The leaders of Martinsville, Indiana are discussing adding a Human Rights Ordinance for their town, according to local news. The town has been chafing recently over the long-standing perception of the town as being racist and intolerant towards minority groups (a reputation that was fairly well-deserved, considering its history) and calls for a Human Rights Ordinance have flooded into city leaders from town residents since the national debacle over Indiana’s RFRA law.
Sexual orientation seems to be the term discussed to be added to the town laws, but gender identity is absent from local news reports.
According to WTHR News: Human rights ordinance finds spot on Martinsville agenda
MARTINSVILLE, Ind. – The furor over religious freedom is moving from the Statehouse and Indianapolis to smaller communities across the state.
For decades, Martinsville has fought perceptions and accusations of racism and discrimination. Now, some in this community are fighting for a human rights ordinance that protects the rights of people regardless of their faith, their race, and their sexual orientation. Some in the Morgan County community are pushing hard for a civil rights ordinance inclusive of the LGBT community.
Martinsville Mayor Phil Deckard admits he was blindsided by all the emails and an online petition demanding the city immediately pass a human rights ordinance.
“I can safely say the city of Martinsville welcomes all of these groups in our city and does not discriminate against one or any of them,” he said.
The campaign is organized by a former resident still active in the community and has picked up the support of residents, local businesses, residents, as well as outsiders.
Does the city need a human rights ordinance?
“That’s debatable. I’m not sure of the answer on that,” answered Deckard.
The mayor points to resolution approved by the council a year ago to combat news reports of racism. The council promised to promote diversity and a nondiscriminatory attitude. It stopped far short of an ordinance insuring everyone’s right to fair service, employment and housing.
“It’s a lovely little town. It has great potential,” said city council candidate Joanne Stuttgen.
Stuttgen has been instrumental in giving downtown storefronts a makeover. A human rights ordinance, she believes, would do the same for the city’s image.
“I would hope it addresses and remediates the popular perception of Martinsville that is unwelcoming, a racist community…that sort of thing,” she explained.
Deckard says the ordinance is worth considering. But the city needs time to get it right and consider public opinion.
Several people we talked to had plenty to say about the human rights issue, but are afraid to say it publicly. Monday night, the mayor plans to appoint a committee to research and perhaps have a draft ordinance ready for public comment in as few as two weeks.