City Council Rejects Gay-Rights Policy
May 10, 2000
By Patrick Lynch
Lynchburg City Council on Tuesday voted down a proposal to make sexual orientation a
protected category in the citys 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
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 Warrens. He also addressed the comments of some citizens that he and other
council members should set their religious beliefs aside in voting.
"Ive 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 Warrens proposal.
Councils discussion of the policy amounted to only a fraction of the
evenings 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
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
"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 Warrens 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 havent been discriminated against because I havent given (people)
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
Warrens proposal would have amended the citys equal opportunity employment
policy to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in hiring city
Currently, the city protects "race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age
(and) physical or mental disability" to the extent a disability does not affect
ones 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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