that cases of discrimination would be likely investigated by the HRC or by the county attorney’s office.
If a case of discrimination is substantiated, “we would try to have a mediation between the two parties” to come up with a settlement, Nonweiler said, or the findings could be presented at an administrative hearing or filed with the courts.
Benefield said when the county ordinance is ready, supporters need to know it thoroughly so they can counter misinformation.
“When this comes up for a public reading, it’s going to be so important for us to know our facts,” Benefield said. “... A lot of what we are going to hear when the opposing forces start to circulate are misrepresentations of the ordinance. If we are fully versed in what (the ordinance) says, we are going to win any argument that comes up.”
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, email@example.com
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse