Thursday, February 19, 2015

Committee looking at fairness ordinance hears from foe of it, hopes to hear from Rights Commission March 10

This story has been updated with a post-meeting reply and the corrected date of the next meeting.

A Midway City Council committee considering an ordinance to ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation wants to hear from the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Human Rights Commission, which enforces state anti-discrimination laws and has asked for the additional, local law.

At its first meeting Thursday, the council's Finance, Ordinance and Policy Committee heard from an outspoken opponent of the ordinance: Ed Crowley, owner of Photizo Group, which he said employs 12 to 14 people at its Midway headquarters.

"I don't think we have any discrimination in this community," Crowley told the committee. "I haven't seen any surveys, any data, to see that this is an issue."

Council Member Dan Roller, chair of the committee, said legislation doesn't have to be prompted by "a major problem." Crowley replied that laws shouldn't be passed "for their own sake."

Council Member Sara Hicks said discrimination against sexual preference and gender identity "may not be as easy to discern" as that against people whose minority status is apparent, especially because some may "live in a hidden state for fear of discrimination."

Ed Crowley
Crowley said, "That's pretty much an impossible point to argue."

Hicks replied, "It will be good to hear from the Human Rights Commission because certainly if anyone has heard of what's going on it would be them."

Midway's representative on the commission, Helen Rentch, said in a letter to The Woodford Sun this week, "We recognize there has been prejudice against folks based on their sexual orientation or gender identification and that some have been subjected to discrimination historically as well as recently, and that they are at risk every day because of this prejudice."

Rentch said the commission has asked all three governing bodies to pass the ordinance. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift has said he proposed it at the commission's suggestion. Vandegrift did not attend the meeting. Roller said the mayor didn't want to influence the committee "one way or the other."

Council Member Bruce Southworth, the other member of the committee, asked, "Are we taking up something here that should be a state issue or a federal issue?" Roller replied that the city has an anti-smoking law, something the state legislature has declined to pass. Southworth countered that only seven Kentucky cities have passed what gay-rights advocates call "fairness ordinances."

Roller said, and Southworth acknowledged, that there is "hate speech" against gays and that is an indication that there could be discrimination.

Earlier, Crowley said that if he had two people who were equally qualified and one was gay, and he hired the other one, "I'll probably get sued." Roller asked if gays are more likely to sue than any other protected group, and Crowley replied, "Based on what I've seen in other parts of the country, very probably."

After Crowley left the meeting, and the committee was in general discussion, Roller asked, "If I say I have a Christian-owned business," does that mean its employees must be Christians, or that it doesn't do business with Jews and Muslims? He acknowledged later that he was referring to Crowley's statement to the Midway Messenger that his business is "Christian-based." Crowley has not responded to an email from the Messenger asking what he meant by that phrase.

Crowley replied in an email Feb. 22: "Being a Christian-based business means that we operate on a 'servant leadership' principles by following Christ's example," and noted the charitable contributions mentioned in the recent Messenger story about his company.

"This does not mean that we only hire Christians," Crowley wrote. "We choose our staff based on who is best qualified for the job. We actually have a pretty diverse crowd working for our company both in terms of ages, religious practices, ethnicity, and gender. In terms of locations, I guess the only thing that influences our location relative to being Christian based is that part of servant leadership is being a good steward of our resources and the resources of this planet. That is partially why we chose our current location, it's in a former distiller that has been renovated for business/commercial use. We think using existing buildings is a good use of resources, in addition to making it kind of a unique place to work."

Crowley asked, "Please do not make this about religion. I realize that makes for sensationalist journalism, but it's not accurate. Not once have I put forth my religious beliefs as a reason for fighting this."

The committee is scheduled to hold its next meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 10 at City Hall. All council and committee meetings are open to the public.

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