LGBT

Jacob Ryan

Liberal state lawmakers have for 16 years pushed for a bill that would amend Kentucky’s civil rights code to protect people from discrimination in the workplace, housing and other areas based on their sexual orientation.

Dubbed the fairness bill, the measure has gotten considerable attention from the press and advocates each year it’s been proposed, but it hasn’t ever gotten traction in the legislature.

But in the wake of the shootings at a gay nightclub in Orlando last month, and as several states —including Kentucky — sue the federal government over bathroom guidelines for transgender students in public schools, it doesn’t look like support for the measure is growing in the commonwealth.

The fairness bill has never received an official vote in committee — one of the first hurdles a bill has to overcome on the way to becoming a law — even in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, co-sponsored the legislation in 2014, but this year he has said he hasn’t given it much consideration.

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates say heated political rhetoric and policies dealing with sexual orientation in recent years are partly to blame for violence like the Orlando shootings at an LGBT night club.

Chris Hartman, executive director of the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, said the rhetoric has created an atmosphere that allowed the shooting to happen.

“I feel like everyone who has stood against LGBT rights is in a way complicit in the atmosphere that’s been created that suggests LGBT people are ‘less than,’ that they deserve to be victims of violence or prejudice or discrimination,” Hartman said.

Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning. Authorities are still investigating the motive of the attacks and whether the rampage was fueled by Islamic extremism, homophobia or some combination.

Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Gay and lesbian activists gather at the White House on Thursday for a celebration marking LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Month. It's become an annual event, tied to the monthlong commemoration of the Stonewall riots, which helped launch the modern gay liberation movement.

President Obama's years in office have seen a flowering of gay and lesbian rights, culminating a year ago when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

"Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back," Obama said during a Rose Garden celebration hours after the high court's decision was announced. "And then sometimes, there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt."

Activists File Suit Challenging Tennessee Counseling Law

Jun 8, 2016
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Two gay rights activists have filed a lawsuit challenging a new Tennessee law that lets therapists decline to see patients based on religious values and personal principles.

Bleu Copas is an Anderson County man who says he was discharged from the Army under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Caleb Laieski is an activist from Virginia. Their lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Anderson County Chancery Court. It claims the new law targets gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, violating the right to equal treatment guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.

Gov. Bill Haslam's spokeswoman, Jennifer Donnals, says the governor's office is unaware of any lawsuits challenging the counseling law and has not seen the Anderson County suit.

The American Counseling Association last month canceled a planned conference in Nashville because of the law.

Elaine Thompson/AP

Texas, joined by a number of other states, has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration in response to its directive that public schools allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

The plaintiffs include Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, the governor of Maine and the Arizona Department of Education.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, says the federal government has "conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights."

The LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign called the move a "shameful attack on transgender youth."

Kevin Willis, WKU Public Radio

The Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is asking the federal government to intervene over a school district's policy prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

A letter from the ACLU asks the U.S. Department of Education to require that the school system in Sumner County make accommodations for transgender students.

The letter was written on behalf of a high school student who is a transgender girl.

Officials told the student's family that she would be disciplined if she continued to use the girls' restroom.

An attorney for the school system said in a statement that transgender  students are provided access to private unisex facilities.

Kevin Willis, WKU Public Radio

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is questioning the need for a special legislative session related to the bathroom use of transgender public school students.

Some Republican state lawmakers have called for a special session after a directive issued by President Barack Obama's administration that public schools must allow students to use facilities consistent with their gender identity.

Haslam told reporters Wednesday that it's unclear what the strategy or purpose of a special session would be. GOP lawmakers have engaged in a letter-writing campaign since the Obama directive was issued, demanding that the state join lawsuits challenging their implementation.

A Tennessee  bill seeking to require students to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificates was withdrawn in the waning days of the legislative session last month.

A couple that served as the lead plaintiffs in one of the court cases that prompted last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage is protesting a decision by the Archdiocese of Louisville to reject parts of their proposed gravestone design.

Greg Bourke and Michael De Leon have been together for 30 years and married in 2004 in Canada. They identify as lifelong practicing Catholics, and last fall, they submitted a proposed headstone design for a joint plot in Louisville’s Saint Michael Cemetery.

The design includes Bourke and De Leon’s names and dates of birth. It also includes an image of a cross, wedding rings and the United States Supreme Court building.

