Will Covington Upstage Cincinnati by Protecting Gays from Discrimination?

Will Covington provide equal rights to all its citizens before Cincinnati does? Neither city currently offers protection to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community. Cincinnati

Will Covington provide equal rights to all its citizens before Cincinnati does?

Neither city currently offers protection to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) community. Cincinnati made sure of that when voters passed Issue 3 in 1993 by a 68-32 percent margin. The subsequent Article 12, becoming part of the city charter in 1998, prevents city council from passing any law forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Covington's Human Rights Ordinance originally included protection for sexual orientation, but the language was dropped in order to get the measure passed in the 1990s.

Compared to Cincinnati's grievance, the omission of a minority group in Covington's Human Rights Ordinance appears to be nothing more than a politically motivated compromise. It certainly hasn't generated the controversy or publicity that Article 12 has garnered.

Despite ignoring the rights of the GLBT community, Covington continues to draw convention business — especially organizations steering clear of Cincinnati in attempts to draw attention to Article 12.

Diverting tourism business south of the Ohio River has been the most resourceful stance anyone has taken in response to Article 12. But residents of Covington realize that it takes more than cries of "Repeal Article 12" to make a substantial change in equal rights.

"The Human Rights Committee (HRC) is discussing and getting ready to propose an expansion of the current civil rights ordinance," says Charlie King, chair of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance.

The HRC is working on the appropriate wording in order to get the amended ordinance passed.

"We're trying to beef up the ordinance so it means something to people: 'Oh, and by the way, you forgot a group," says the Rev. Don Smith, chair of the HRC.

In addition to protecting people from discrimination based on race, religion and gender, the proposal for the ordinance would extend protection to sexual orientation and gender identity.

If one's sexuality is a choice, then it's no different from religion. If instead sexuality is a genetic trait, then it's no different from being African-American, King explains.

The way the Human Rights Ordinance is now written, various pockets of the community are not receiving the protection they deserve. The HRC has little knowledge of any complaints brought under the Human Rights Ordinance, according to Smith.

"We got tired of meeting for no reason," he says. "We really don't know how many complaints (city officials) get, and we really don't know what the outcome of them are."

It's hard to be proud of a city for promoting human rights when equality has yet to be achieved.

"Gee, aren't we great?" Smith says. "We've got one, but we might as well not have one, for all the value it has."

The amended proposal has been in the works for more than a year and won't be submitted to the city commission until later this year, Smith says.

"We're hoping they'll make it into a real ordinance as soon as possible," he says.

A potential stumbling block is the city commission race in November. The outcome of the election could push back passage of the renewed Human Rights Ordinance or could allow it to pass more smoothly.

"Hopefully by the beginning of the year we'll be well on the road to having it as fact," Smith says.

The HRC will continue to push for the ordinance's passage if commissioners strike it down, Smith says.

The movement to grant equal rights to the GLBT community in Covington indicates Cincinnati could face further embarrassment for not repealing Article 12.

"I would think if Covington passed it, it would certainly show up Cincinnati for what it is," King says.

Showing up Cincinnati isn't the primary motive for the HRC, but having a sense of pride around one's city doesn't hurt.

"I would really like to see Covington displayed to the world as progressive," Smith says. "And I love the idea that Covington can steal some thunder away from Cincinnati."

Scroll to read more News Feature articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.