By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer
Community group Bereans for Fairness hosted its first Fairness Picnic at Memorial Park on Saturday. The group is in support of the city passing a fairness ordinance that would extend protections against discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations to individuals based upon sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We haven’t had a big event like this to show that this (ordinance) is supported,” said Kate Grigg, Eastern Kentucky regional organizer for the Fairness Coalition.
Grigg said Bereans for Fairness has shown support for the Berea City Council passing a fairness ordinance for nearly two and a half years. The movement started with a small group of supporters, and eventually numbered in the hundreds. When the city hosted forums to gauge public support of a fairness ordinance, Grigg said the response was overwhelming.
“At the second forum 400 to 500 people showed up,” she said, noting that the forum had been moved to a larger venue. “A few months later, the city reenacted the Human Rights Commission to study the issue and make a recommendation.”
HRC chair Lisa Vaughn, who was at the picnic, said the commission was close to a decision.
“The Human Rights Commission has been assessing the need in the past six months,” Vaughn said. “A recommendation will be coming in a short amount of time.”
Berea won’t be alone on the list of Kentucky cities that have enacted fairness ordinances. Louisville, Lexington and Covington all have ordinances in place. Frankfort has heard first reading of a draft and Vicco, a small city of about 350 in Eastern Ky., became a featured story in the New York Times after passing an ordinance.
“Where is Berea?” asked Meta Mendel-Reyes, associate professor of peace and justice at Berea College, who spoke at the picnic. “Berea is here, sitting at these red picnic tables.”
Mae Suramek, executive director of the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center and former chair of the Berea HRC, said not passing a fairness ordinance would go against the ideals on which Berea was founded.
“As a town founded 160 years ago on fairness, equality and impartial Christian love, we are being hypocrites,” Suramek said.
In addition to food, music and games, the picnic also featured an information booth. Supporters could fill out cards sending messages supporting fairness legislation to members of the Berea City Council as well as state legislators. Some members of the city government, like City Councilman Billy Wagers and Mayor Steven Connelly, attended the picnic.
The information stand also featured a large box with the question: “What would it mean to you to live in a community with a fairness ordinance?” which people could answer anonymously.
During the picnic, several individuals shared personal stories about how an ordinance would affect them, including Mendel-Reyes, who stressed the fairness ordinance isn’t simply a gay rights issue.
“So often we hear about heterosexuals standing up for gay people -- which is a great thing,” she said. “But gay people are also standing up for straight people. Gay people are standing up for everybody in saying that ‘injustice anywhere, is injustice everywhere.’”