Last edited: January 01, 2005

City Council Rejects Gay-Rights Policy

Lynchburg News-Advance, May 10, 2000
Lynchburg, VA

By Patrick Lynch

Lynchburg City Council on Tuesday voted down a proposal to make sexual orientation a protected category in the city’s non-discrimination policies.

After more than an hour of hearing from citizens whose comments ranged from Bible quoting to pleas for justice, council voted 4-2 not to implement the policy. The vote was answered by some in the audience with a loud "Amen."

Vice Mayor Carl Hutcherson and Councilman Bert Dodson joined Councilmen Jim Whitaker and Robert Garber in voting against the proposal. Councilman Stuart Hobbs did not attend the meeting.

Mayor Pete Warren, who brought the proposal forward, and Councilman Ed Barksdale, the first member of council to state unwavering support for protecting gays in the city code, voted in favor.

Before voting, Whitaker read three opinions from the Virginia Attorney General, the last issued in 1993, saying that localities do not have the authority to pass a proposal like Warren’s. He also addressed the comments of some citizens that he and other council members should set their religious beliefs aside in voting.

"I’ve been told I should not make my decision based on my Christian beliefs," he said. "Well, what you see is what you get."

Coming into the meeting, Hutcherson and Dodson were the swing votes, having not stated their position on the proposal.

Dodson said he thought supporting the proposal would be equal to "legislating morality," an activity he does not think government should partake in. Hutcherson said he would rather delay a vote to seek an opinion from the Attorney General on whether Lynchburg could lawfully pass the proposal. When council voted that idea down, Hutcherson voted against Warren’s proposal.

Council’s discussion of the policy amounted to only a fraction of the evening’s discussion. About 30 individuals spoke their opinions.

Arguments against the proposal ranged from finely tuned legal objections to fear that passing it would contribute to the "moral decline of the country." One made the simple point that because sodomy is a felony under Virginia law, council should not pass the proposal.

Many expressed disdain for homosexuality and said they consider it a sin, but finished their statement by saying they still "love the sinner." However, "loving the sinner" in their minds did not equate to a need for "special protection."

"They are people who must be given equal treatment under the law," said Will Honeycutt, "not special protection."

Others who spoke in opposition mainly limited their remarks to a condemnation of homosexuality as the sole basis for not approving of Warren’s proposal.

"The biblical standard for sexual conduct is heterosexual, and even then within (marriage)," said John Stephens.

A large number of opponents said they believe that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, and that those who make the choice subject themselves to discrimination.

Speakers for the proposal said approving it would not only be a rational step toward justice, in the same vein as civil rights struggles of blacks and women, but also an antidote to fear in the gay community about being "outed."

"Gay people live in isolation and often in fear," said Bill Connelly, who originally brought the proposal to Warren and council.

The same point was made by Kelly Kline, a reporter for television station WSET, who spoke as an individual representing what she said is the "substantial gay community" in Lynchburg.

Kline said she has not been discriminated against because of her sexual orientation, but added she has in most cases felt compelled to conceal her sexual orientation.

"I haven’t been discriminated against because I haven’t given (people) the opportunity."

She spoke of the fear gays face in not being protected against losing their jobs because of prejudice against homosexuals.

"The sad truth is, I can be fired because I am gay," she said. "I can honestly sit here and say I do not know if I will have a job tomorrow."

Only five other localities in Virginia have policies similar to what Warren proposed: Alexandria, Arlington County, Charlottesville, Virginia Beach and, as of Monday, Fairfax County.

Warren’s proposal would have amended the city’s equal opportunity employment policy to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring city employees.

Currently, the city protects "race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (and) physical or mental disability" to the extent a disability does not affect one’s ability to perform the job being sought.

The proposal would have prohibited discrimination in awarding contracts and created a task force charged with investigating the establishment of a human rights commission. The commission would probably not have had real legal authority, but could have heard and possibly investigated claims of discrimination, from anyone, not just gays.

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