LINCOLN — A group of Omaha musicians, including Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, is calling on state lawmakers to pull the plug on a proposal that would ban Omaha and other communities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances.
In a letter Tuesday, Oberst and 16 other musicians called it “deplorable and unacceptable” to attempt to block Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray from winning passage of an ordinance to ban discrimination against homosexual and transgender people. Gray has said he would propose such an ordinance this month or next.
State Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha has introduced a proposal, Legislative Bill 912, that would bar cities from passing such ordinances. He said creating a new, protected class of citizens should be done on a statewide basis, not city by city.
“It simply says there needs to be consistency,” McCoy said Tuesday, referring to his bill. “I don't understand how discrimination could stop or start at a city border.”
The senator argued it would be improper to allow a “patchwork quilt” of anti-discrimination ordinances to emerge. His measure would not prevent legislation from being introduced to provide statewide anti-discrimination protections.
Musician Laura Burhenn, who rallied the letter's 17 signers, said she's convinced the bill is really intended to stop a movement in Omaha.
“Don't keep selling Omaha as another fly-over Midwestern city,” said the singer-songwriter who fronts the Mynabirds. “We have a lot of progressive people here who are welcoming.”
Burhenn, who formerly lived in Washington, D.C., said she moved to Omaha three years ago because she loved the people she met through working with Saddle Creek Records. She has since made many more friends, including some who feel afraid to be open about who they are in their workplaces.
The letter was sent to senators on the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. Others signers include members of The Faint, Big Harp, So So Sailors and Honeybee & Hers.
The musicians fear if lawmakers pass the bill, it will deter creative people from exploring opportunities in Omaha and could persuade some gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to leave the community.
“Progressive cities attract eager newcomers, both young professionals and artists, which in turn creates growth and economic prosperity,” the letter stated. “LB 912 will send the message to the world that Nebraska is not forward thinking or welcoming.”
A public hearing on LB 912 before the Judiciary Committee at the State Capitol has not yet been scheduled.
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