• John McGary, Woodford Sun Editor

Dueling arguments on Versailles Fairness Ordinance

Before it even began, the Versailles City Council’s hearing on a proposed Fairness Ordinance at the Woodford County Courthouse Annex Tuesday night was challenged over an alleged violation of state open meetings law. The hearing, which took place after the council’s regular meeting, was scheduled in the annex in order to provide more room for attendees, but the courtroom wasn’t large enough. Before the hearing began, a deputy sheriff told people waiting outside the courtroom that with 95 people already inside, it was packed to capacity. With no way to provide audio to the area outside the courtroom, the meeting went on as planned. A half-hour into the two-and-a-half hour meeting, with the room full, many attendees were fanning themselves. The prime backer of the measure aimed at preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, employment and public accommodations is Council Member Laura Dake. Dake invited the pro-Fairness speakers who spoke for more than 20 minutes during the public comments portion of the council’s July 9 meeting. Of the first 15 speakers, several whom spoke for 10 minutes or so, 11 were in favor of a Fairness Ordinance, while four were opposed or had reservations. No time limits or residency requirements were imposed. Here’s what many of them had to say: Don Nehring Nehring said he was a retired Navy officer who spent 24 years in uniform and witnessed discrimination based on sexual orientation when a key computer technician aboard a destroyer he served on was suddenly discharged. He said a Fairness Ordinance is not about special privileges, but basic human rights. Dan Brown Brown was joined by four other members of the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Human Rights Commission and a volunteer. He said the group, which would play a role in complaints filed under the draft of the ordinance passed out Tuesday night, endorsed the measure, and noted that the Dayton City Council was voting on a Fairness Ordinance that evening. (It passed unanimously, making Dayton the 12th city in Kentucky with a Fairness Ordinance. Midway, in 2015, was the eighth.) Cindy Batts Batts said she lives in Midway, but works in Versailles. She said she was fighting for fairness on behalf of her oldest child. “I continue to fight for fairness because everyone should be treated with kindness and respect,” she said. Miriam Tucker Tucker described herself as a Christian who looks at the world through truth revealed by God. She said she didn’t believe there was a lot of rabid hatred toward members of the LGBTQ community and that while bullying was bad, it was common among children. “The reality that Christians face, along with Muslims and progressives, is that we will not be able to have a society that gives all complete freedom to impose our beliefs on one another,” she said. Brian Roberts Osborne said he was the pastor of Crosspointe Church and believed Versailles was a loving, caring community, and proof of that was the cordial atmosphere in the courtroom that evening. “We in no way desire for anyone to be discriminated against because of a disability, a lifestyle, or inclusion in a particular group,” he said. He urged the council to include language in the ordinance protecting people of faith. Steve Osborne Osborne, who spoke at the council’s July 9 meeting, said the council should extend gender and sexual orientation protections recently given to city employees to all citizens and visitors. At present, people can be discriminated against merely because someone thinks they are LGBTQ, he said. A Fairness Ordinance would provide equal, not special treatment, he said. Marilyn Daniel Daniel said she was a retired attorney who’d lived in Woodford County for 20 years. She said city employees and employees of city contractors have protections regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, but ordinary citizens don’t. She said a Fairness Ordinance would allow the city to move from patchwork protection to uniform protection. Shannon Nichols Nichols said the LGBTQ community is not one to be feared, and that the draft ordinance under consideration by the council does provide exemptions to the faith community. He said he had a child who identifies as gay, and that a yearly inspection by a landlord once left his family afraid they’d be evicted. Nichols did not say where he lived at the time. Nancy Chalin Chalin said she was a Christian who wants to share the gospel and promote what love is. “My heart goes out to the LGBTQ people,” she said, adding later that God says homosexuality is a sin. “I’m concerned that this is just the beginning of another bill that may bring about things that may compromise my religious beliefs …” she said. Melissa Bane Sevier Sevier, who spoke at the council’s July 9 meeting, was the pastor of Versailles Presbyterian Church for 11 years. She pointed to the way the Constitution has changed over the years, including amendments outlawing slavery and giving women the right to vote. “Exemptions do exist (in the draft ordinance) for religious institutions, as they should, but let’s also remember that there are many, many people of faith in this room and our community who support a Fairness Ordinance.” Jerry Sevier Sevier, who spoke at the council’s July 9 meeting, said the founders of our country didn’t want a state-sponsored church, and that no particular ideology should dominate government. He said he was very pleased with the balance of rights in the draft ordinance. Jennifer Curtis Curtis said she’d attended that evening’s special meeting of the Woodford County Board of Education, where the board unanimously passed protections for LGBTQ staffers and students. “I now know my child’s protected,” she said. “I will tell you that Woodford County does have a problem. I see it. It’s not reported, because where would we report it?” Derrick Sumerel Sumerel, the pastor of the Versailles Church of Christ, said the country is badly divided, and that he was sorry for anyone who’d been ridiculed or bullied. In a perfect world, a Fairness Ordinance would not be needed, he said. “ … If you are going to pass this ordinance, then I would humbly ask that you include an exemption for those who have strongly-held religious convictions concerning the lifestyle of the LGBTQ community,” he said.

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