Two dozen attend forum on county Fairness Ordinance
Eleven people, or about half of the attendees, spoke about the proposed county Fairness Ordinance at a public forum in the circuit courtroom of the Woodford County Courthouse Thursday, Dec. 5. Nine favored what supporters call a civil rights measure; two opposed or cited concerns over it. All followed the request of Judge-Executive James Kay for speakers to be respectful of others and avoid personal attacks. Members of Woodford Fiscal Court, all of whom were present, did not speak at the 50-minute hearing. Steve Osborne spoke of a discussion he said he’d had with the pastor of a church that had a sign outside it saying, “Everyone Welcome.” He said he asked the pastor if he and his male partner would be welcome there, and that the pastor later told him, “As a pastor and individual, I would welcome you, but my congregation wouldn’t.” (Note: language in the proposed ordinance grants an exemption to churches and those with “sincerely held religious beliefs.”) Osborne also cited an instance of transgender-related verbal abuse claimed by a Petco employee last month as a reason to support the ordinance. Jerry Utt, the pastor of Troy Presbyterian Church, said he didn’t see the Fairness Ordinance primarily as a religious issue, but rather a matter of justice. “In my study of the Bible and Christian faith, I find no compelling reason why any faithful Christian would oppose an ordinance of fairness – no reason at all,” Utt said. “All of us are made in the image of God, and in our unique diversity, reflect God’s divine glory.” Lori Garkovich said her reading of the ordinance showed that it doesn’t require anybody to do anything except treat all others in the community with respect, dignity and full equality. “And I can’t understand why someone, anyone, would find that to be threatening,” she said. “Robert Kennedy said, ‘When we tolerate what we know to be wrong, when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.” Jerry Sevier said he was a Presbyterian elder and that the ordinance was not a theological issue, but rather a civil rights issue. “We all hope that there is no discrimination, but we know in reality that it does exist. This ordinance does an excellent job balancing the concerns that people in some religious communities have about their religious freedom … and protecting people who need to be protected in terms of employment, housing and public access,” he said. Marilyn Daniel, former chair of the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Human Rights Commission (HRC), which would hear complaints filed under the ordinance, said she supported the measure. She also said she opposed a motion to amend the interlocal agreement between the cities and county adding gay and transgender people to the list of protected class if the county didn’t follow the lead of the two cities and pass a Fairness Ordinance. Peggy Carter Seal, a former member of the HRC, showed a children’s book she’d just checked out from the Woodford County Library titled, “All Are Welcome” and read a passage from the book: “We’re part of a community. Our strength is our diversity – a shelter from adversity. All are welcome here.” Melissa Bane Sevier, the former pastor of Versailles Presbyterian Church, said the ordinance was “the right thing to do for unity” and that it was important that all three governments work from the same book. “Though this is a civil body, many people will say that their faith requires you to oppose this ordinance. Please know that many congregations and religious and spiritual people support this ordinance, not in spite of, but because of what their faith teaches,” she said. Hoppy Henton said he’s been attending fiscal court meetings for a long time and that they’ve always begun with the Pledge of Allegiance, which ends with the words “liberty and justice for all.” Henton added, “It doesn’t say, ‘Liberty and justice for most of us’ or ‘some of us’ or ‘some who look like us and talk like us and pray like us’ …” Tony Hardin, the discipleship minister at Journey Church, said he believed he represented quite a few others who don’t oppose a Fairness Ordinance that is “fair to all.” He said they worried that protected classes would be pitted against each other with such an ordinance, but that he was pleased the religious exemptions and prohibitions against frivolous complaints would be part of it. He said he believed the process might be a little rushed, and the court should pursue a more deliberate path. “I’m here because I love Jesus, and I love people,” Hardin said. David Brannen, pastor of St. Andrews Anglican Church, didn’t take a clear position on the ordinance, but praised Hardin’s spirit and message, which he said captures the same sentiment as his. He said he was saddened by the feelings of some that such protections are needed, but grateful that the draft includes the religious exemptions included in the ordinance passed by the City of Versailles Oct. 1. “I don’t for a moment think that this ordinance will not be passed,” Brannen said. Patrick Hall praised the Fairness Ordinance draft for providing protections not offered by state or federal law, establishing a process under which complaints can be heard, and offering protections for those with sincerely held religious beliefs. “I’m here to state my unequivocal and enthusiastic support for this proposed Fairness Ordinance … and I urge you to adopt it unanimously,” Hall said.