Anti-gay bias not a problem, city says

Commissioners won’t add sexual orientation to human rights code.

Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday night against amending the city’s human rights codes, thus ending a months-long public debate in often standing room-only commission meetings.

Commissioners tabled the ordinance in late September of last year so the city’s volunteer Human Relations Board could research and provide guidance on the topic.

The board returned their findings in December, split 4-3 with the majority finding “no compelling evidence of discrimination to substantiate changes.”

Assistant Mayor Joyce Chilton and Commissioners Dan Martin and Kevin O’Neill voted against the legislation. Mayor Warren Copeland and Commissioner Karen Duncan were in favor of the amendment.

Their votes came before a maximum-capacity crowd in City Hall Forum. Some people were not allowed inside due to capacity issues.

“It’s not a win for either side,” said opponent Jason Stevens. “This will continue to go on, unfortunately.

“I agree with some of the things some of the commissioners said, that this is an ongoing thing; all of us have to be educated a little bit further. But legislating morality for the population ... isn’t right,” he said.

Equality Springfield President and proponent Rick Incorvati said, “I think that we know more than we knew a year ago. I think we’ve heard a number of interesting speeches from the commissioners that help us understand their positions.

“And there’s a conversation that will move on and that conversation will be to look for ways to promote acceptance in the Springfield community,” Incorvati continued. “What we have heard is most of the commissioners are aware there are problems. With that awareness, there’s an inclination to move in the direction of solutions.”

Gay-rights group Equality Springfield representatives have said the threat to LGBT people living and working in Springfield is real.

Incorvati has said he felt enough anecdotal evidence was presented to the commission and the Human Relations Board that it is difficult to maintain the position that discrimination doesn’t exist in Springfield.

A common challenge from opponents was that proponents have failed to produce specific cases of discrimination in the city. Proponents said they couldn’t produce cases because it’s not currently enforceable.

Opponents like Stevens have said, for example, that sexual-orientation discrimination in the workplace is misinterpreted as sexual harassment and the amendment should go before Springfield voters at the polls, not commissioners.

He questioned the cost and feasibility of enforcement.

Canton, a city a little larger in population than Springfield, added protection for LGBT workers in 2006.

So far only two known allegations of sexual-orientation discrimination have been brought before Canton’s Fair Employment Practices Board, said Kris Bates, deputy chief council of the Canton Law Department.

Neither of those cases went to a finding. She was not immediately sure why they didn’t go to a finding, but said it could have been because they were withdrawn, filed from outside their jurisdiction or there was insufficient evidence to make a finding.