A small town in eastern Kentucky is making some big news. Vicco, Kentucky adopted a fairness ordinance, meaning one that prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based upon a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Why is this a big deal? Vicco is now the FIRST town in Kentucky’s Appalachians to pass Fairness protections. Vicco is the FIRST Kentucky city in 10 years to approve an LGBT Fairness law. Vicco is also the FIRST rural Kentucky community to pass LGBT Fairness protections.
With a population of 334 residents, Vicco may very well be the smallest American municipality to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Vicco is situated in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields at the southern tip of Perry County in the Appalachian mountain region. Vicco joins three other cities (Louisville, Lexington and Covington) in the Commonwealth of Kentucky with LGBT Fairness protections in place.
City officials say the decision to ban discrimination was a simple one. “Vicco is a community that believes all folks should be treated fairly,” said Vicco City Attorney Eric Ashley. “We believe everyone deserves the opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Fairness is a Kentucky value, a Vicco value, and one of our most American values.” Local media took to the streets of Perry County to get opinion on the ordinance’s passage and the responses were simple and powerful. “Everyone should have rights,” one man said. Another said, “We are all humans and we have to live together. We need to treat each other equally.” A woman interviewed shared her feelings that everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should have the same opportunities as everyone else.
Vicco’s passage of the Fairness law was supported by work of the Kentucky Fairness Coalition. The coalition consists of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, Fairness Campaign, Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, Kentucky Fairness Alliance, and Lexington Fairness. The group seeks to bring together the various organizations working for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Kentucky.
ACLU of Kentucky Executive Director Michael Aldridge has been key in the group’s rural organizing efforts that incorporate people of faith in the work. One message that has been resonating well: Fairness is good for business. One hundred percent of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Kentucky have inclusive non-discrimination policies, as well as the top 25 manufacturers/ and support service firms.These policies keep businesses competitive by ensuring that they hire and retain only the most hardworking, talented individuals, based on skill and experience instead of factors that are irrelevant to their ability to do the job. Just as corporate non-discrimination policies keep these businesses competitive, a local Fairness ordinance would help keep municipalities’ industry competitive.
Vicco’s passage of a Fairness law comes on the heels of several other Kentucky communities’ movements towards anti-discrimination protections. In November 2012, grassroots movements for Fairness began in Bowling Green, Elizabethtown, and Shelbyville, joining those already under way in Berea and Richmond. In the hours since the news broke about Vicco, The ACLU of Kentucky has received inquiries from residents and social justice leaders in more than ten different communities who want to know how they can “be like Vicco.”
This is not surprising since, according to a 2010 survey by The Schapiro Group, 83 percent of Kentuckians support anti-discrimination Fairness protections. In spite of this support, a statewide Fairness law, which has been proposed in the Kentucky General Assembly for more than ten years, has yet to even go before a committee. Lexington Senator Kathy Stein has introduced Statewide Fairness Senate Bill 28 in the 2013 legislative session. Louisville Representative Mary Lou Marzian will introduce an identical bill in the House along with an anti-bullying/harassment law for Kentucky schools.
The movement is building, and it looks like Vicco might be the tipping point!