Daviess County Fiscal Court received an array of opinions Thursday evening as different members of the community spoke publicly to address the non-discrimination, or fairness, ordinance.
While two residents spoke about the benefits of adopting an ordinance against the discrimination of the LGBTQ community in regard to fair housing, employment and public accommodations, three others expressed their opposition to the ordinance, with varying aspects of religious beliefs highlighting their individual arguments.
Owensboro resident Chad Benefield approached the podium first, bringing with him a stack of documents containing individual testimonies from residents in the LGBTQ community who’d experienced discrimination in either housing, employment or public accommodations. Benefield gave each County commissioner a copy of those documents, which detailed the discrimination experienced locally on 20 different occasions, but left all subjects anonymous.
Benefield said City Commissioner Pam Smith-Wright had asked for documents containing experienced discrimination in the past, but told Benefield she didn’t receive many because so many individuals were afraid of retaliation.
“I either know each person [documented here] personally or I know people who were associated with the stories personally, so I believe that all these pages are 100 percent accurate,” he said.
One of these stories involved a male professional who moved back to Owensboro and decided to rent a property, Benefield said. The man called the leasing agent to make an appointment at the property, where he’d submit the deposit and sign the lease.
“Only this time, ‘R’ took his partner with him,” Benefield said. “The leasing agent asked them if they were brothers or just friends. When ‘R’ told the agent they were together, the agent suddenly claimed not to have the necessary paperwork with him, even though that was the entire point of the meeting in the first place.”
The agent never called ‘R’ days later as promised, Benefield said, and the individual was told that the lease was no longer available to him.
“Almost that exact thing happened to me, and I can tell you that that leasing company is still in business in Owensboro,” Benefield said.
This was just one of several stories Benefield shared with commissioners preceding a difference of opinion from Pastor John Fowler of Southside Fellowship Church.
“I represent a coalition of churches in Owensboro that’s rather large,” he said. “We have a different perspective on the fairness ordinance. We just wanted to make you all aware that we are formulating our position and will be willing to share it at the appropriate time.”
Former County Commissioner Gary Boswell said the current housing industry was experiencing an influx of rental applications, which could be the reason for rejection rather than discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Among these issues, Boswell also expressed his worry that the ordinance might hinder the religious freedom of others.
“The number of signatures on that petition represents a very small percentage of our population,” he said. “A comment in the newspaper said 98 percent of people in this community were in favor of this ordinance, but I can tell you for sure, I haven’t talked to one single person who’s in favor of it, not in the circles I run in.”
Resident Andy Gamblin said that, while he didn’t approve of discrimination, he prayed that Fiscal Court wouldn’t approve of the ordinance.
“What about our Christian rights?” he asked. “I hope you all don’t go down that road. We don’t need this.”
After the meeting, Mattingly said that a non-discrimination ordinance had not been written and brought to Fiscal Court as of yet. Once the ordinance has been written and brought to Fiscal Court, Mattingly said the County attorney and members of the commission would take a look at it before putting it to a vote.