Owensboro resident Chad Benefield said he didn’t speak at Thursday’s County Commission meeting to change anyone’s mind, because that’s not his goal. With word buzzing about the possibility of a local non-discrimination ordinance coming to a vote in the near future, Benefield said he spoke to County commissioners to share some facts and simplify the matter at hand.
“This isn’t that complicated,” he said. “We’re here because we represent a large group of people, and this ordinance is about one thing — it’s about goodwill toward men and women, and that means all of them.”
Benefield asked County commissioners to consider adopting the non-discrimination ordinance for Daviess County, as the majority of its citizens support it, he said.
“By having a conversation with the community, we believe that the overwhelming majority of people in this town and county believe very simple things,” he said. “One, that everybody deserves a fair shot at earning a paycheck. That everyone deserves a roof over their heads, and their families’ heads. And everybody deserves to eat at their favorite restaurant without the fear of being treated differently because of who they are, or who they love.”
The pledge campaign for a non-discrimination ordinance that has been circulating through town has received more than 3,000 signatures online and more signatures have been received on paper petitions.
Benefield said the requested ordinance is just a small update to a law that protects every other itemized class of people that could face discrimination of age, national origin, gender, race, religion — every class except for the LGBTQ community.
County and City commissioners have brought up the point that since they hadn’t seen any examples of discrimination in Owensboro, there’s not a need for a non-discrimination ordinance. To prove those theories wrong, Benefield and Human Relations Commission Executive Director Kaitlin Nonweiler brought with them a stack of documents that were submitted to HRC from a number of local citizens, about the employment and housing discrimination they’ve experienced locally.
Those who live in Owensboro are not protected by the Human Relations Commission from job, housing or public accommodation discrimination if they are part of the LGBTQ community.
Fifteen Kentucky cities have adopted non-discrimination or fairness ordinances — Versailles being 15th to join suit just this week with Winchester allegedly right behind them. Recently, Bowling Green put the ordinance to a losing 2-3 vote, but Owensboro and Daviess County have never had an ordinance to put to a vote.
Benefield said 22 states nationwide have updated their civil rights protections to include the LGBTQ community, but not Kentucky. Two weeks ago, Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said that if a non-discrimination ordinance were to be passed, he’d like to see it pass across the county rather than the city.
“Discrimination doesn’t stop at city limits,” he told Owensboro Times.
Daviess County would be the first in the state to adopt a county-wide ordinance rather than city-wide.
“Other communities around us having been stepping up, I know you’ve seen it,” Benefield told the commission. “We think Daviess County is in a position to send a very strong message to Frankfort, and to our citizens, that we believe in and protect the people in our community and the Commonwealth. Here in Daviess County, we have the power to make history, and that’s the truth.”
Mattingly said he’s received letters from people all over the country — as far as Alaska — who’ve complained about Owensboro’s lack of a fairness ordinance. But he said he cares more about what the people of Daviess County have experienced and think about the potential ordinance.
Benefield, a well-known local figure, described his active civic involvement in Owensboro and, yet, the subsequent discrimination he’s faced because of who he is.
“I get it — the idea that this could happen here certainly doesn’t seem possible,” he said. “We’ve all convinced ourselves that this type of discrimination doesn’t happen in Daviess County. I’m one of the most visible people in this community, and I can tell you — if it’s happened to me, to someone who will stand up and say something about it — it’s happening.”