Bluegrass bigotry: The case of Gov. Ernie Fletcher (and friends)
By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

May 1, 2006, 01:17

On Diversity Day 2006, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher revoked gays� and lesbians� guarantee of �equal treatment� in the workplace.

Jimmy LaSalvia, president of the Log Cabin Republican Chapter of Kentucky, made pertinent comments -- and exposed some related deceptions -- in an April 13 OpEd in Louisville�s Courier-Journal:

The latest antigay attack came this week when Ernie Fletcher, one of the nation�s most unpopular governors, reversed previous state policy by removing employment protections for state employees, the effect of which is to permit discrimination based on sexual orientation. I�m not sure how he kept a straight face when he declared it Diversity Day and then made it easier to discriminate against gay and lesbian people. He actually had the nerve to say, �It is our diversity that gives us strength.� When you misuse words, they lose their meaning.

The governor justified his decision by saying his administration is merely following federal standards, which he says don�t officially recognize gay and lesbian workers as a �protected class.� The governor is wrong. In fact, his assertion flies in the face of 30 years of precedent and is inconsistent with a federal government executive order supported by President Bush. �Long-standing federal policy prohibits discrimination against federal employees based on sexual orientation,� the White House said in a statement last year. �President Bush expects federal agencies to enforce this policy and to ensure that all federal employees are protected from unfair discrimination at work.� [italics added]

Mr. Bush -- �The Decider� appropriately praised in �The 23rd Qualm� -- may say he expects federal agencies to comply with non-discrimination policies, but the man he appointed to head the Office of Special Counsel charged with enforcing that compliance -- Scott J. Bloch -- has been doing just the opposite. But then again, what can one expect from a �president� who wasn�t elected by �we the people� the first time and secured a second term -- only with the help of the radical Christian Right energized by Machiavellian mastermind Karl Rove -- by promoting fear, hate and bigotry, and whose administration has failed miserably at everything it�s attempted.

Given that study after study has documented that equality in the workplace is good for business (and the business of government), one can only assume that Governor Fletcher�s revoking of that equality was based on his personal religious beliefs and/or was a faith-based political ploy.

The editor-in-chief of Business Lexington, the most prominent and prestigious business journal in central Kentucky, acknowledged both possibilities and spoke out against Fletcher�s decision in an April 21 editorial, �Why social tolerance makes good economic sense.� Tom Martin also noted other, more subtle but no less insidious implication of the governor�s action. His arguments and insights should be required reading for all businesses -- including the business of government -- that discriminate against gays and lesbians:

What sort of message are we sending . . . when the governor of our state sets up the men and women of an entire segment of our population as targets of employment discrimination? . . .

Governor Fletcher may or may not be pandering to the most extreme social and religious conservatives among his voter-base. That�s a political matter. Our concern is for the well being of our business community. And in any case, either way, this policy sends Kentucky stumbling backward, even as the nation and the world have moved on. . . .

The Urban County Council approved Lexington�s Fairness Ordinance in 1999, adding sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. . . . The ordinance protects not only gays and lesbians, but also heterosexuals who are erroneously labeled as gay or lesbian and discriminated against because of the label. And it protects heterosexual employees from sexual harassment by gay or lesbian supervisors or co-workers. . .

Fletcher�s action seems to establish an arbitrary policy that has real economic harm and the potential for creating paranoia in the workplace. While the governor may not be condoning discrimination, by his action he is certainly enabling it. If you don't like a colleague, �out� him. . .

As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on Sept. 25, 2004, Julie Harrison Calvert, spokeswoman for the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that the city's 1994 anti-gay amendment charter cost Cincinnati at least $46 million in potential convention business. �More than a dozen firms that had considered Cincinnati, or already booked its convention center, pointed to the anti-gay measure as the reason for going elsewhere,� the story said, adding, �Now, such icons as Procter & Gamble and the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce are trying to get rid of the provision, saying it harms corporate recruiting.�

Under the watch of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, the state of Kentucky now harms corporate recruiting. . .

