Here's Why the Lincoln City Council Didn't Pass the 'Fairness Ordinance'

June 16, 2022, 6 a.m. ·

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Lincoln City Council. Front row, left to right: Bennie Shobe, Tammy Ward, Tom Beckius. Back row, left to right: James Michael Bowers, Sändra Washington, Jane Raybould, and Richard Meginnis. (Photo courtesy of the City of Lincoln)

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The Lincoln City Council narrowly voted Monday to withdraw a city ordinance that would provide protections for people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The vote highlighted differing thoughts on if Lincoln voters would support the measure. Nebraska Public Media's Jackie Ourada spoke with council member Sändra Washington on the now-rescinded ordinance, as well as Nebraska Family Alliance's Executive Director Karen Bowling.

Jackie Ourada, Nebraska Public Media News: "This has been tried multiple times now with no luck. From where you're sitting, what's the biggest barrier holding these protections back?"

Sändra Washington, Lincoln City Councilmember: "Fear. I think fear is the barrier. Whether the fear is from the religiously conservative, who fear that extending civil rights to this group of people — to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer folks — is somehow going to tank our society. So, there's that fear. There's the fear of not understanding or knowing or being familiar with transgendered people, so that they could pass around the mistruths and the lies that transgendered women attack women and girls in bathrooms. That is a lie outright."

Ourada: "There's been division on this for sure, between conservative and liberal groups here, but also division just within the broad group that supports this. Again, from your seat, what ultimately held this back?

Washington: "Not only is it the fear mongering from the right, it is fear from some portions of the left, who think that the kinds of lies that were passed around are so hard to hear, so hard to exist around, that it would be better to wait until we can nullify, erase those hateful things. And I guess I asked that with a little bit of a question. Because I'm not in the minds of the folks who voted to rescind. They were able to speak what they believed on Monday. And I'd urge people to listen carefully to what my colleagues said. I think that Lincolnites are more progressive than what it looked like on Monday night when we took our vote. I think that Lincolnites are more compassionate, more caring than what that final vote looked like Monday night."

Ourada: "What's going to ultimately make the next attempt work, in your opinion?"

Washington: "It's gonna take a dedicated effort by a really broad tent of people. It's not just that we need to have some sense of shared commitment within the LGBT community. We absolutely must have the business community step up and and take some portion of this leadership. We need to have allies all across the board, stand up and take some part of this leadership. I believe that we have a majority of people in Lincoln who are ready to vote for Title 11. I will never say that leading up to this moment, everything has been perfection. Perfection is not possible. I don't want the 'perfect' to get in the way of the 'good and the possible'.

A group that's led the full court press against this ordinance is the Nebraska Family Alliance. They lead a successful petition effort to force this ordinance to Lincoln voters for final approval. The group's Executive Director Karen Bowling said the ordinance didn't provide enough protections to churches and faith based organizations.

Ourada: "When I was talking with Sändra earlier today, she said the language coming from the [Nebraska] Family Alliance on this could be comparable to the conversation surrounding desegregation of schools, when there was this fear by many white people that black men would harm women, harm young girls, and this same sort of rhetoric is here. Do you think that's harmful?

Karen Bowling, Nebraska Family Alliance: "You know, I appreciate Sändra Washington's, the council woman's, perspective on that. I will add to this conversation. My family is biracial. So, I know that experience. My sons are 43 and 40. I married an African American in 1973 when interracial marriage just became legal. Those are real, those are real. But I also will say here, there is this assumption that everybody that signed the petition was Republican and white and we are missing an opportunity for conversation. I actually had transgender people that came into the office and asked to sign, and I had wonderful conversations with them. 'Are you aware of what you're signing?' And it was, 'Yes.' It was the coerciveness of the way this ordinance was written that was concerning to me. And I, of course, care about how we treat people of different gender identities and how we treat people with different skin colors. That's not what this ordinance did. How this is written is more of a sword against people of faith than a shield toward gender identity or nonconforming gender identities. The conversation needs to continue so we can get this base that we can agree upon.

Ourada: "Some supporters of the ordinance say the Nebraska Family Alliance's stance on this is homophobic and the language used is hurtful. What's your reaction to that?"

Bowling: "I think, once again, we live in a culture that are full of sound bites. Nobody that is making those comments have ever come to visit us or have a conversation. Within my own family dynamics, I have gay family members that I love. They're welcome to my home. They're in my home. It's disinformation. It is disinformation. The conversations need to be, 'Tell me about yourself. How did you reach your conclusion? Why are you concerned about this?' It's amazing what we can accomplish when we have an open dialogue where we're not pointing fingers. Yeah, I know they're even selling t-shirts now that NFA is a hate group. And we've had bomb threats — all of that. I believe in my heart that's not what the city council wanted. They're not wanting that hurled at us, just as we're not wanting anything hurled at others, but the leaders — the community leaders, the stakeholders — need to sit down to the table of conversation to understand one another."