The city of Greenwood is taking the first steps toward creating rules that would protect people from being discriminated against due to their sexual orientation or gender identity at work and local businesses.
Officials are considering creating anti-discrimination rules, which would prohibit businesses in Greenwood from refusing service to someone or basing the decision of whether to hire or fire an employee on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Greenwood would join at least 16 other communities in the state with similar rules, including Zionsville and Kokomo.
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But first, officials want to study what those rules should include and the impact on local businesses, and meet with officials and business owners from other communities with anti-discrimination rules to find out how they impacted business and the local economy.
The local discussion was prompted by the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was approved during last year’s legislative session and allows businesses and individuals to use religious beliefs as a defense in a discrimination case.
Greenwood resident Matt Smith said he worries the act leaves an open door for discrimination against people shopping at local businesses, or applying for a job. Smith approached Mayor Mark Myers, who also was concerned about the impact of the state law.
Myers didn’t ask for the anti-discrimination ordinance immediately after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed because he wanted to wait and see what the state would do to protect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community from discrimination, he said.
“Personally, I don’t think the state offered enough protection and provisions for sexual orientation when it passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” Myers said. “I think about our city every day, the city seal — pride and progress. Unfortunately, the statehouse has failed us twice. It has now come upon the city to act upon this.”
Indianapolis and 15 other cities and towns in Indiana currently have a human rights ordinance that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people from discrimination, Smith said.
“RFRA really hurt the reputation of Indiana. It’s morally wrong that places are allowed to discriminate, or deny a basic public accommodation,” Smith said. “If Greenwood waits too long to do this, it won’t be ‘great, look at Greenwood doing the right thing,’ it will be ‘wow, what took Greenwood so long to do this.’”
This week, Myers told the city council he plans to research the impact of local rules, and let them know a proposed ordinance could be coming. Myers does not yet have a timetable for doing the research, or when an ordinance would be proposed, he said.
More than 30 people came to the city council meeting to hear discussion about possible anti-discrimination laws.
Bishop Joshua Beecham of the Evangelical Orthodox Church in Greenwood said approving the ordinance would be a mistake and would discourage members of the community who do not see it as progress.
“I want to thank the members of the LGBT (community) for being here and holding our city accountable. But they’ve been granted more special privileges than anyone else,” Beecham said. “There’s more at stake than being politically correct. Giving (LGBT people) what they’re asking for takes Greenwood further away from its values.”
Before anything is proposed or approved, Myers wants to learn more from the cities and towns that have approved their own rules, and work closely with Freedom Indiana, an organization that campaigns for laws to protect LGBT people from discrimination in Indiana.
The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce recently polled its members and found that 56 percent want more protection for LGBT people, 24 percent want more information, and 16 percent don’t believe the city needs the ordinance, Myers said.
Myers plans to put together a committee of city officials and residents to help research how other cities passed similar rules, what pushback they faced and specifically how the ordinances protect LGBT people from discrimination, Myers said.
In 2013, the city council approved an ordinance that added sexual orientation and gender identity to a list that included race and gender, protecting people from being discriminated against for those reasons when renting or buying a house or apartment. Under the rules, landlords, apartment complexes, real estate agents and homeowners renting their house can’t refuse someone because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
The city’s employee handbook also prohibits a city employee from being fired or not hired because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, Myers said. The city follows the same rules and guidelines in all of its contracts with vendors, contractors and construction companies, or anyone else hired by Greenwood.
Under the new rules the city is considering, the city would forbid anyone from discriminating against Greenwood residents and people visiting the city for any reason because of their race, gender, age, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Greenwood needs to show its residents and the nation that this is a welcoming and open community, Myers said.