March 6, 2015

Lincoln residents praise, pan proposed change to anti-discrimination law

Lincoln residents had their chance to voice support or opposition to a proposed change in the city anti-discrimination ordinance which would add homosexual and transgender residents to the list of protected classes.

The public hearing at city hall lasted for hours Monday. The city council plans to vote on the ordinance next week.

Resident Cynthia Hartley with the group Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays told councilmembers that discrimination exists in Lincoln.

“Think about how it would be to live in fear of losing your job every day of your life,” Hartley stated. “It’s not an unfounded fear. P-FLAG has heard from scores of people who have been fired only because they are LGBT.”

Yet, businessman Monte Froelich worries that adding to the list of protected classes would spark more litigation. He told the council that lawsuits based on protected classes aren’t new to local businesses.

“It is the preferred method of vendetta and they are expensive and, frankly, a greater threat than any competition,” according to Froelich. “You cannot be pro-jobs and add another protected class, because it is opposite of fair to business owners.”

Lincoln Public Safety Director Tom Casady spoke as a private citizen in support of the measure.

“I think when you act an ordinance like this you’re defining in clear terms the limits of behavior that we find tolerable in Lincoln,” Casady stated. “And by outlawing minor forms of discrimination and intolerance, you’re also making it less likely that more serious forms of intolerance will occur.”

The council will consider an amendment next week designed to allay fears that the ordinance could infringe on the rights of religious organizations that consider homosexuality immoral. It hasn’t placated all worries about the reach of the ordinance.

Chris Kubat with Catholic Social Services told councilmembers his organization will not violate its beliefs by endorsing behavior it holds as sinful.

“This is an issue of religious freedom. There would be significant gap if we didn’t exist and we will not do anything against our faith. We’ll go away,” Kubat stated.

The ordinance proposes to add gender identity and sexual orientation to the classes specifically protected from discrimination. The ordinance now includes protections from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin, familial status, ancestry, age or marital status. The law allows people who believe they have been discriminated against to take their complaint before the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights.

KLIN contributed to this report.