Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kentucky Governor Axes EEO Protection For Gay Employees On Diversity Day

The scandal-plagued Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) of Kentucky took aim at Kentucky's gay state workers on Diversity Day by issuing an executive order which struck anti-discrimination protection from the state's EEO policy. Deborah Yetter of the Louisville Courier-Journal writes:

Gay state workers and job candidates have lost anti-discrimination protection as a result of an order that Gov. Ernie Fletcher issued yesterday as part of the state's "Diversity Day." Fletcher replaced the 2003 employment policy of former Gov. Paul Patton with one that bans employment discrimination because of "race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, veteran status and disability." It makes no mention of sexual orientation. Patton's policy included protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

A gay state legislator criticized Fletcher's move, calling it "open season on gay state employees." Fletcher's spokesman claims the move was not intended to be anti-gay, but instead was meant to mirror federal policy. Yetter writes:

But Fletcher spokesman Brett Hall said the governor has no intent to discriminate against gay workers. Rather, the new order mirrors federal affirmative action policy and is meant to prohibit all discrimination, he said. "This is in no way to discriminate against anyone," Hall said. Hall said the administration was concerned that the Patton policy on sexual orientation was too broad and extended to others, such as transgender people.

Hall's argument is specious. The EEO policy for federal employees in fact protects persons from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation as the result of an executive order issued by former President Clinton and maintained by President Bush. Nonetheless, the inclusion of transgender people in the policy provoked some concern at a state agency last year over which bathroom a person undergoing a sex change should use. "Mark York, a spokesman for the environmental cabinet, said a question arose last year about which restroom a transgender employee should use, but it was resolved by setting aside a particular restroom for the worker.
"We were able to work something out to everyone's satisfaction," he said.

Louisville area Democratic legislators were particularly critical of Gov. Fletcher's new executive order. Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, called Fletcher's action "Neanderthal" and said the governor is "taking the state back to the dark ages." Yetter noted that other lawmakers who joined Scorsone to denounce the new policy were Sens. Gerald Neal, Tim Shaughnessy and Denise Harper Angel, all Louisville Democrats, and Rep. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington.

The irony of the new executive order is that the Gov. Fletcher decided to enact in on "Diversity Day." Speaking hypocritcally, Yetter writes that "[i]n a speech to school children, he urged them to avoid discrimination." "It is our diversity that gives us strength," he said.

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