Wednesday, April 12, 2006

South Bend Residents Urge Action On Human Rights Ordinance

While the South Bend city council's leadership chose to wilfully violate Indiana's Public Meetings Open Door Law last night by taking the council into executive session to discuss a proposed ordinance which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city's human rights code, local citizens debated the proposal's merit during floor privilege out in the open. South Bend Equality's Catherine Pittman led the charge. The Tribune's Jamie Loo writes:

The proposal wasn't on the agenda Monday but was brought up during privilege of the floor. In recent months, supporters of adding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered civil rights to the city anti-discrimination code have questioned why the council has not taken action on the issue, known as the GLBT amendment, proposed in July 2004. The Common Council also has solicited public comment on the GLBT amendment over the past year. Catherine Pittman, a member of South Bend Equality, urged the council to think about contributions to the community from people who are GLBT, instead of focusing on their sexual orientation. Members of the GLBT community are "co-workers, neighbors and friends" who work in offices and factories and volunteer in churches and schools. These are people who just want to live their lives and offer their talents to the community," Pittman said.

Other citizens reminded the council of why it needed to act on the proposal which has been lingering now for a couple of years:

Robin Beck -- an owner of Another Book Store, a GLBT resource center in Mishawaka -- said she hears "horror stories every day" from people who have been
fired from their jobs or couldn't get housing because of their sexual orientation. Beck said including GLBT rights in the ordinance will make South Bend a better place to live and work, attracting employers to this area. Beck said other cities such as Indianapolis and Lafayette already have adopted this language into city codes.

City resident Mary Porter said the council received a report on GLBT discrimination in employment, education, housing and public accommodations last April. Porter reminded the council about local interviews included in the report detailing specific incidents. A lesbian suffering from an asthma attack had trouble in the emergency room because her partner wasn't allowed to give the attending nurse medical information. Porter said that in another case, a gay man was told to end his relationship with another man or risk losing his job."Because South Bend does not prohibit such discrimination, he had no remedy," she said.

An argument against the amendment is that it is unenforceable, which South Bend resident Rhonda Redman said doesn't make sense. The federal and state human rights codes for employment include sexual orientation and there have been no problems enforcing those rules. Redman said the Human Rights Commission and staff is experienced in investigating discrimination cases and would enforce the code. GLBT citizens should have a right to approach the Human Rights Commission with problems, she said."Please empower these citizens to seek a remedy when they feel they've been treated unfairly," Redman said. "South Bend is a community concerned about fairness and justice. We want our community to be safe and fair for all its citizens."

Supporters of the pending human rights ordinance believe they have enough supporters on the council to pass it, but Council President Timothy Rouse (D), an at-large member, has been dragging his feet. Rouse used a threat made by an opponent of the proposal nearly two years ago that adoption of the ordinance could "trigger multiple lawsuits" as an excuse for holding the closed-door meeting.


Anonymous said...

There is a glaring factual error in the text from South Bend -- Indiana and the federal civil rights laws do NOT cover sexual orientation. This makes the local laws a voluntary compliance act-- since Indiana cities do not have home rule. Lafayette and West Lafayette have had experience with this difficulty recently. Indy's law is also voluntary -- although they seem to think it is not.

BUT-- we must pass these local laws to set the tone for the community-- as a community standard -- and to prepare the way to achieve Indiana Equality's main goal-- inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in the STATE civil rights code.

Anonymous said...

what action is IE taking towards this goal? There was no bill this past session that addressed this issue.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Redman said, "The federal and state human rights codes for employment include sexual orientation and there have been no problems enforcing those rules."

I believe Redman was referring to federal and state EEO policies for government workers, which do provide broader protection than the civil rights laws.