Omaha adopts anti-discrimination ordinance


The Omaha, Neb., City Council on March 13 approved an ordinance to ban bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The proposal, put forward by Councilman Ben Gray, would apply to employers, employment agencies, job training programs, labor groups, public accommodations and businesses that contract with the city. It also would provide exemptions for religious organizations.

A similar proposal failed to pass in October 2010 on a 3-3 vote, but passed this last week on a 4-3 vote.

Nebraska’s anti-discrimination laws and federal regulations don’t extend protection LGBT people.

Backers argued the proposal would make Omaha a more welcoming city to a diverse workforce. Opponents countered that the proposals would add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and open up businesses to lawsuits.

Debate of the proposal caused consternation well beyond Omaha’s city limits.

Testimony from Nebraska Cornhuskers assistant football coach Ron Brown, who opposed the measure as a Christian, drew a rebuke from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman. Perlman said Brown should have made clear his views were his own and not the university’s. Brown apologized for giving the city council the university’s football stadium address as his personal address.

Council members discussed the ordinance for more than an hour before passing the measure, which survived a motion by Councilman Franklin Thompson to amend it to protect only against discrimination based on sexual orientation, dropping the proposal’s reference to protection based on gender identity.

Thompson, who abstained from voting on the proposal in 2010 to break the 3-3 tie, voted against the measure March 13, as did Council members Tom Mulligan and Jean Stothert.

Thompson drew both laughter and some gasps as he grappled out loud with his decision. At one point, he said he had determined from his own observations that of every 10 gay, lesbian or transgendered people, “I believe that four are born that way, and six are choosing.” Thompson, who is black, also compared the issue of protections for LGBT people to race relations and the civil rights movement, saying, “We didn’t get all our rights in 17 months. It was a process.”

Voting for the measure were Gray, Pete Festersen, Chris Jerram and Garry Gernandt, who had voted against the measure in 2010.

Mayor Jim Suttle said in a statement that he would sign the ordinance into law.

“Omaha is a city that welcomes diversity, embraces fresh ideas and is open for business to everyone,” Suttle said. “Allowing discrimination in our city is wrong-for our citizens and our businesses.”

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