“It means a lot to me to be buried in a Catholic cemetery,” Bourke said. “Saint Michael’s is a stone’s throw from both my grandparents’ homes, and the really important thing is that my parents have cemetery plots they’ve purchased there.”

Kevin Willis, WKU Public Radio

The leader of Bowling Green city schools says the district will adhere to federal guidance concerning transgender students while at the same time keeping  all students safe. 

In a letter on Friday to public schools across the nation, the U.S. Department of Education said federal law requires them to allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms based on their chosen identity. 

Superintendent Gary Fields says those issues are handled on an individual basis between students, their parents, and school administrators.

"We have to have those discussions to see where students are at that time, based on whether it's a younger student or an older student.  What is best for one child may not be best for other children," Fields told WKU Public Radio.  "We make decisions that are in the best interests of those students and all of our students."

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The American Counseling Association has cancelled its plan to hold a conference in Nashville next year in protest of Tennessee passing a counseling law that allows therapists to decline to see patients based on religious values and personal principles.

The ACA made the announcement on Tuesday that it had cancelled the already booked expo in the Music City.

The ACA, which has condemned Tennessee's new law as a "hate bill" that discriminates against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, has called the legislation an unprecedented attack on its profession. The organization says no other state has passed such a law.

Supporters of the law have said that it keeps the government from forcing people to counsel others to act in ways that conflict with a therapist's moral beliefs.

WKU Public Radio

Tennessee’s Attorney General is warning that the state could lose federal funding if a controversial bathroom bill clears in the General Assembly. 

The bill would require Tennessee students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.  Supporters say the legislation is necessary to protect the privacy of students.  Opponents argue the bill is discriminatory. 

State Attorney General Herbert Slattery issued an opinion Monday saying the bill would violate Title IX, which means the state could lose millions of dollars in federal funding. 

The Tennessean reports that Governor Bill Haslam and the state Education Department have raised similar concerns, but the Governor has not said if he would veto the legislation should it reach his desk.  The bill has so far cleared a House committee.

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Kentucky lawmakers have given their final blessing to creating one marriage license form for gay and straight couples in an effort to defuse the state's ongoing controversy over gay marriage.

The proposal is a response to Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail last year for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs.

Davis said she could not issue the licenses because they had her name on them.

The Republican-led Senate gave the bill its final passage Friday, sending it to Gov. Matt Bevin.

Under the final bill, a marriage license applicant would have the option of checking "bride," ''groom" or "spouse" beside their name. The form would not have the clerk's name on it.

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Kentucky businesses could invoke their religious beliefs to refuse service to gay, lesbian or transgender customers under a bill approved by the state Senate.

The measure passed the Republican-led Senate on a 22-16 vote Tuesday. It’s a response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that effectively legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Republican Sen. Albert Robinson said his bill seeks to protect businesses from civil damages and legal fees for refusing to participate in same-sex marriage celebrations due to conscientious objections.

Democratic Sen. Reginald Thomas said the bill promotes “bigotry and hatred.”

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, told The Courier-Journal the bill is “extremely dangerous.”

“If anything, this encourages people to discriminate,” he said.

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Local ordinances that protect Kentuckians from sexual orientation-based discrimination by businesses would be rendered irrelevant by bill that passed a Senate committee Thursday.

The bill could have implications for an ongoing lawsuit against a Lexington apparel company that refused on religious grounds to print T-shirts requested by organizers of the city’s gay pride parade.

Stan Cave, an attorney for the conservative Family Foundation, said business owners shouldn’t be forced to grant services if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

“A person who’s exercising their right of conscience shouldn’t have to face bankruptcy because of the punitive measures that are being brought to bear through contempt and jail time and things of that nature,” Cave said.

The bill would protect businesses from being sued or having to pay punitive damages for violating local anti-discrimination, or fairness, ordinances based on sexual orientation. Those laws protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination by businesses and in accommodations.

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The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that a gay woman may proceed with her efforts to obtain joint custody of a girl borne by her ex-partner when they were still together.

The court issued its ruling Thursday.

The woman, identified as Amy, had asked the court to block adoption proceedings by her ex-partner's husband. The girl's mother became pregnant with the help of a sperm donor. She gave birth in 2006 when she and Amy were still a couple.

The case is among several across the country involving wrenching personal questions about what it means to be a parent under today's ever-changing definition of family in the eyes of the law.

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