Sunday, October 17, 2004

Covington's legal protections 'reassuring'

Mayor: Only local rights ordinance has caused no difficulties

By John Johnston
Enquirer staff writer

Drew Bell and friend Ralph Davis, both of Covington, enjoy happy hour at Rosie's Tavern in Covington, a popular spot for local gays.
COVINGTON - Drew Bell moved here from Cincinnati's North Avondale neighborhood a year ago, partly because of legal protections that Northern Kentucky's largest city offers to gays.

"I deem Covington a little bit more tolerant than Cincinnati," says Bell, 27. "I didn't want to pay taxes to a city that wouldn't really recognize me."

Covington expanded its human rights ordinance in April 2003, becoming the only city in the region to spell out legal protections for gays, human rights groups say. The ordinance says employers or landlords can be fined up to $250 for discrimination based on sexual orientation or other factors, such as age, disability and marital status.

Since the ordinance took effect, no one has complained of discrimination based on sexual orientation, officials say.

"Covington really has developed a reputation as being a progressive city," says John C.K. Fisher, Northern Kentucky field supervisor for the Kentucky Human Rights Commission. "Symbolically, as well as legally, that ordinance tells people that everyone is welcome in the city."

This Enquirer special report is the first of four parts:

Today: Coming to terms with gay issues
Survey: What's gay-friendly, what's not?
Covington's legal protections 'reassuring'
Voters, churches and lawyers weigh in on debate on rights
Words and phrases to know
Calls refer to homosexual rights
Bronson: Straight, gay: disagreeing without hate
Monday: Same-sex couples and raising kids
Tuesday: Revealing the secret
Wednesday: Daily workplace drama

Online special:
Complete results of WCPO/Enquirer poll
Gay in Cincinnati: What do you think?
In some Covington neighborhoods, 2.6 percent of households are headed by two people of the same sex, one of the highest concentrations in the region.

Covington Mayor Butch Callery says he initially did not support the expanded ordinance. He changed his mind when people were willing to compromise to craft a law that worked for everyone.

"The ordinance has not caused any difficulties for businesses, nor any sort of backlash that I can tell," says Gary Toebben, president of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Says Mayor Callery: "I've even had people who were opposed to it now say they think it was a good idea."

Mary Hemmer and her husband, Paul Hemmer Jr., plan to move from Lakeside Park in Kenton County with their young children into a renovated Covington home. They like the idea of raising their children in an urban setting with a diverse population.

The ordinance "speaks to the attitude of the city and the desires of the people," Mary Hemmer says.

For Drew Bell, day-to-day life isn't much different in Covington than it was when he lived north of the Ohio River.

"It's just the reassurance that if anything (discriminatory) should happen, I've got something there to back me up."


Coming to terms with gay issues
Survey: What's gay-friendly, what's not?
Covington's legal protections 'reassuring'
Voters, churches and lawyers weigh in on debate on rights
Words and phrases to know
• Online special: Complete results of WCPO/Enquirer poll

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