By excluding a particular class of employee from protection from discrimination -- even hostility -- the governor places in jeopardy the personal happiness any employee should be free to pursue as long as there is no interference with job performance. . . 

Mr. Martin�s comments were echoed by Alan Hawse, vice president of information technology for Cypress Semiconductor, in an April 23 Associated Press story. The California-based company has offices in Lexington, Kentucky:

�Bigotry is bad for business.� . . .

Hawse said two decisions this month -- one by Fletcher to remove wording from an executive order that would protect homosexual employees from discrimination and another by the General Assembly to give $10 million to a private university that expelled a student for being gay -- send the wrong message to potential investors.

�We go from a backwater state trying to attract business to a backwater, bigoted state trying to attract business,� said Hawse. [italics and link added]

Christina Gilgor, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, agreed: �It has an overarching impact on the state in terms of attracting tourism, attracting conventions and attracting businesses that want to make their home here.�

The title of senior writer for Fortune magazine Marc Gunther�s April 26 article said it all: �Companies say �no� to discrimination: Gay rights are good business, no matter the politics�:

More than 80 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 now ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Some 249 of the Fortune 500 offer health and other benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees. That's up from just 28 a decade ago.

Last year, Wal-Mart (Research), America's biggest employer, agreed to support a network for its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) workers, joining such firms as Citigroup (Research), DuPont (Research) and IBM (Research). All these trends are moving in one direction -- towards more rights for gay and lesbian people. . .

Daryl Herrschaft, director of the [Human Rights campaign�s] workplace project, says, �To any reasonable business person, the evidence is almost undeniable that this is the right thing to do.� [italics added]

But not for Governor Fletcher or the Kentucky legislature that approved millions to support bigotry and discrimination at the University of the Cumberlands, a small �Christian� school that recently made headlines when it expelled a student because he was gay. The dean�s list student, 20 year-old Jason Johnson, was expelled after writing about his boyfriend in his profile. Apparently University of the Cumberlands -- like the Bush administration -- believes spying and prying into people�s personal lives is the �Christian� thing to do.

One has to wonder if the University of the Cumberlands also spies on and is planning to expel heterosexual students who have premarital sex, which is also forbidden by their �religious beliefs.� As school president Jim Taylor said in a statement after Johnson had been expelled, Cumberlands is �unapologetic about our Christian beliefs.� So no doubt they fire faculty and staff who get divorced, or who swear, or who violate any other �Christian beliefs.�

How openly hypocritical and blatantly bigoted can you get?

But at least one Kentucky senator, Ernesto Scorsone (D-Lexington), did object to the Cumberlands provision in the state budget: �We should not be budgeting bigotry. . . . If the University of the Cumberlands does not change its policies and practices, we will have a state benefit that is only available to heterosexuals.� Nevertheless, the budget passed unanimously and Governor Fletcher refused to veto the grant to Cumberlands:

After chopping $370 million from the state budget Monday night Gov. Ernie Fletcher spared $11-million earmarked for the University of the Cumberlands -- a small private Baptist school that made headlines last month for expelling a student it found out is gay.

Fletcher used his line item veto to stroke out roads and other projects approved by the legislature but allowed the $11-million for a proposed pharmacy school at school to remain [$10 million for the proposed school, $1 million for scholarships to the proposed school].

No doubt the proposed pharmacy school at Cumberlands would affiliate with Christian Pharmacists Fellowship International (CPFI) and teach that personal religious beliefs always override professional duties and responsibilities. As one of CPFI�s mission statements puts it, �Encourage evangelism and the integration of faith into [the] practice� of pharmacy.

But as Florence A. Ruderman, professor emerita of sociology at Brooklyn College, noted in a September 1, 2005, New York Times OpEd, titled �Prescription for Injustice,�

For pharmacists to claim that they have a right to refuse to fill valid, lawful prescriptions based on their own moral or religious beliefs can amount to a claim that they have a right to determine how patients may care for their own health, and what doctors may or may not prescribe. In effect they claim the right to annul birth-control-related prescriptions. In some cases pharmacists have refused to provide information on other pharmacies where a prescription might be filled or have refused to return a prescription so that a woman might go elsewhere. These pharmacists are not simply "opting out" for themselves; they are making it impossible for certain prescriptions to be filled at all.

