RACINE — Racine leaders want to enhance the city’s nondiscrimination rules to better protect members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer communities.
It’s one of several initiatives city officials and Mayor Cory Mason are doing to support members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national civil rights organization that advocates for the LGBTQ+ community, annually assesses how inclusive cities across the nation are of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations. In 2017, Racine received one of the lowest scores of the seven Wisconsin cities rated in the report.
The city tied with Oshkosh in receiving 29 out of a possible 100 points. Cities across the state averaged 59 points, with the highest score in Madison at 100 points.
Last year, city officials and leaders in the local LGBTQ+ community said they didn’t feel the report accurately depicted Racine and its efforts. This month, Mason and 15th District Alderman Melissa Lemke announced plans to update city rules to better prevent discrimination.
Mason proclaimed Sunday, June 24, as “Gay Rights Day” in the city, according to a press release, which also laid out a plan for making the city more inclusive.
“We wanted to do something substantive,” Mason said.
One step involves updating the city’s ordinances to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in areas such as private employment, city employment, city contractors, housing and public accommodations. The ordinance now prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Other steps include plans to expand the membership of the Affirmative Action and Human Rights Commission to include a member of the LGTBQ+ community and to continue providing training to personnel about being an inclusive workplace.
Lemke said the idea driving the proposed changes is fairness.
“We want everybody to be treated fairly,” she said. “LGBT people don’t want anything different than anyone else. They just wanted to be treated fairly, just like every other citizen, regardless of who they are, in Racine.”
The plan drew praise from leaders of the LGBT Center of Southeast Wisconsin. Dale Estes, the programs manager at the center, said the plans are “wonderful steps” for the city to take.
“When it’s an ordinance, it’s there on paper, as opposed to just doing it,” he said. “Maybe people don’t follow through unless it’s in black and white.”
Barb Farrar, the executive director of the center, said she has found that youth in the community have been surprised to learn that the protection is not currently written into the city’s rules.
“I think it’s tremendous that the mayor’s taking action to put this to print and making sure that there are repercussions should those rights be violated,” she said.
The City Council on Tuesday forwarded a communication to the Finance and Personnel Committee requesting to update the city’s ordinances “to provide for greater protection against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.”
The committee is scheduled to take up the request at its 5 p.m. meeting on Monday.
“Racine Pride Day” is scheduled to take place on the steps of Racine’s City Hall on Sunday. The event is scheduled for between noon and 1 p.m., with speakers including Mason, a representative of the center, Deon Young from the Human Rights Campaign and Pastor Kaye Glennon from Sacred Journeys Spiritual Community, according to a press release.
Estes said the event will address struggles the community has faced and history of the pride celebration.
June marks Pride Month across the country and commemorates the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots. The demonstrations were sparked by a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York and are seen as a key event in shaping the movement for LGBTQ+ equality in the United States, according to the Human Rights Campaign.