Many of you might remember my article last week about the state of the LGBT community in my hometown of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and how the local city council engages in anti-LGBT bullying. After a longtime city employee, David Fowles, formally requested health coverage from the city for his registered domestic partner, the council’s personnel committee voted unanimously and spitefully to recommend against offering ANY benefits to domestic partners of LGBT city workers — benefits that opposite-sex spouses of city workers are given, no questions asked. The measure was sent, without committee recommendation, back to the full council for a vote.
UPDATE: That vote happened last night. The Green Bay City Council could and should have ignored the malicious recommendation of the Personnel Committee by voting to offer the benefits. After all, it’s a matter of basic fairness and a wonderful opportunity for the City of Green Bay to join the 21st century (in which a clear majority of Fortune 500 companies extend domestic partner health benefits to employees because they recognize that, in addition to it being the right thing to do, offering these benefits helps them attract and retain the best and brightest workers.).
Well that’s what they should have done. Instead, though, the full Green Bay City Council voted, 4-7, to bully and dehumanize the local LGBT community by denying domestic partners of city workers access to city benefits.
Alderpeople Ned Dorff and Amy Kocha, the two most outspoken pro-LGBT voices on the council, stood up once again in favor of basic fairness. Said Kocha, “People who vote against [domestic partner benefits] are simply being unkind to others, and when those others are our employees I think its unconscionable.” She also pointed out the double standard for same-sex and opposite-sex couples under current city policy: “If you have an employee who happens to be gay and has a domestic partner, and that employee leaves the city and a [heterosexual] married person takes the position, we’re going to extend benefits to that person.” Dorff, who sponsored the measure, was quoted by the local newspaper as saying that
“…the city’s current policy of extending benefits only to married men and women wrongly deprives other city employees of basic rights. ‘It doesn’t threaten anyone’s marriage,’ he said. ‘That’s asinine to think so.’”
Opponents of Dorff’s measure put their ignorance and homophobia on full public display. Alderman Tony Theisen, who voted against domestic partner benefits in committee and again at last night’s meeting, seemed to think the debate was a good time to throw in some anti-government Tea Party talking points:
“This should be looked at just as any benefit is looked at. The public sector should look to the private sector to model its benefits. Why do I feel that way? Because without a private sector there would not be a public sector.” (Earth to Tony: the private sector is already there, waaaaay ahead of sleepy little Green Bay.)
Alderman Chris Wery, another anti-LGBT personnel committee member, voiced his belief that health insurance for same-sex domestic partners somehow undermines the marriages of local heterosexual couples: “I firmly believe in the traditional family, and I do believe this is an attempt to redefine and weaken it.” Wery added, “It does attack marriage.”
What saddens me most is that Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt went on record as an opponent of domestic partner benefits. The measure would have failed without the mayor weighing in, yet he still felt the need to make his hurtful views public. Jim is a personal friend, and although his relationship with his LGBT constituents up to this point may not have been perfect, he had made a noticeable effort to reach out, even delivering remarks at the local pride festival. His needless attack on Green Bay’s LGBT community last night is a slap in the face that’s particularly disappointing.
I’ll close with a bit of irony. The issue of domestic partner benefits was not the only contentious one on last night’s agenda: against committee recommendation, the city council voted 8-3 to allow concealed weapons into city buildings. According to the local newspaper,
Alderman Tony Theisen said he heard from members of the community who are afraid of concealed weapons, but who cannot provide any factual basis for their emotion. “You know what fear is without any facts?” he said. “That’s a phobia.”
Fear without facts. Phobia. How aptly these words apply to the way Theisen, Wery, Schmitt, and the Green Bay City Council treats Titletown’s LGBT community.
(Video courtesy of WBAY-TV)