Kokomo mayor signs LGBT protections ordinance, 5-4

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Kokomo has become the latest Indiana community to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Council members voted 5-4 in favor of an ordinance protecting members of the LGBT community after what has been a contentious debate. Mayor Greg Goodnight signed the ordinance early Tuesday.

The overflow crowd tested the capacity of Kokomo's council chambers. By fire code, only 157 could fit inside. Police estimated 300 to 400 more people had to stand outside and await the final vote on the human rights ordinance.

The measure protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens from discrimination. It also bans discrimination based on marital status, age or veteran status.

"It's not something we want. It's something we need because it's only right," one supporter told council members.

"All we are trying to do is live our lives," another supporter said.

The proposal in Kokomo didn't come without controversy.

"I also have rights. We in the church have rights," Pastor Steve Branstutter told council members.

People on both sides of the debate spoke out for over an hour Monday evening.

Council members shared that over the past two weeks, divisiveness even turned dangerous.

"One of our members was basically told 'you better vote no or else' and I won't go into what the 'or else' was. But he has filed a police report on that," said Council President Robert Hayes.

Hayes also shared with the crowd that the tone of the debate, by some, was not civil.

"There were things we received in emails that no elected official should have received. When I get emails invoking my dead mother, saying she'd be weeping at my vote, well, you don't know my mother. She'd say 'atta boy. Go get 'em and speak your mind," Hayes said. "I certainly hope we haven't come to the point where we cannot agree to disagree in a civil manner without intimidation and in some cases outright bigotry."

Despite the threats, the council vote voted 5-4 to ban discrimination against the LGBT community.

"I'm just elated this passed. I have gay friends. I have transgender friends and to know that they can go get jobs without having to worry that they could get fired for being gay or transgender. I think it's great news," said Christan Smith, Kokomo.

"We weren't asking for anything special," said resident Darrell Blasius. "We just want the same thing everyone else has as far as protection on our job, our housing and our opportunities."

Not everyone was happy with this vote.

"The LGBT wants to talk about discrimination but the discrimination has turned to the other side," Branstutter said. "I want them to have rights. I believe in treating them well. But our rights as Christians are being taken from us."

But supporters say Kokomo has now sent a message that it's an inclusive community, not shutting anyone out.

They say it sends a message to state lawmakers, too.

"They should have acted. We didn't need to have do this, had they took on the mantle and did something," Hayes said. "Kokomo is stepping out ahead  of that initiative."

Earlier story:

The City of Kokomo has become the latest Indiana city to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Kokomo Common Council voted 5-4 Monday night to extend protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. The proposal also bars discrimination based on a person's marital status, age or veteran status.

Councilman Steve Whikehart told The Kokomo Tribune the goal was to "encompass as many of our citizens as humanely possibly."

Several Indiana cities, including Columbus and Terre Haute, have adopted similar protections since last spring's uproar over Indiana's religious objections law.

Those local ordinances would have been barred by a Republican-sponsored bill that would have extended anti-discrimination protections only to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. But lawmakers pulled that bill from consideration last month.