Three Omaha City Council members who opposed an earlier effort to grant legal protections to gay and transgender residents have proposed a resolution in support of inclusive workplaces.
The resolution says the council believes no one should be targeted for "scorn, hatred or violence for any reason." The council also pledges in the resolution to work with business and community leaders to promote workplaces that "promote respect and eliminate any workplace discrimination."
Jean Stothert, Garry Gernandt and Thomas Mulligan sponsored the latest proposal, which is set for a vote at Tuesday's council meeting.
Its introduction comes amid a growing behind-the-scenes battle among business, political and religious organizations over Councilman Ben Gray's plans to formally propose new protections against discrimination for gay, lesbian and transgender residents.
The council last took up the matter in 2010, when Gray last offered a proposal.
His latest proposal is expected to appear on the council's agenda in two weeks.
Stothert said she sees the resolution as a viable alternative to changing the city ordinance. She said she believes the resolution would more accurately address the root of the problem.
"Passing a new law doesn't guarantee anything," she said. "We cannot legislate people's behaviors."
Gray said the resolution does not change his plans to introduce his anti-discrimination proposal. He said he plans to vote against Stothert's resolution because it lacks teeth.
"If you have people who are hellbent on discriminating, what's a 'voluntary approach' going to solve?" Gray said. "If we feel strongly about scorn, hatred and violence, then we ought to say so strongly by passing an ordinance that prohibits that kind of behavior in the workplace."
Stothert said she wants to move toward a "peaceful solution" to the matter.
"If we truly want Omaha to be an inclusive and welcoming community, we need to take a position that all citizens deserve respect and freedom from discrimination and not just those groups in the protected classes," she said.
Under Gray's proposal, the city's existing anti-discrimination ordinance would be amended to prohibit discrimination based on "sexual orientation" or "gender identity."
Gray's amendments would allow gay and transgender residents who believed they were fired because of their orientation, suffered other workplace discrimination or were refused service at a restaurant, hotel or other place that serves the public to file a complaint with Omaha's Human Rights and Relations Department.
One major change: Draft language in the proposal would exclude all religious organizations — not just Catholic groups — from adhering to provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The draft also includes a definition of gender identity, although Gray said that language could be changed before the end of the month.
A repeat of the 2010 vote seems unlikely. Council member Franklin Thompson abstained from voting then, leading the proposal to fail on a 3-3 tie.
Thompson promises to vote on the proposal this time, though he has declined to say whether he would support or oppose the proposal.
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