City Council passes LGBT protections

Public comment fuels meeting, USI community speaks up

A transgender male stood in front of a packed City Council meeting Monday night and asked for the chance to be himself.

Skylar Julian, 17, was one of many community members in attendance to comment on an amendment to the city’s human rights ordinance. There were more than 20 public commentators and the room’s 84-seat capacity caused the crowd to overflow into the hall of the Civic Center.

The amendment, which allows the Human Relations Commision the ability to investigate claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, passed with a 7-2 vote.

Michelle Mercer R-At-Large and Justin Elpers R-5th Ward opposed the amendment.

The previous ordinance made the investigation voluntary and could allow for members of the LGBT community to be denied housing, fired from jobs or be denied services at businesses with no investigation.

“I live in fear because of who I am,” Julian said, crying. “That’s not right.”

Julian said he dropped out of school because he was told he could not be male and therefore was denied an education because of his gender identity.

“Where is my right to be able to live happily,” he said. “Where is my pursuit of happiness in this country?”

Julian was followed by Teddi Rausch, a senior at USI and president of the USI Democrats. Rausch said she came to speak in favor of the ordinance as an ally to the LGBT community.

“I believe in equality for all,” she said.

Rausch said a singular person cannot speak for everyone.

“It’s important for college-aged voters to (comment on issues) because no one expects us to speak up,” she said.

Amie McKibban was among the crowd of overflowing public in the hallway outside the capacity-met room in which the discussions were held.

The associate professor of psychology, has been involved with LGBT activism and policy since 1998 and said it warms her heart to see USI students at the Civic Center – both in the crowd and providing comments to the council.

“Whenever students get involved in policy change or politics – no matter what side of the issue their voice is on – them having a voice is tremendously important,” she said.

Opposition from Mercer focused on the possibility the city could be sued like other cities in Indiana have been because of LGBT protections.

Mercer asked to table the issue and was seconded by Elpers, but all other members of the council voted to continue with the vote.

The majority of comment in opposition of the ordinance was based on religious rights.

Pastor Darrell Rice of The Connection Church said he thought the ordinance was unneeded.

“(My congregation and I) are against carving out any kind of special rights for any group whether it’s religious or sexual orientation,”  he said. “I believe once you start carving out special interest groups, where does it stop?”

Other types of opposition came from from Associate Professor of Engineering Glen Kissel, who said the Human Relations Commission should be investigated, and the owner of Fetter Properties Management, who said it would make his job harder when it came to housing applications.

Anna Hargis, R-3rd Ward, was hesitant about her vote in committee because she said she was trying to be “thoughtful and listen to everyone who had something to say.”

She said there will still be issues to work through just like there always is.

It was a difficult decision for her, she said, because no matter what her decisions are she wants people to know how much time and care is put into them.

“I believe passing this ordinance reinforces that we believe discrimination should not exist in Evansville,” Hargis said. “That it’s harmful not only to the person, (but) economically and to our community.”

Armon Siadat contributed to this story