From: Larry Lawler
Thanks to Tom Jekel for his April 13 column heralding the legacy of retiring Human Rights Commission Director Lorraine Smith. The accolades for her record of achievement at the commission and in wider service throughout our community are well-deserved. Her work on behalf of human rights has made a substantial contribution to the efforts for making Columbus a welcoming community for all and adds to a Columbus legacy of which we can all be proud.
It was also noted in the column that Columbus is one of just four Indiana cities whose human rights rules and regulations specifically address discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, education and public accommodation. While true, something more needs to be stated in that regard.
While other categories — race, religion, color, sex, pregnancy, disability, national origin or ancestry — are covered in the Human Rights Ordinance (City of Columbus Municipal Code 9.24.020), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are noticeably missing from the list and are not protected by the ordinance. Prohibiting discrimination in the Human Rights Commission Rules and Regulations only provides a process for a complaint to be filed, investigated and resolved through voluntary mediation. It does not allow full enforceability that would be provided by inclusion in the Human Rights Ordinance.
Several other cities in Indiana do include sexual orientation and gender identity in their human rights ordinances that ban discrimination, reflective of a steadily growing number of cities across the nation that have done so. They include Indianapolis and Marion County, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Bloomington and Monroe County, Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County, Michigan City, New Albany and South Bend.
Columbus can be proud of its history in securing the rights of its citizens against prejudice and discrimination. As Jekel pointed out, Columbus was the first Indiana city to form a Human Rights Commission in 1962, and the commission’s work has been laudatory. In commenting on how Columbus has built its national reputation, Smith quoted J. Irwin Miller: ‘We work on one problem, and then we go on to the next.”
That quote reflects his oft-repeated warning that companies and organizations should not fall in love with their histories, but rather look forward and prepare for the future. I suspect he would be the first to acknowledge and celebrate the signal achievements of all those who, like Smith, have contributed to the bright side of our city’s history in protecting human rights. I do not doubt that he also would be the first to say that “we can and must do more.”
In 2006 the Human Rights Commission unanimously voted to change its Rules and Regulations to provide the voluntary mediation process mentioned above. The Human Rights Commission has done all that it can do to address this issue. Any further action must come from the mayor and City Council, which means it must come from us, the citizens of Columbus. It is time for inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Human Rights Ordinance of Columbus.
To do so will provide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens equal protection from discrimination and provide the commission all of the tools necessary for enforcement of nondiscrimination. It will also be in keeping with the best of our city’s history. And, after all, as Mayor Kristen Brown pointed out at the Human Rights Commission Dinner two weeks ago, “We’re Columbus, and we aim higher.”