Posted March 13, 2012
The Omaha City Council approved a controversial city ordinance Tuesday that will make it against the law to discriminate in the workplace based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The vote was four to three in favor of the proposal. The council members who voted for the ordinance were Gray, Jerram, Festersen, and Gernandt. Thompson, Mulligan, and Stothert voted no.
Councilman Franklin Thompson, who many believed was the swing vote, said he would have voted in favor of the ordinance had the council been willing to remove the gender identification classification.
Before the city council meeting, supporters of the ordinance gathered in front of the city/council building uncertain of the outcome.
Jennifer Parent: "I don't know that I'm confident, but I'm hopeful."
After the vote, many supporters gathered just outside legislative chambers in celebration.
Diane Perry: "I'm glad to see the vote was fair, informed decision. We're all human beings. I'm so pleased with the decision."
Mike Honeyman: "The reality is, these aren't new rights or special rights, we're just allowing all people access to the same rights."
Pastor Daniel Holloran was disappointed. "It's not a love or hate issue, but it's right or wrong, and I can tell you god is very grieved."
In 15-days when the citywide ordinance takes effect -- if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender -- you cannot be fired or not hired for that reason alone.
Under the ordinance, GLBT would be added to other protected classes so if you are discriminated against, you can file a complaint with the city.
There are exemptions for religious organizations.
So what changed for Garry Gernandt who voted 'No' on a similar issue in 2010? "I'm not looking to be noted for anything. I just think it was the right thing to do. I kept coming back the fact that we're all members of the human race."
In the end, Councilman Thompson said there were too many legal issues to overcome. "I believe this issue of choice or whether you are born that way -- is a little bit of both."
Councilman Pete Festersen supported the ordinance and said the council missed an opportunity in October 2010 when a similar vote failed. "For me, it's as simple as this -- we should strive to be an inclusive community and we should be opposed to discrimination of any kind."
Councilwoman Jean Stothert said businesses should do it on their own-- not forced by law. "Some people which object to it, whether it be personal, religious, or moral reasons, we have to remember that we have to protect their rights too, they have rights too."
Diane Perry says the inclusiveness of the ordinance will bring people back-- like her two sons. "My two children would not consider coming back here and working here, my two gay children, had this not been in place."
Omaha now joins the ranks of what 35-of-the-nations-50 largest cities have on the books.
Shortly after the vote, Mayor Jim Suttle released a statement. "I applaud the City Council for their actions today and I look forward to signing this ordinance into law... Omaha is a city that welcomes diversity, embraces fresh ideas, and is open for business to everyone. Allowing discrimination in our city is wrong-for our citizens and our businesses. With a robust local economy and an increasingly talented workforce, Omaha is well positioned to be one of the most vibrant and innovative cities of the 21st Century."
Monday evening, a new television commercial began airing from supporters.
Equal Omaha also commissioned a poll of 1,003 registered Omaha voters which targeted Franklin Thompson's and Garry Gernandt's district. Thompson did not vote on a similar measure in 2010. Gernandt voted against it.
Researchers of the survey posed the question this way over the weekend: 'Would you favor or oppose a local ordinance protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment?'
City-wide -- 60% were in favor. 30% opposed. It has a margin of error of 3%. The spread was similar in Gernandt's district. It was much wider in Thompson's.
Husker football coach Ron Brown, who took heat for not being clear his views were his own and not the University's when he spoke against the proposal last week, isn't backing down.
His group -- Freedmen Nebraska -- issued a prayer and action alert late Monday afternoon --- urging members and friends to defeat the ordinance...to "protect religious liberty in the workplace."
The issue is first on the agenda Tuesday afternoon at 2pm at city hall, 18th & Farnam.
The players have not changed from October 2010.
Council members Gray, Festersen and Jerram voted 'Yes.'
Council members Gernandt, Mulligan and Stothert voted 'No.'
Thompson abstained. He says he will vote on Tuesday but isn't saying how he will vote.
Garry Gernandt has an amendment on the Tuesday agenda where discrimination would be prohibited for sexual orientation and gender identification for City of Omaha hiring decisions.