Covington City Council held the first of two public hearings Feb. 11, dealing with a proposed human rights ordinance.
The ordinance extends existing protections to prevent discrimination in employment, public accommodation, and housing based on age, sex, marital and parental status, or sexual orientation.
Around 160 people attended the hearing, including a group from NKU.
Community members recognized, throughout the meeting, that few would be in attendance if the ordinance did not make Covington one of 261 state and local governments across the country who extend protections based on sexual orientation.
They recognized that the other provisional protections would be easily agreeable.
The city of Covington already provides all the protections, including sexual orientation, to its employees.
Covington Mayor Butch Callery drew attention to the lack of picketing outside the meeting. Outspoken anti-gay preacher Rev. Fred Phelps, of Kansas, who was expected to protest at the hearing, was unable to attend because his plane was grounded.
“God works in mysterious ways,” said Callery.
Rev. Donald Smith, the Covington Human Rights Commission Chair, introduced the ordinance.
“Early on it occurred to us that, while the existing human rights ordinance was a good beginning, it did not include all residents of Covington,” Smith said. “It occurred to us that a human rights ordinance, by definition, must include the same basic rights for of the city who live within the law.”
The commission posed that the amendment was necessary to fulfill that definition.
“It is absolutely not the intent of this proposal to give anybody special rights, that is unless certain people consider fairness and justice in housing, employment and public accommodation for all of Covington’s citizenry special rights.” Smith said.
Whether or not the ordinance extends special rights to some unfairly was the main argument of the night. Citizens for Community Values, a Cincinnati based group, holds that it does extend special rights.
Several residents complained that CCV and other groups have been interfering in their community, campaigning against the ordinance.
Covington resident Clarence Wigglesworth believed that the protections were special, but the majority at the meeting did not.
“What people do in their bedrooms I could care less, but when they come out and want some special rights or something, I do care.” he said.
Another argument was whether or not protecting for sexual orientation is to protect a behavior and whether or not that is excessive and unfair discrimination.
Terry Bonham Jr. of Covington denied that sexual preference represents a behavior.
“Religion is a learned behavior, a lifestyle choice, and it is protected under the current human rights ordinance,” he said.
He argued that, “The epitome of hypocrisy is to seek to deny others the rights that you yourself enjoy.”
Scott Cruse of Covington was one of a few residents who gave examples of how they were discriminated against because of their sexuality.
He said he has been the victim of many hate crimes but he does not report them to the police. He said that the one time he reported it the investigating officer harassed him. Cruse broke down in tears.
The council assured him that that response from police would not be tolerated.
Covington resident Anne Ryan said that without the ordinance “… anytime we could be thrown out of where we live because of our partnership, because of who we love.”
Roy Ford of Covington urged the council not to look to Cincinnati in their decision. He said that the ordinance was a progressive demonstration of inclusion and it was an important economic key.
Only two of the 39 speakers spoke against the ordinance.
Another public hearing will be held before the Council votes, so that those who were affected by the weather can attend. It has yet to be scheduled.
Several members of NKU gay/straight alliance Common Ground attended the meeting. Common Ground president Angela Kroger said they strongly support the ordinance.