Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Hot air: A case of discrimination

On Feb. 12, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission held a meeting with supporters and opponents of Article XII, the portion of the Cincinnati charter that prohibits City Council from enacting an ordinance giving protected status to gays and lesbians.

Phil Burress, with the Equal Rights, Not Special Rights Committee, speaks before the Cincinnati Human relations Commission about the issue of Article XII at City Hall Thursday, February 12.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
Phil Burress, chairman of the group Equal Rights, Not Special Rights, argued that such protected status is not needed.

"The only evidence that I would present is that (a gay rights ordinance) was in effect from 1993 to 1995 before City Council repealed it, and there were no claims of discrimination proven," Burress said.

Scott Knox, a Cincinnati attorney who specializes in disability, gay, lesbian, transgender, and HIV legal issues, begs to differ. He points to a specific case in which such discrimination was proven:

"I represented a gentleman who suffered precisely that type of harassment in 1993, before Article XII, when the law still condemned such harassment. Neither Mr. Burress nor I have any way of knowing how many other cases were filed. Mr. Burress, however, surely was aware of this case, as he is the president of the group that intervened in Equality Foundation vs. City of Cincinnati, the litigation after Issue 3 put Article XII on the Charter, in which my client was a named plaintiff.

"My client, 'Roger,' was an exemplary employee. However, after a co-worker, 'John,' concluded that Roger was gay, he had a hard time doing his job. John set about to embarrass Roger. He began lisping and mincing around Roger, told co-workers that Roger was a 'pretty boy,' and asked loudly in front of others, 'Is it a woman or a man?' When Roger was in a meeting, John came up behind him, put his hand over his own mouth as if in surprise, and pointed back and forth between Roger and a male co-worker, implying that they were involved with each other. His behavior was so unrelenting and humiliating that Roger would leave the room whenever possible if John entered.

"Roger never made any announcement at work as to whether he was gay or straight. He just wanted to do his job. Before Article XII was put on the City Charter, he had recourse to John's actions, as the city's (Equal Employment Opportunity) policy included a prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Article XII changed all that - it prohibits the city from protecting people like Roger, who just want to do their jobs, against people like John, who want to interfere. And that's just fine with Phil Burress."


Have you heard, seen or read a statement for a politician, media personality or other public figure that you think doesn't quite add up? Let us know, and we'll check it out. Call Ray Cooklis at (513) 768-8525; e-mail rcooklis@enquirer.com

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