On April 16, the Bowling Green City Commission voted not to pass beyond the first reading of an amendment which would add language “prohibiting discrimination in housing accommodations and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the meeting’s agenda.
In addition, this amendment, more commonly known as a fairness ordinance, would add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of prohibited classes under discrimination in public accommodation.
The vote failed to pass by a count of 3-2. Commissioners Brian “Slim” Nash, who introduced the the amendment, and Dana Beasley-Brown voted in favor. Mayor Bruce Wilkerson and commissioners Sue Parrigin and Joe Denning voted against.
This vote came last Tuesday after several hours of debate both in favor and against the ordinance.
Kentucky state Rep. Patti Minter said it was “puzzling” some were acting as if the first reading not being passed was the end of the fairness ordinance.
Although a majority of commissioners voted against the first reading, every ordinance is required to have two readings. The purpose of the first reading is to give the commissioner introducing the ordinance a chance to explain why it is being proposed.
Nash proposed the ordinance, which was seconded by Beasley-Brown. Nash then yielded his time to allow attendees of the meeting to speak in favor of or against the ordinance.
A second reading will occur during the May 7 meeting, where a vote to put the ordinance into effect will take place.
“That’s the meeting that counts,” Minter said.
Bowling Green is the largest city in Kentucky not to have adopted a fairness ordinance. Louisville and Lexington both passed fairness ordinances in 1999. Since then, eight other Kentucky cities including Covington, Frankfort, Morehead, Danville, Vicco, Midway, Paducah and, most recently, Midway which have passed fairness ordinances.
Elizabethtown senior and WKU Queer Student Union member Thomasina Haight said she felt hopeful the fairness ordinance would be passed during the May meeting. Haight, who identifies as cisgender pansexual, said she believes it would be a step for equality of members of the LGBTQ community in Bowling Green.
“It feels very Jim Crow if we don’t pass the [ordinance],” Haight said. “The discrimination LGBT people face isn’t warranted. There’s no reason people should be allowed to discriminate based on what they perceive to be inappropriate.”
Glasgow sophomore Jayden Thomas, who identifies as gay, said he didn’t feel a welcoming community until he began attending WKU. Thomas attended the April 16 city commission meeting in support of the fairness ordinance.
“Feeling accepted was monumental here,” Thomas said.
Jillian Kenney, a Bowling Green freshman who identifies as queer, also did not find much of a queer community growing up in Bowling Green until beginning at WKU and was in support of passing the fairness ordinance. Kenney joined the QSU as a way to feel more connected to the campus.
“The LGBT community here is so great, and it’s really important that people feel safe to be who they want to be,” Kenney said.
On Monday, the United States Supreme Court accepted three cases for the term beginning next October that will decide if anti-discrimination employment laws protect on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Although the city commission most recently voted against a second reading, this is not the first time the fairness ordinance has tried to become part of Bowling Green’s law.
The fairness movement first began in Bowling Green in 1999 after Lexington and Louisville’s fairness ordinances were passed.
Minter began to participate by writing a letter in 1999 in support of Bowling Green’s own fairness ordinance.
“I naively thought that by writing letters, everyone would see that fairness needed to happen in Bowling Green,” Minter said.
The same year, the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission voted that the city adopt a fairness ordinance. Minter said the city commission ignored the vote.
It was not until 2011 that the movement was revived. 2012 was the first year it was brought up at a city commission meeting, where members of the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission spoke of why it was time for Bowling Green to join the other cities in Kentucky supporting a fairness ordinance.
In 2017, supporters began attending city commission meetings, a push led by Nash. The ordinance was placed on the agenda during the February 2017 meeting, but without a second, the motion died.
May of that year saw a work session for the fairness ordinance, which Minter described as a “high watermark” for the movement.
With the ordinance’s re-introduction to the city commission’s agenda in April, and even if the second reading fails to pass, Minter said the first reading was a “wake-up call” for residents of Bowling Green.
“A lot of people came to realize that they have commissioners who don’t support equal rights for all people and don’t think discrimination is a problem,” Minter said. “I think that the people of Bowling Green have made it pretty clear that [Bowling Green] is a place that supports fairness, human rights and equal rights for all people.”
Assistant News Editor Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.