Omaha debate: Adding LGBTQ protections to the city charter

About a month ago, Ben Gray, one of Omaha’s City Council (and representative of my district), proposed adding sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity to the list of classes protected from discrimination by the city code. If his proposal becomes part of the city charter, LGBTQ people could not be refused or removed from jobs for identifying as LGBTQ, nor could they be denied use of public facilities and services.

My first reaction: “Wait, he proposed this in Omaha?” (crosses fingers)

A vote on the proposal is coming up next Tuesday, the Council having decided to wait a month to judge the impact it would have on employers, religious groups, etc. As the vote draws near, of course, the controversy begins.

Religious groups such as the Catholic Archdiocese of Omaha have asked for exemptions. In hiring, sure, it’s arguable that religious groups ought to hire people in touch with their doctrines for teaching and ministry positions. Would janitors, cafeteria workers, computer administrators have any redress, though? What about enrollment in parochial schools for LGBTQ children, or children whose parents are LGBTQ? (Not that I think that Catholic schools, in particular, appeal to either group, but let them have their “quality Catholic education,” especially considering the schools they’re closing as the student bodies shrink.)

The City Council itself seems ambivalent. Councilperson Franklin Thompson is of the opinion that the amendment is beyond the scope of the Council and it should be put to citywide public vote…when that comes around again, in 2012. Whether that’s a way of dodging the wrath of his constituents, I don’t know — WOWT says he would probably vote yes if it was a Council vote after all, but 65% of those he’s heard from are opposed to it. Meanwhile, according to an Omaha World-Herald article, Councilperson Jean Stothert says the proposal is “a solution looking for a problem.” I’m sure you all agree.

And of everyday citizens, a letter to the editor says, in part:

Inventing a new right is cumbersome and dangerous, especially when the so-called “right” is not in harmony with moral law. It is spurious, counterfeit and false. … Failure to gain a promotion in the wake of cross-dressing or mixed-gender identity cannot be called discrimination. … Why foist into the public realm immoral proclivities sanctioned by law?

I’m willing to infer that moral law means God’s law, means the law of a particular kind of God (certainly not the United Church of Christ’s God, or the Anglican Communion’s, or even the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s). Furthermore, this law from on high is received, interpreted, and enforced by people. Some of these people don’t understand that a transgender person is not just crossdressing, and a gay man doesn’t wish he were a woman. And although the law of common sense ought to protect people from discrimination against their race, color, creed, religion, sex, marital status, national origin, age or disability — the classes already in the city code — they aren’t protected enough. That’s why those classes are already in the code, and why the LGBTQ community needs the same protection.

 

Furthermore, what does being LGBTQ have to do with your suitability for a job? Is your Microsoft Office proficiency impaired by the fact that you were born male and no longer identify as such? Is your ability to make a presentation stymied by the fact that after the presentation you’ll go home and make dinner for another man? Should your kid have to go to public school because the religious schools don’t like that he has two moms? Some people perceive that this amendment is an endorsement of the “gay lifestyle.” It’s not, just as anti-discrimination laws concerning race aren’t a nod to Black Power.

It’s crucial that if you live in Omaha, you get in touch with your City Councilperson before the vote next Tuesday. Here, have a list of the Council and a map to figure out which district you’re in! Send an e-mail, leave a phone message, but let your representative know why these protections matter to you and to your friends and family.

And so you can keep up to date on the issue: Citizens for Equal Protection is quite involved, as is GOglbt, and here’s another pro-protection Facebook group.

Lastly, write to the newspaper (e-mail: pulse@owh.com), because the paper pays attention to it, the Council does, and so do the readers. Write for the people who are uninterested or on the fence. Let them know that this isn’t about “sanctioning immoral proclivities.” At worst, it’s getting people to leave other people alone.

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