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Kentucky governor
signs order removing legal protections for gays

Kentucky governor
signs order removing legal protections for gays

Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher celebrated "Diversity Day" by signing an executive order Tuesday that removed language from the state's affirmative action plan specifically protecting gay people from discrimination.

Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher signed an executive order on Tuesday removing language from the state's affirmative action plan specifically protecting gay people from discrimination. Fletcher administration officials touted the change as a way of improving Kentucky's record when it comes to hiring blacks and women in high-ranking state jobs. But gay rights advocates warned that Fletcher--who signed the order at an event celebrating diversity--may have made gays more vulnerable to unfair treatment.

"This is such a callous act," Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, the state's only openly gay lawmaker, told reporters. "There was no need for it. He's singling out a minority of Kentuckians for foul treatment, and that is totally unacceptable."

Fletcher's order removed language from Kentucky's previous state government affirmative action plan that prohibited discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Former governor Paul Patton signed an executive order in May 2003 that protected state employees from discrimination based on a number of factors, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Administration officials on Tuesday spun the move as a way to further boost the number of blacks and women in state government. Brett Hall, Fletcher's spokesman, said that about 44% of Kentucky state employees are women and 7.5% are African-American. Last summer Fletcher set a new hiring goal to raise minority employment within state government from about 7% up to 10%.

Fletcher said in a statement that his order "equalizes the playing field" for people seeking state jobs. Managers and other personnel employees would have mandatory training on the state's new affirmative action code, Fletcher said in the statement. "My administration has set diversity as a priority," Fletcher added in the statement.

Hall said the change did not mean state government would allow discrimination against gays or lesbians. Rather, Fletcher's move guarantees "greater representation for woman and minorities," Hall said. "At no time has any gay or lesbian employee--and will no gay and lesbian employee of this state--be discriminated against."

Nevertheless, the move should be viewed as a step backward for gay people, said Christina Gilgor, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance. It was also a political move intended to boost the governor's popularity among his political base, Gilgor said. "Governor Fletcher's unbridled spirit has just hit reverse," she said. "Reversing protections that are in place is going backward."

Beth Wilson, executive director of the ACLU of Kentucky, said the general assembly needs to intervene and pass legislation to protect gays and transsexuals. "I'm stunned that the governor would be taking us back in time, and this certainly points to the need for broader protection at both the state and federal level," Wilson said.

But Hall said the state's previous affirmative action plan left the state open to potential lawsuits. It also could force state government to provide separate restrooms and other facilities for transsexuals, Hall said. "This is in no way to discriminate against anyone or deny anyone or make them vulnerable to discrimination," Hall said. "It's merely to relieve us from certain burdens that we otherwise shouldn't be incurring."

There have not been any lawsuits or formal complaints filed against the state, Hall said. However, the issue arose last year with an environmental and public protection cabinet employee, Hall said. Mark York, a spokesman for the cabinet, said the issue was over which bathroom the employee would use and how that would affect other employees. Cabinet officials located a nearby unisex restroom for the employee to use, York said.

Scorsone, a Lexington Democrat, said Fletcher had "reached a new low" with the plan. State employees should be judged on their job performance, not their sexual orientation, Scorsone said. "If the governor had a shred of decency left, it's gone now," Scorsone said. "Governor Fletcher has declared open season on gay state employees." (AP)

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