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Business coalition in Kentucky backs LGBT rights bill

Business coalition in Kentucky backs LGBT rights bill

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Passing statewide legislation to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination would be good for Kentucky businesses, advocates said Thursday.

Nearly 200 businesses have signed up for the Kentucky Competitive Workforce Coalition, which was announced Thursday. The group is joining the debate on long-stalled legislation aimed at protecting gay, bisexual and transgender Kentuckians from discrimination in the workplace, housing and public places.

Without guaranteeing such protections, people can be fired simply “because of who you love,” said state Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville.

Along with strengthening the state’s civil rights law, the measure would help Kentucky companies attract employees, he said.

“As we recruit the best and brightest from around the country, we need to show that we have the inclusive and competitive atmosphere where they want to live, where they want to work and they want to raise their families,” McGarvey said.

Eight cities in Kentucky have passed local ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Those cities range from the state’s two largest — Louisville and Lexington — to the tiny Appalachian town of Vicco.

For more than a decade, however, the statewide version of the legislation died without receiving a hearing in the General Assembly. The measure received its first hearing in 2014 when the House Judiciary Committee took testimony, but it did not vote on the legislation.

The bill’s next rendition would seem to have long odds again in 2016. Republicans are in solid control of the state Senate, and Republican Matt Bevin, a social conservative, is preparing to become governor after his election this month. Democrats cling to a majority in the House.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, said Thursday he hopes lawmakers from both parties can find common ground on the principle that people “should be judged based on your performance in the workplace, rather than who you are.”

However, Family Foundation Executive Director Kent Ostrander said Thursday there’s no need for the legislation, adding: “This is more about power and recognition than it is about addressing a problem that Kentucky has.”

“What they need to do is first to demonstrate that there’s a real reason for their cause, and they cannot do that. Because there is not discrimination,” said Ostrander, whose group has vehemently opposed such bills.

Coalition members supporting the gay rights legislation range from corporate giant Brown-Forman Corp. to small, family-run businesses.

Brown-Forman has its own non-discrimination policies for gay, bisexual and transgender employees, said Rusty Cheuvront, an executive with the spirits maker. “We have sent a clear message to prospective and current employees that they will be judged simply on the quality of their work,” he said.

A statewide law would send the same message, he said, and is “good for business.”

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