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St. Joseph County Council Council Passes Flawed HRO That Actually Writes Discrimination into Law February 15, 2017

Moments ago, the St. Joseph County Council passed a Human Rights Ordinance which aimed was to protect LGBT Hoosiers from discrimination, but that actually codifies discrimination into county law.

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As passed, the ordinance lacks an enforcement mechanism and actually treats LGBT discrimination differently under the law than other forms of discrimination—like discrimination based on a person’s race or gender.

According to Chris Paulsen, campaign manager for Freedom Indiana, the ordinance was likely well-intentioned, but falls far short of offering the protections LGBT people truly need—and it could even be harmful.

“Nondiscrimination laws are critical to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of LGBT individuals. Unfortunately, if nondiscrimination laws are not properly drafted, they can cause harm. The St. Joseph County ordinance treats the LGBT community as second class citizens. We hope the St. Joseph County Council will consider amending the ordinance in the future to make certain the LGBT community is fully protected from discrimination.”

The ordinance is problematic in two key ways:

First, it places the enforcement power with the state Civil Rights Commission. But under state law, the Commission does not have the jurisdiction to enforce sexual orientation and gender identity protections. So an LGBT person could face discrimination in St. Joseph County—like being be fired—and file a complaint, but no organization would be empowered to investigate or levy penalties based on that complaint.

Second, it includes broad religious exemptions for religious-affiliated organizations and educational institutions. The ordinance would not prevent religiously-affiliated schools from refusing to admit LGBT students, and it might not prevent government-funded social service agencies from refusing to hire and serve LGBT people.

Local lawmakers should be applauded for tackling the important issue of discrimination. But ordinances that are not comprehensive and that do not offer any oversight can actually have grave consequences in the lives of LGBT people.

In 2016, Indiana led the nation in passing comprehensive HROs that truly protect LGBT Hoosiers in their communities. Freedom Indiana is committed to leading the nation again in 2017—but not with half measures. And we are committed to supporting the work of local organizers in crafting, planning and advancing ordinances in their communities.

Visit our Municipal Action Center to find out more about Freedom Indiana’s work to support local organizing across the state—and please let us know if you’re interested in moving an ordinance forward in your community.

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