About 45 people attended the Owensboro Human Relations Commission's first fairness meeting Thursday night at Brescia University's Moore Center.

The OHRC invited Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign; Joan Hoffman, former mayor of Henderson and longtime fairness advocate; and Pam Johnson, another fairness advocate from Henderson. Each shared their experiences and strategies as they have worked for fairness for the LGBTQ community, which is an unprotected group.

In June, Henderson became the 11th city in the state to pass an ordinance. With a unanimous vote, Dayton became the 12th this month.

Thursday night's panelists encouraged local advocates to meet face-to-face in private with city leaders, to build a broad coalition of allies and to encourage people who have been discriminated against to share their personal stories with city leaders.

"You need to have a group — as many as you can pack into that (city commission chamber)," Hoffman said. "... Tell them your concerns. Tell them why you need an ordinance in your town."

Hartman said the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, offers a template for ordinances. Most in Kentucky are similar, but some cities make some adjustments.

"Nearly all Kentuckians support fairness ordinances," Hartman said.

In fact, he said, a 2010 telephone survey of 600 registered voters found that 83% of the those polled agreed with anti-discrimination laws. But state lawmakers aren't there yet, Hartman said.

At one point, the panel asked attendees to raise their hands if they favored fairness. Every hand went up.

Presently, Kentucky law allows local governments to enact fairness ordinances. Some states, such as Tennessee, don't.

The Fairness Campaign hopes to create a "trickle up" effect, Hartman said. Fairness advocates believe state legislators will pay more attention to grassroots efforts in their hometowns. As more cities pass ordinances, advocates hope it puts pressure on Frankfort to act.

"Our job is to elect people who will stand up for respecting the rights of people," Hoffman said. "That's the only way we will ever have a change in the state law."

Arnie Weiner attended Thursday's meeting. Weiner, a former OHRC board member, was pleased with the crowd.

He wants the city to pass a fairness ordinance.

"Even if there is no current issue (with discrimination), it should be on the books because you don't know what will happen in the future," Weiner said.

As a native of Los Angeles, Weiner grew up and worked in a multicultural, inclusive environment.

"I wish we had that here," he said. "When I moved to Owensboro, it was truly cultural shock."

The next OHRC fairness meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 on the second floor of the Moore Center.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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