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Council will consider adding sexual orientation, gender identity to anti-discrimination ordinance
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Council will consider adding sexual orientation, gender identity to anti-discrimination ordinance

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The Lincoln City Council will consider a proposal next month to expand legal protection to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

Councilman Carl Eskridge plans to propose a fairness ordinance, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes.

Now, the city uses the same classes found in federal law, offering protection in public accommodation, housing and employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin, familial status, ancestry, age or marital status.

"This is an issue of fundamental fairness in terms of how we treat a segment of our population in Lincoln," he said.

Nearly 200 cities nationwide provide the protection to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered, including all of the cities with Big Ten Conference schools, Eskridge said.

The ordinance is similar to one the Omaha City Council recently passed. Supporters plan to discuss the proposal at a 1:30 p.m. news conference Thursday at Indigo Bridge Books, 701 P St.

Eskridge said he doesn't expect to see the kind of controversy that occurred in Omaha, where about 100 people testified at the public hearing, including filmmaker Alexander Payne and assistant Nebraska football coach Ron Brown.

"We are a closer knit community, kinder and more understanding," Eskridge said. "We like to do things differently."

People in Lincoln who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered face significant barriers, said Tyler Richard, a member of the Outlink community center.

"Some people are not judged fairly in the workplace," he said.

Outlink members took their concerns to Eskridge after he was elected to the council in May 2011.

Morgan Watters, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student working in support of the ordinance, lost a job in Omaha when the owner found out the student attended an event supporting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

"There was no recourse, no protections," Watters said. "While that didn't happen in Lincoln, I know it can."

Eskridge said he has the support of Mayor Chris Beutler and has enough support from the seven-member City Council to get the measure adopted.

It will appear on the council's agenda April 30, with a public hearing May 7. The council likely would vote on it May 14, Eskridge said.

About 73 percent of Nebraskans believe discrimination against people based on sexual orientation is wrong, according to a 2011 poll, Richard said.

Richard pointed out that Lincoln was the first Nebraska city to have a human rights organization.

"We wanted to keep Lincoln's tradition of standing up for fairness, he said.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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Concerned a media frenzy would draw attention from the issue, Nebraska running backs coach Ron Brown said Saturday that he won't testify against a Lincoln proposal that would add gender identity and sexual orientation to the city's list of protected classes.

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