News (USA)

Evansville officials vote to bolster LGBT protections

Evansville officials vote to bolster LGBT protections
EVANSVILLE, Ind. — An Evansville commission will have the authority to investigate claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and enforce a city anti-bias ordinance under a step approved by the City Council.

The council voted 7-2 this week to give the additional authority to the Human Relations Commission after nearly three hours of public discussion, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

Sexual orientation and gender identity have been included in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance the past four years, but investigations were voluntary, meaning a case would be closed if the accused party didn’t comply with an investigation.

The changes give the city commission authority to investigate such discrimination claims as it does for those involving race, gender, age, religion, disability, national origin or ancestry.

Republican Councilwoman Anna Hargis said she received several phone calls in opposition and she had to balance faith and legality in her decision to support the expanded enforcement authority.

“I believe it demonstrates dignity and care for every person in our community,” she said. “I firmly believe that by choosing not to employ, or house, or to provide services to someone who’s made moral decisions you disagree with, that’s not the way you win people to Christ.”

Similar ordinances are in effect in several other cities around the state, including Indianapolis, South Bend, Carmel and Columbus.

Those local ordinances would have been prohibited under a Republican-sponsored bill in the state Legislature that proposed extending state anti-discrimination protections to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. That bill was pulled from consideration this month as it faced criticism from both LGBT rights activists for not including transgender people and religious conservatives who believed it still required services for same-sex marriages even if they had religious objections.

The Evansville ordinance exempts churches, religiously affiliated nonprofits, religious schools and other official religious organizations from the city commission’s enforcement reach.

That didn’t satisfy opponents who argued it still impedes on religious liberty.

Darrell Rice, pastor at The Connection Church, said the ordinance is not needed and some people fear their businesses will be targeted for not wanting to provide services to people with whom they don’t normally agree.

Republican Councilwoman Michelle Mercer said she believed the ordinance violated the Indiana Constitution and usurped the religious rights of private groups and individuals.

“If we pass this, first of all, I would anticipate that Evansville will be sued,” she said. “We will cost the taxpayers money unnecessarily in a lawsuit.”

Skylar Julian, a 17-year-old transgendered male, broke down in tears as he spoke before the council, saying he’s worried about the ability to find a job and a house if he can be legally discriminated against.

“Where is my right to live happily?” he said. “You can’t take that away from us.”

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