By Chris Kenning -
More than 83 percent of Kentuckians believe that gay and transgender people should be protected from discrimination in the workplace, in housing and public accommodations such as restaurants, according to a new statewide survey released Monday.
The survey of 600 registered voters was commissioned by the Fairness Coalition, an organization of five groups including the ACLU, The Fairness Campaign and the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. The protection from discrimination finding marked an increase from 2004, when 65 percent said they supported such protections.
Coalition leaders said they hoped the results would prod state lawmakers to approve — or at least debate — two General Assembly bills that would add legal protections for gay and transgender people by amending the state’s civil rights laws.
“The overwhelming majority of Kentuckians support fairness,” said Chris Hartman, director of Louisville’s Fairness Campaign. “State fairness (bills) in the Kentucky House and Senate have gone nowhere (in recent years), but this year might very well be different.”
The results come as the coalition launches a campaign to highlight the findings in advance of a Feb. 23 rally at the State Capitol in Frankfort. The growing social acceptance, coupled with the high-profile repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, could provide momentum lacking in years past, coalition leaders say.
“We have seen a changing tide in recent years,” said Michael Aldridge, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky. “We’re looking forward … and we hope our legislators look forward, too.”
Louisville, Lexington and Covington have enacted local fairness ordinances. Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, and Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, have introduced Senate Bill 98 and House Bill 106 to add those protections statewide.
But Marzian said the same legislation has been introduced for years and has never received a hearing. And she said she isn’t certain if this year will be different.
“I think the legislators think it’s controversial, but the survey results are clear that it’s not,” she said.
Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky, contends that special protections aren’t needed in part because “we don’t see any epidemic of discrimination against gays,” and predicted it’s unlikely the issue will get a hearing this year.
“For many politicians, this is just a no-win situation. They’re going to make people mad no matter which way they go,” Cothran said.
But coalition leaders said their survey shows those attitudes are changing.
Conducted by the Atlanta-based Schapiro Group, the survey consisted of 600 telephone interviews in November and December using a random sample of registered voters that represent the state’s population geographically and demographically. The survey had a plus or minus 4 percentage-point margin of error.
It found that 86 percent agreed that gays, lesbians and transgendered people should be able to apply for a job without being discriminated against based on sexual orientation. Ninety percent said gay couples should be able to visit their partner in the hospital.
Eighty-three percent of Kentuckians believe that gay and transgender people should be protected from discrimination in jobs and housing. And 87 percent said gays should be protected from school bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
While only 70 percent of those surveyed said gay and lesbian couples deserved the same legal protections as other people, the percentage was higher than in 2004 when 63 percent supported it, Hartman said.
George Stinson, chairman of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, said the group issued a resolution calling for added protections for gay and transgender people. But Hartman said he’s not certain when lawmakers will tackle the issue, adding, “Change comes slowly.”