Guest Opinion, Why I’m for a county Fairness Ordinance
When I was eight, my family took a road trip to Canada. While crossing Quebec, we got a little turned around and pulled up next to a man who was walking along the road to ask him for directions. I listened intently as my dad and the man struggled to understand each other – one speaking in English; the other in French. I don’t remember the outcome of the exchange – perhaps hand gestures saved the day – but I do remember as we pulled away exclaiming, “That man must be dumb! He can’t even speak English!” Cringy, I know. But bear with me. Woodford County has an opportunity – perhaps as early as 2019 – to become the first county in Kentucky with a Fairness Ordinance (FO), except for the largely urban Fayette and Jefferson counties that have had FOs for 20 years. This move on the county’s part follows the City of Versailles, which passed a Fairness Ordinance in October, and Midway, which has had one since 2015. As one of the three people who voted for the Versailles ordinance, I heard several troublesome things over the months we discussed the issue: 1) Civil rights legislation already protects the LGBTQ community. Although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) now interprets Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination as also forbidding employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, there are other areas where the LGBTQ community is not protected under federal law or most states’ laws. This is why some local governments have moved to pass Fairness Ordinances in the belief that all citizens be treated justly and fairly in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. Bias is not just for 8-year-olds, unfortunately. Rather than expecting that everyone’s “better angels” will translate into fair treatment, sometimes laws are needed to hold those who would discriminate accountable. 2) There is no discrimination in Versailles. Depending on your perspective, this may be true. A more helpful response is to acknowledge that discriminatory acts have no geographical boundaries. Just because we have not been discriminated against personally doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s experience. Great communities, just like great organizations, companies, and even individuals, never rest on their laurels, but continually seek opportunities to improve. 3) If there was discrimination, people would just say something about it and the offender would be justly chastened. Occasionally, people get on Facebook to complain about poor treatment at a store or restaurant. Discrimination (and its friends, harassment and bullying) goes beyond poor customer service. It is often systemic and part of a culture. People don’t report discrimination for myriads of reasons: fear of retaliation (financial/ physical/ emotional); the cost of hiring an attorney; the effect on one’s family; the low success rate at the EEOC level, if workplace-related; even feelings of hopelessness that anything will change. Given the stress people who report discrimination are already under, I can’t imagine many would take to social media to badmouth the company they are reporting, even if that were appropriate. 4) We wouldn’t want a Fairness Ordinance to divide Woodford County. If, as Judge-Executive James Kay often – and rightly – declares at fiscal court meetings that Woodford is “the most wonderful county on Earth,” then this shouldn’t be an issue. Wrestling with difficult questions ultimately strengthen communities, especially when the answers level the playing field for all citizens. I am proud to live in Woodford County and – never more than now – am hopeful for its future. I am also not the same person I was when I was eight. I have grown in my thinking and do my very best to keep an open mind even as I occasionally struggle with my personal biases. Like that 8-year-old and the woman she grew into, we are all imperfect beings, but – I believe – perfectly allied in making Woodford County a great, just, fair place to live and work for everybody. As we move forward on this issue at the same time we move into the season of peace and giving and love, let’s work together for the day when every person in this county can agree that Judge Kay’s words are true for them.