ASHLAND The son of a former Ashland mayoral candidate advocated for the passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance Thursday in front of the Ashland Board of City Commissioners.
Samuel Howard, along with his father, Warren Howard, proposed the city pass a fairness ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against individuals in housing, public accommodation and employment based on race, color, national origin, familial status, sex, gender identity and sexual identity.
Eight Kentucky cities have passed similar legislation, including Morehead in 2013 and Midway a year ago.
Samuel Howard cited a portion of Midway's ordinance when he addressed the commission. “I wanted to share this with you to show you what a fairness ordinance looks like,” he said.
The University of Kentucky graduate, who is openly gay, said he returned home to a city where he feels he could face discrimination in his job with no recourse from the local government. “I know a lot of people in the area who are gay, bisexual, trans … we have a real visibility problem with the people in this community.”
Samuel Howard said many local members of the LGBT community don't feel safe coming out to their families of friends about their orientation. He also told the commission “it's perfectly legal” for a landlord to deny him or remove him from housing, or for an employer to fire or not promote him.
The City of Ashland actually does have an ordinance in place to protect residents from discrimination in housing, but not in the work place or in public accommodation.
Ordinance No. 29 was passed in November of 2013. It defines discrimination and provides equal housing opportunities for all citizens. The ordinance prohibits discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicapped, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or familial status in the sale, rental or financing of housing.”
After the commission meeting, Mayor Chuck Charles cited the housing ordinance and said, “I just don't see the need at this point” for a fairness ordinance.
Last month during a mayoral candidate debate, however, Charles answered a question posed by an Ashland resident regarding a fairness ordinance. He said “it’s an open discussion for the commission” and believes “it’s equal rights for everyone, period.”
Commissioner Kevin Gunderson said no one had ever approached the commission about the topic.
“(Samuel Howard) is the first person to ask me about a fairness ordinance in 25 years,” said Gunderson, who’s served on the commission since 1990. “I'm going to read up on it.”
Commissioner Amanda Clark said the proposal is “something that needs to be examined” further before it's considered in legislation. Commissioner Marty Gute said the commission has never discussed a fairness ordinance before, and isn't sure what to make of it right now. Gute said the city has “a great track record” in non-discrimination.
Warren Howard, who ran for mayor before he was ousted last week in the primary, said the ordinance centers on protecting residents but would also promote Ashland as a more inclusive, alluring city.
“People are looking from the outside at our community and region, and they're seeing ignorance,” said Warren Howard. “Why would I want to bring my business to a place that doesn't have its stuff together? Why would I bring my people in here and subject them to ignorance?”
Howard, a professor at Ashland Community and Technical College and a strong advocate for LGBT rights, said the city is “really dragging its feet on the opportunity.”
“I hear people say Ashland's always 15 years behind everything. Well, here we can say no, we're ahead on this one,” he said. “This simply means there's fairness for everyone. I don't see how anybody could be against fairness for everyone.”
In addition to Morehead and Midway, the Kentucky cities of Frankfort, Covington, Danville and Vicco — the smallest town in the nation to pass a fairness ordinance, with 330 residents — have similar city laws. Lexington and Louisville both passed fairness ordinances in 1999.
“This is a development that's been happening for several decades now,” said Samuel Howard. “It keeps people employed, and people who are of a minority status in this community can keep their jobs. I think it's the right thing for Ashland to do, to get on the right side of history.”
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