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."
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
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."
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
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.
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