Over 500 people gathered in the auditorium of Goshen High School last Tuesday for a city council meeting about the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected civil right. After the six-hour meeting, filled with nearly 150 people speaking to the council, the city council voted 4-3 against the petition.
Race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin and ancestry are already protected civil rights in Goshen.
According to the petition, there is currently no federal, state, or local law making it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in cases of employment and housing.
The petition was first presented on Aug. 18 during a city council meeting. A two-hour public comment period resulted with 200 people in attendance. The city council voted 4-3 in favor of the amendment.
Jeremy Stutsman, Chic Lantz, Julia Gaustsch and Everett Thomas voted in favor. Tom Stump, Daryl Reigsecker and Dixie Robinson voted against.
The amendment needed to pass the second reading at the meeting last Tuesday at 7 p.m. in order for it to be implemented.
Councilman Stutzman opened the discussion time by proclaiming the issue not as one of religious beliefs, but as a question of discrimination. “We will not discriminate against humans,” he said.
The topic was then opened for public discussion, giving first priority to those living in the city of Goshen. Although a three-minute time limit per person was implemented, the meeting lasted until almost 1:30 a.m.
Goshen social work students were encouraged to attend the meeting since the topic of sexuality was one that was discussed during the spring semester of last year.
Jeanne Leichty, associate professor of social work, said, “It’s very different to read about it and watch YouTube videos than it is to sit in a city council meeting with real people to witness how change in policy happens or doesn’t happen.”
Leichty described the experience as a useful tool for students to experience how social systems shape people’s lives.
Matters of Christian morals, business lawsuits, and civil rights were the main areas of concern for the people who spoke.
“By its very nature, homosexual actions are intrinsically evil,” said Goshen resident Robert Roeder. “This is not to say that all homosexuals are evil. We all suffer temptation.”
A Goshen resident who immigrated to America from India said to not pass the amendment would be “contrary to the principles of freedom and equality that America is known for. It should be common sense.”
Leichty said, “The common theme on both sides of the issue was fear.” This could be the Christian’s fear of loss of religious rights, the business person’s fear of lawsuits, or the petitioner’s fear of discrimination, explained Leichty. “Underneath the fear was a type of ignorance and a sense of not knowing what to do,” she said.
Although her opinions were controversial, the meeting helped her “gain a better understanding of what everyone is afraid of.” It is in naming that fear that everyone can begin to move on, she said.
In the end, Councilman Lantz changed from his previous stance and voted against the amendment, citing potential lawsuits as a contributing factor to his change.
“As painful as it was, I fully respect the Mayor and city council people for the structure of the meeting,” said Leichty. “What impressed me the most was how clearly important it was to people to be heard and the value that is held in providing a public forum.”