St. Joseph County looking to add LGBTQ rights ordinance

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- An ordinance to protect the rights of the LGBTQ Community was put into place more than four years ago in the City of South Bend and now, the county is looking to do the same.

The ordinance would help the LGBTQ Community from being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. The first reading of the proposed ordinance is Tuesday night at the County Commissioners meeting. It's still over a month until the ordinance would be accepted, but both sides are starting to voice their opinions on whether it should or should not be passed.

"What we're trying to do is extend the human rights ordinance from the city out into the county," Diana Hess, St. Joseph County Council Member of District E said.

Hess, Rafael Morton and Mark Catanzarite, all of which are Democrats, are co-sponsoring the amended human rights bill to include the LGBTQ Community, which Hess says could also benefit the local economy.

"We think it shows a welcoming community and that's important for a lot of businesses today," Hess said. "If you look around, some of the states that have passed sort of restrictive laws regarding the LGBTQ population, you'll see businesses and events have pulled out of the states. So we think it's an important economic development policy as well."

Hess also says the backlash from RFRA in 2015 has cast a negative light on the state. So she hopes this ordinance will help show how welcoming the Hoosier State is.

"I think what happened at State Legislature Downstate, when RFRA was passed and really put a black mark on the whole state as far as people feeling welcome and open for doing businesses with all people and welcoming to all business," Hess said.

But not everyone agrees.

"Don't ask, don't tell wasn't good enough," Patrick Mangan, President of Citizens for Community Values of Indiana said. "Why? Because it was never quality. It's superiority. That's what's being asked for. I want special rights based on what I say I am today and I want the whole world to bow to that. That's what the plea is for those who are struggling from sexual confusion are."

Mangan is of the belief sexual orientation is a choice made by the LGBTQ community and says it goes against Christian morals.

"There just aren't any demonstrable evidences for the fact that someone is born this way or that it is immutable, that it's unchangeable," Mangan said. "Asking for rights based purely on their sexual predilections, we think that's a huge mistake and it really makes for impossible public policy."

However, Eli Williams with the LGBTQ Center says this is all about equal rights for everyone regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, so discrimination is not allowed in the work place.

"I hear so many devastating stories in this job," Williams said. "People being fired from their place of employment, people getting beaten up, people getting kicked out of their homes all because they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning or queer. So I can't stress enough the importance of this amendment to our county human rights ordinance."

Williams also says the opposition to the LGBTQ ordinance is illogical.

"They're saying this is special rights not equal rights," Williams said. "We're just asking for equality and justice in our county. I don't understand the logic. The arguments are classic. The same arguments are used by Anita Bryant in the 70s. There are a long history of human rights ordinances like ours. I think an important thing to know is to study that history and understand where the root of this is coming from. The root of oppression is the loss of memory."

Williams is quoting well known feminist Paula Gunn Allen in the end of her statement. Williams says this ordinance would do wonders for all of the gay community in the area, especially the youth.

"I can't say how many people have called and in particular how many youth are struggling," Williams said. "I think this really sends a powerful message to the youth here in St. Joe County."

"It seems the trend is that overall as a community and country, we're far more welcoming to everyone in our community which we think is important," Hess said. "We think it's an important statement for us to make."

The St. Joseph County Council will assign a committee to research the ordinance further. In November, they will have another meeting with public comment and will then vote on whether the ordinance should pass or not. No date has been set for that meeting.