Human Rights Commission Ordinance Change Tabled
By Leah Long
PADUCAH, KY - An ordinance that would have included gender identity and sexual orientation in the list of responsibilities of the Paducah Human Rights Commission was withdrawn by the City Commission last night. 

After hearing from citizens, as well as City Attorney David Denton, the original motion made by Commissioner Allen Rhodes and seconded by Commissioner Sandra Wilson, was withdrawn. Denton said he will draft a revised ordinance and circulate it to the commission to review before it is brought to the commission at its January 9th meeting. 

The proposed ordinance would have repealed and replaced chapter 58 in the Paducah Code of Ordinances, which outlines the Paducah Human Rights Commission.  The new language would add age, gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of unlawful discriminatory practices outlined in the ordinance.

The ordinance was first introduced at the Dec. 12 commission meeting.

Richard Nelson, of Cadiz, executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, said he had a number of concerns.  Nelson asked how many cases or complaints of gender identity or sexual orientation have been brought forward and questioned why the change in language is needed.  He asked the commission if they have considered the downside to the ordinance one of which he explained is the conflict between rights of LGBTQ community and religious freedom. 

"I see this as being a divisive proposed change something that as I mentioned earlier is not necessary. For that reason I'm asking the commission to table this and to consider the thoughts of the community and to consider the downside," said Nelson.
Andy Wiggins, of Paducah also a member of the Paducah Human Rights commission spoke out with his individual opinions. He said the goal of the Human Rights Commission is a passive organization that is meant to be a conduit to the citizens of the community to seek justice when they have been discriminated against.
Wiggins said as of 2014 the LGBTQ community is the highest targeted group for hate crimes and have an extremely high rate of suicide and homelessness. Wiggins explained, "The purpose of a human rights commission is to find demographics that are targeted, demographics that are under served, and demographics that encounter discrimination to protect them, even if it's not popular."  Wiggins said he believes it is time the city stands up with these individuals in the community to provide them some protection.

At one point in the meeting citizens mentioned the change to the ordinance as being done 'on a whim.' Paducah Mayor Brandi Harless clarified the ordinance change was not done on a whim.

City Attorney David Denton addressed the commission and citizens and made clear nothing in the ordinance changes any state law regarding state statues. He also echoed Harless by saying the ordinance change has not been done on a whim.

Denton said at the state level very little is done regarding discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity. In those situations regarding discriminatory action agains sexual orientation and gender identity, the complaints would stay at the local level.The local Human Rights Commission would have the power to meet, file charges, subpena, hold hearings and determine if there has been a wrong committed.

But, Denton explained, "It doesn't have any enforcement power by itself. It cannot go out and fine a somebody five thousand dollars. It cannot send a man to jail for 30 days. Instead enforcement has to be done through the circuit courts. So there is due process.You can't have an ordinance that's going to be sustained without due process," said Denton.

After hearing from the citizens the commissioners took a moment to express their views on the issue.  Commissioner Sarah Holland pointed out the national media coverage concerning the thousands of women who have faced sexual harassement and discrimination that did not come forward to file complaints. While the Paducah Human Rights Commission has not had any complaints regarding sexual orientation or gender identity, Holland emphasized, "The absence of claims does not mean the absence of a problem."

Even though the ordinance does protect religious organizations, Commissioner Richard Abraham wanted the ordiance to also have language that would protect private business owners so they would not be pressured or mandated to do something that goes against their religious beliefs.

To read more about tonight's meeting, click the link below.

On the Net:

City of Paducah website

Published 10:25 PM, Tuesday Dec. 19, 2017
Updated 03:25 AM, Monday Dec. 25, 2017

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