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Newport Poised to Be Kentucky's 20th City with Ordinance Protecting LGBT People

Update: Following the publication of an earlier version of this article, the Newport city commission voted to approve its ordinance by a vote of 4-0, with Mayor Jerry Peluso abstaining. The Fairness Campaign sent a news release also celebrating the vote. The original article is below.

The Newport city commission is expected to adopt its version of what is commonly referred to as a fairness ordinance on Tuesday at a special meeting at the city building scheduled for 5 p.m.

Such legislation would extend legal protections to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the way of housing, employment, and accommodations.

Newport would be the sixth Campbell County city to adopt such a measure in the past six months, and the seventh in Northern Kentucky overall. Covington adopted its ordinance in 2003.

While other local cities that have recently adopted a fairness ordinance (including Dayton, Bellevue, Fort Thomas, Highland Heights, and Cold Spring) have worked in some capacity with the Louisville-based Fairness Campaign, which advocates for LGBTQ equality statewide, Newport leadership opted to work with the Kentucky League of Cities, City Manager Tom Fromme said. 

The city commission heard a first reading of the legislation at a special meeting on Monday ahead of the second special meeting on Tuesday. There was no confirmation on which way the commission would vote, though four offered their approval of the first reading. Mayor Jerry Peluso, however, opted to abstain, arguing that the city should have pursued such a measure in the form of a resolution rather than an ordinance. 

"Everyone up here, we don't love one part of the city more so than another part, we don't love one neighborhood more than another neighborhood, nor do we love one street more than another street," the mayor said. "Nor do we care about one person more so than anybody else. We care about everyone in our community."

"I support the purpose of this ordinance and wholeheartedly expect the City of Newport to treat everyone with respect," Mayor Peluso said.

But he argued that the three main areas covered by the legislation as presented were already covered by state and federal law, or through the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.

"The appropriate measure would have been through a resolution," Peluso said.

Fairness Campaign Executive Director Chris Hartman was surprised to learn of Newport's pending vote when he was notified by The River City News on Tuesday. His organization is often present at such votes and distributes relevant news releases across the state when cities adopt their ordinances. The Fairness Campaign produced celebratory press materials following the votes in all five of the other Campbell County cities that have adopted such legislation recently. 

Newport's legislation amends chapter 102 of Title IX of the city's code of ordinances.

"It's in the right place. Amending Title 9 is where a lot of those discriminatory practices are," Hartman said, upon reviewing the first part of the ordinance. He said he was in the process of requesting a full copy of the legislation from the City of Newport so that Newport could be added to the list of fairness cities statewide.

But, he never heard from Newport officials ahead of Monday's first reading of the legislation.

"Every city is unique and there is no roadmap for exactly how to do this," Hartman said. "Traditionally, either a city commissioner or a mayor or a constituent from the community will reach out and ask us to start the process, and many of the Northern Kentucky towns specifically over the past years - the commission has invited me to address the community and draft the fairness ordinance, and then go back and forth a bit as they prepare to pass it.

"It doesn't work that way in every city."

Fromme said that his office and the office of the city solicitor did "a significant amount of due diligence and research on this."

"We didn't simply want to take a carbon copy, which may or may not be suitable for our form of government in the City of Newport, and we discussed many, many, many days on this as to what the best mechanism would be," Fromme said. "What it basically does is, it takes the civil rights and adds another category to it, which has to do with sexual identity, and I think it's very clean."

Cities in Northern Kentucky have different mechanisms that can be in effect when a violation is noted. In Covington, there is a human rights commission made up of members appointed by the mayor who hear of official complaints and then make recommendations for action.

Other cities designate a city administrator as the point person on complaints.

In Newport, Fromme said that his office would not be the appropriate one for handling complaints against employers, or housing complaints, he said. There are already established guidelines for those types of violations, he said. The addition of gender identity and sexual orientation to the code would not change those designations, he said. 

"There is some confusion statewide on these. What is preempted by federal law is still preempted by federal law," Fromme said. "I think it's simple to administer and we think it's pretty well written."

Newport business owner Terry Bond addressed the commission on the issue Monday, using some of the same words he used seventeen years ago, when he spoke in favor of the legislation in Covington, where he lives with husband Carl Fox, with whom he operates the Crazy Fox Saloon in Newport.

"Ideally, of course, any human rights or fairness ordinance would be unnecessary or redundant," Bond said. "I think Newport is a wonderful city with amazing people and a wonderful place to do business for the last twenty years."

Bond recounted how his business was targeted by what he called a Neo-Nazi death threat in 2003. "The police did a great job, they took it seriously and the FBI got involved," Bond said.

The story ended up in local news, and he said one of the bartenders at Crazy Fox called him and urged him to come in. Concerned something was wrong, Bond went to the bar and found it full of residents supporting the business. "They wanted us to know they appreciated us being there, and that they had our back. They ended up putting together pledges for a reward, and eight months later, the perpetrator got caught," he said. "Ever since then, we knew this was the place we want to be.

"I think the is something that's time has come and it reflects the values of this community."

If adopted Tuesday, Newport would become the twentieth local government to adopt a fairness ordinance.

"At the end of the day, we just want more fairness ordinances in the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Hartman said.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Terry Bond addresses the Newport city commission (RCN)