Allowing a pharmacist the right to refuse to fill a legal prescription, without simultaneous safeguards to ensure that the prescription can be filled promptly elsewhere or by someone else, surrenders the right of the majority to willful obstruction by a determined minority. . . .

The proposed pharmacy school at Cumberlands has virtually no chance of being accredited: �to recognize (an educational institution) as maintaining standards that qualify the graduates for admission to higher or more specialized institutions or for professional practice.� The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education -- �the sole accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit professional degree programs in pharmacy� -- has strict standards of professionalism, including a non-discrimination requirement.

For his part in endorsing and promoting homophobia, discrimination and state-supported religious bigotry, Governor Fletcher is being sued:

A gay rights group filed suit Tuesday [April 25] against Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher over his decision to keep $11 million in state funds earmarked for a private Baptist college that expelled a gay student earlier this month. Christina Gilgor, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, asked a Franklin circuit court judge to prevent the state from giving public money to University of the Cumberlands.

Lawmakers included $10 million for a proposed pharmacy school and $1 million for scholarships for the school in the budget. The school is located in the district of Republican senate president David Williams, and he has been an advocate for funding the program.

Kentucky�s constitution prohibits the state from using tax money in support of religious institutions or entities that discriminate against citizens, according to the suit. �We�re asking that the governor uphold the constitution and not allow the funding of the University of the Cumberlands,� Gilgor said in a telephone interview.

According to an April 26 report, Kentucky�s attorney general believes that the grant to Cumberlands will eventually be found to be illegal unless the school stops discriminating against gays. But Republicans in Washington are moving to make Bluegrass Bigotry legal nationwide. Paul Johnson, Washington Bureau Chief at, reported on April 18 that

Private Christian colleges would be excepted from local and state non-discrimination laws under a proposed amendment to the Higher Education Act -- a move that would allow the schools to legally reject LGBT students.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), would prevent accrediting boards from making adherence to non-discrimination laws a requirement.

The measure passed the House last week and is currently before the Senate. [italics added]

Private Christian schools are free to set their own faith-based policies, but if they�re exempted from civil laws (and anti-discrimination policies), should they be eligible to receive any form of state or federal funding?

Should their students be eligible for state or federal financial aid -- which goes to the school they�re attending -- since it too comes from taxpayer money?

In both cases, some of those taxpayers whose money funds higher education and student aid are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Should they be required to support religion-based discrimination against themselves?

Bigotry is bad for business, and it has no place in education or in medicine. But it does seem to thrive in the dark souls of those who wish to repeal equal rights, legalize discrimination and make their version of �religion� the only guiding criterion for politics, business, education, and medicine.

Boycott king Don Wildmon and the American Family Association (AFA) exemplify that �dark soul.� He and his organization have been pressuring Kraft Foods to withdraw support for the Gay Games, which will contribute millions of dollars to the coffers of local businesses and governments and the families they support. Wildmon and AFA lost; equality won:

Kraft Foods and its shareholders decisively voted down a proposal Tuesday [April 25] that would have revoked the company�s sponsorship of the Gay Games in Chicago this summer. At its annual stockholders meeting, 99% of Kraft�s investors rejected the move by fellow stockholder Marcella Meyer to �disassociate� from the eight-day sports event because of her opposition to homosexuality, Advertising Age reports. . .

�Diversity makes us a stronger company and connects us with the diversity that exists among the consumers who buy our products,� Marc Firestone, Kraft�s executive vice-president/corporate counsel and corporate secretary, wrote in a memo last year about the company�s marketing commitment to the Games, according to Advertising Age.

Kraft has donated $25,000 to the Gay Games, an amount the company�s board considered �well within the scope� of its $85 million charitable-giving program.

The socioeconomic and political campaigns of the Christian Right and their minions -- like Governor Fletcher -- against equality are as malevolent as Wildmon and his badly misnamed �American Family Association.� In their dark souls, discrimination and bigotry are �Christian� values.

Copyright © 1998-2006 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor