Proposal would add age, sexual orientation, gender identity to city ordinance

Columbus’ Human Rights Commission will discuss proposed revisions to the city’s human rights ordinance to add new protected classes, including age, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The amendment to the ordinance is a discussion item for Tuesday’s Columbus City Council meeting, 6 p.m. at City Hall.

The meeting will be in the Cal Brand Meeting Room on the first floor, which is a larger venue than the city council chambers, allowing more visitors to view the meeting in person. The meeting also will be streamed live on the Internet through the city’s website, columbus.in.gov.

Commission Director Aida Ramirez will make a presentation to the council at the Tuesday meeting, Commission Chairman Ian Kohen said.

Kohen and Vice Chairman John Stroh will attend to answer questions, he said.

The commission began considering the amendments to the city’s ordinance after uncertainty about protected classes swirled around the city following controversy over the Indiana Legislature’s approval of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in late March.

Hoosiers were shocked by vehement backlash to the measure around the nation, with Indiana residents being accused of supporting a law that allowed businesses and organizations to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people based on religious beliefs.

The commission asked for feedback for weeks from the public about adding the protected classes and received it in the form of letters, emails and telephone calls.

At the commission’s last meeting July 29, commission Deputy Director Molly Connor said the commission had received about 100 responses to its request for comments so far.

An ad hoc committee led by Stroh, with members Annette Barnes, Sameer Samudra and Gil Palmer met over the course of a few months to determine if the ordinance needed to be changed and to research the legality of changing it.

The commission voted on June 24 to recommend that the city add the LGBT community and age as protected classes, proposing the first change in the ordinance in 26 years. Since then, the commission has been working on the new language to be added to amend the ordinance.

According to a draft of the proposed amendments, the new language defines:

Age discrimination as referring to those who are age 40 and older.

Gender identity as a person’s actual or perceived gender-related attributes, self-image, appearance, expression or behavior, whether or not such characteristics differ from those traditionally associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth, the ordinance states. The word “sex” is defined as used to describe the biological differences that exist between male and female individuals.

Sexual orientation as an individual’s actual or perceived identity or practice as a male or female homosexual person, bisexual person or heterosexual person.

The human rights ordinance now includes race, religion, color, sex, disability and national origin and ancestry as protected classes.

The categories of age, sexual orientation and gender identity are being processed through the commission’s voluntary mediation program but, with council approval, would be added to the ordinance as protected with the other groups.

The usual process for council consideration includes having an item such as an ordinance change as a discussion matter and then considering the change on two readings before the council.

If you go

What: Columbus City Council discussion of a revision to the Columbus Human Rights ordinance adding age, sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where:  Cal Brand Meeting Room in Columbus City Hall, first floor

For more information: 812-376-2510

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.