Kaitlin Nonweiler, executive director of Owensboro Human Relations Commission, spoke to members of the Homeless Council of Ohio Valley on Wednesday about her organization's role in the community and its ongoing campaign for a fairness ordinance in Owensboro-Daviess County.
"The relations commission started a local campaign for the ordinance a few years ago, but it didn’t go anywhere," Nonweiler said. "With Henderson passing theirs and its failure in Bowling Green, I felt that we really needed to start a campaign here while this was a relevant topic in other cities. It is important to our commission because we do get complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity and we feel strongly that the LGBTQ community should be a protected class."
On Tuesday, Georgetown became the 13th city in Kentucky to pass a fairness ordinance making discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender choice against the law, since no such protections for LGBTQ individuals exist on the state level.
"Our LGBTQ community needs to know that they are welcomed and valued citizens," she said, "(And) that their city and county believes they should have access to work and housing."
The major obstacle moving forward, as is the case with politics, will boil down to the votes, which they may not have, said City Commissioner Larry Conder and County Commissioner Charlie Castlen.
"I have stated this publicly, I think a fairness ordinance is needed in regards to employment and housing, without question, but, that is my personal stance," Conder said. "Currently, I am not sure that there is enough political will on the part of the city or the county. I don’t believe that there are enough votes for it to pass. That goes against what I feel, but it requires more than just my vote and my opinion."
Castlen doesn't believe the votes in favor of an ordinance would be there on the county level either. While he believes no one should be unkind or unloving to those in the LGBTQ community, his concerns come in the form of also preserving people's religious beliefs. If an ordinance is passed, then it needs to ensure fairness for all, he said.
"I don’t endorse being unkind and unloving to people who are same-sex attracted or otherwise," he said. "One of the things that concerns me when we talk about a blanket ordinance is that sometimes I feel like these ordinances are used to attack Christian conservatives and I find it to be problematic. To me, this issue surrounds protection for those that have conflicting religious issues with what they are being told to do."
Mayor Tom Watson has no issue with an ordinance being passed but believes that decision falls on the shoulders on the county, an assertion that Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly is in full agreement with, Mattingly said.
"It should be countywide and not just in a city," he said. "If the city passed an ordinance, does that mean outside of city limits that discrimination is OK? How stupid is that? I think that it should be a federal protection. No one should be bullied or taken advantage of, particularly regarding one of the most basic human emotions, which is sexuality. I think it was Pope Francis that said, 'Who I am to judge?' In the end, it is how you treat people. There is continued conversation going on. I spent three years in the military for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and I think it is a conversation that will come soon to this community."
Currently the OHRC is holding fairness meetings to galvanize community members into taking up the cause and vetting out city officials as well as Daviess County officials to gauge their stances on the issue, Nonweiler said.
"We will be collecting signatures from around the community and encouraging business and religious leaders in favor of the ordinance to join us," she said. "If we find that we have a majority of commissioners, we will move toward getting it on the agenda to present the ordinance. There have also been talks regarding meeting the county government to see if they would be in favor. If the fiscal court passed it, it would also include the city. So far no counties have passed an ordinance, so that would be great."
OHRC fairness meetings take place at 6 p.m. every third Thursday on the second floor of the Moore Center at Brescia University.
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, firstname.lastname@example.org