By Sarah Hogsed
Register News Writer
RICHMOND — A mid-February deadline has been set for a Berea committee to come up with a proposed city ordinance or amendment that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodation.
The committee, made up of members of the human rights commission, city council, ethics committee and other residents, met for the first time Tuesday night. The mid-February deadline was mutually agreed upon after an hour-and-a-half discussion about creating an ordinance and framing an investigative process.
The committee was created by the Berea City Council last month after the human rights commission recommended amending the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance.
HRC member Lisa Vaughn discussed how the commission had received a complaint of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, but the group was unable to act on it by either gathering evidence or talking to the employer.
Vaughn said there is an “unprotected populace” in the city who have no recourse in state or federal civil rights law if they were discriminated against for being gay or transgendered in their jobs, in their housing or in places of public accommodation, like restaurants and other businesses.
Diane Kirby, city council member and committee chair, said amending the current ordinance that created the HRC to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, along with race, national identity, gender and other groups already in the ordinance, might be the best way to proceed.
Chad Stratton, a member of the Kentucky Human Rights Commission, pointed out that city ordinances may not supersede state law. This includes House Bill 279, also known as the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which was passed last year.
Berea churches would not be forced to marry a gay couple if a “fairness ordinance” was passed, he said as an example.
The committee discussed at length how to go about codifying prohibiting discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity, and then how to set up an investigatory process to look into complaints.
Vaughn emphasized that committee meetings are open to the public and not being done “behind closed doors.”
“We are here to serve all the community,” Vaughn said.
The committee’s next meeting is 2 p.m. Nov. 22 at the community room at Berea City Hall, 212 Chestnut St.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.