At a regular Daviess Fiscal Court meeting on Thursday, community member Chad Benefield, a fairness advocate, brought a local group's fight for a countywide ordinance to Judge-Executive Al Mattingly and the commissioners for the first time.
Benefield stood before Mattingly and commissioners Charlie Castlen, Mike Koger and George Wathen to implore them to be the first county in the commonwealth to institute the ordinance on behalf of its LGBTQ citizens.
"Earlier today, I was with some of you at the Rooster Booster Breakfast and that breakfast opened with the invocation from Vicki Quisenberry," Benefield said. "There was a section of that prayer that I found particularly important and poignant, especially given the timing and the conversation that has been going on in this community and about this community. 'We thank you for exposing us to diversity of ethnicity, religious beliefs and political views and we pray for tolerance and cooperation that makes
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all feel welcome and encouraged to thrive here.'"
Supporting Benefield and representing others in the county's LGBTQ community were: Waylon Ramming, Owensboro-based senior rates and regulatory analyst and board chairman for the Matthew 25 Clinic; Joey Connelly, Kentucky Wesleyan College English professor; Melissa Smith, owner of Lady Luck Tattoo and Body Piercing; Kevin Bowlds, Benefield's husband and partner of 22 years and Kaitlin Nonweiler, executive director of Owensboro Human Relations Commission.
"Today, we are here because we represent a significant portion of the population here in Owensboro-Daviess County," Benefield said. "These people with me today represent and embody the community's diversity -- socially, economically and professionally. I speak for that entire group of people when I ask you today to consider adopting a non-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
The idea that discrimination can't happen here to many doesn't seem possible. We have kind of convinced ourselves that this type of discrimination does not happen here in Owensboro-Daviess County. June 30, as I was hearing those conversations, I had to say, 'Flag on the play, it happens here, it has happened to me. I am one of the most visible people in this community and I can tell you if it is happening to me, as someone that will stand up and say something about it, it is happening."
For the past three months, Benefield has been working with other members of the community to gather, vet and compile first-hand accounts of discrimination against those in the LGBTQ community in relation to housing, employment and public accommodation, with the goal of shedding light on an issue that is often time overlooked. However, despite these instances, he believes that as a whole, the people of Daviess County are behind the LGBTQ community and the ordinance, he said.
"By working together here in Daviess County, we have the potential to make history," he said. "On a whole, this issue is about goodwill toward all men and women, tolerance and cooperation that make all feel empowered and encouraged to thrive. I ask that you pass this because you have the power to do it; you can do it and I can tell you that 98% of the people in this community are on board with this because that is how good people are here."
With the passing of a fairness ordinance in Versailles on Tuesday, 14 cities in Kentucky have now passed a Fairness Ordinance, but still no counties.
Now that the proverbial gauntlet has been thrown down, the process now lies on the shoulders of the court, who will be spending time looking at ordinances that have been passed around the state as well as the accounts collected by Benefield, Mattingly said.
"The next step is a discussion with the commissioners," he said. "I asked Chad to send over the instances of those who experienced discrimination for us to review and we will look at existing ordinances. The next step is that I will bring an ordinance to the commission and we will vote. I think their request is reasonable; we will see how it goes."
Jacob Mulliken, 270-228-2837, firstname.lastname@example.org