LINCOLN — A Lincoln city councilman plans to introduce a measure to provide protection for gay and transgender residents against workplace discrimination, similar to one recently passed by the Omaha City Council.
Councilman Carl Eskridge said he will introduce the proposal April 30 and expects a council vote on it May 14.
He said he has the backing of a majority of the council.
“I know that there's not unanimous support, but in talking to all of the council members about the issue, those conversations have been very civil and respectful in light of doing what's the best thing for the community of Lincoln,” Eskridge said.
The proposal would amend the current anti-bias law — which guards individuals from discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion and disabilities — by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to that list of protected classes.
Gay and lesbian city employees in Lincoln are already shielded from discrimination under a mayoral order.
Religious leaders, business owners, advocates, and gay and lesbian residents crowded into a small downtown bookstore Thursday for a press conference to show support for Eskridge's measure.
“Nobody should have to live in fear that they could be fired for reasons other than their job performance,” said Beatty Brasch, executive director of the Center for People in Need.
Brasch said Lincoln has to compete for talent with other cities that have strong anti-bias laws. More than 160 cities have adopted protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers.
“It's only fair to be able to earn a living like all other productive workers,” said Tyler Richard, president of Outlinc, Lincoln's LGBT community center.
Eskridge said in an interview that he “followed the Omaha debate from afar” and expects the Lincoln ordinance to have a less contentious path to passage.
Omaha's anti-bias measure passed by a slim margin in March after weeks of debate. More than 100 people spoke at a public hearing on the issue, using arguments about equality, business rights and religion in favor of and in opposition to the proposal.
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha introduced a bill in the legislative session just ended that would have blocked individual cities from enacting anti-discrimination laws, but it didn't make it out of committee.
“I feel confident in the citizens and leadership of Lincoln,” Eskridge said. “The great thing about our process and city government is that they're fast.”
He noted that one council member wanted to conduct a study first, “but I don't think we need to do that.”
“With the last census we passed the 250,000 population level,” he said. “We've grown up, and we need to act like a real city.”
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