Is a gay-rights vote coming to Lincoln?

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nearly two years after a gay rights ordinance was referred to the people, Lincoln residents may finally be getting closer to casting their votes on the issue.

The chairman of the Lincoln City Council acknowledged Wednesday that conversations are taking place about a possible vote on a gay rights ordinance, which was referred to a vote in 2012.

VIGIL: Hundreds of Nebraskans turned out for a vigil in the wake of a reported brutal gay hate crime in Lincoln in July 2012. The victim recently pleaded no contest to staging the crime.

That vote has never taken place, even though opponents got four times the number of signatures necessary to refer the ordinance to a vote. The ordinance would have extended civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“It’s a possibility but nothing is certainly set at this point,” Councilman Carl Eskridge said on KFOR on Wednesday. Radio talk show host Coby Mach said he was recently surveyed by phone about how he would vote if the issue were on the November ballot.

While some suspect city officials want to avoid holding the vote during a city election so it doesn’t become an issue for council candidates, Eskridge said the November general election would bring more people out.

“You want to have it on the ballot when more people will vote,” he said, noting the past two municipal elections “haven’t been terribly well attended.”

Eskridge, who proposed the gay rights ordinance, said a bill pending in the Legislature would provide similar protections. A bill introduced by Sen. Danielle Conrad, D-Lincoln, would ban discrimination in the workplace based on marital status or sexual orientation.

“I wouldn’t see the necessity of doing it if they did it,” Eskridge said of the Legislature.

He said three new City Council members have been elected since 2012, but he hasn’t talked to them about the ordinance.

“That needs to happen,” he said.

One of the concerns raised when the City Council held a public hearing on the ordinance was whether such a law would allow transgendered men to use women’s restrooms. Eskridge suggested the “public accommodation” portion of the ordinance could be taken out to address that concern.

The gay rights issue was complicated when, a few months after the ordinance passed, former University of Nebraska-Lincoln basketball standout Charlie Rogers was charged faking a hate crime by carving gay slurs into her body and claiming she was assaulted in her home by three masked men. The alleged crime made national news and prompted hundreds of Nebraskans to take part in vigils and donate to a victim’s fund.

The Lincoln Police Department announced its conclusion that it was a hoax the day after the deadline passed to put the gay rights ordinance on the ballot.

“The delay I think has probably been a good thing for this community,” Eskridge said.

Trish Owen, an aide to Mayor Chris Beutler, said no decision has been made on whether and when to hold a vote on the ordinance.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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