November 27, 2007

City Strobe

School board broadens employee protectionsThe end of a raucous five-hour meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education couldn’t have come sooner for most on Monday night, even though about three-quarters of the over-capacity crowd left in a righteous huff. That’s because finally, after hearing from more than 50 people, the board voted 4-3 to extend protection from discrimination to the district’s gay and lesbian employees. And that had a boisterous group of fundamentalist Christians — many of whom had just told board members what an unholy act protecting “the homosexuals” from discrimination would be — all kinds of pissed off. At least two members of the group, many of whom hoisted signs pleading to “Protect the Children,” threatened that there would be a “mass exodus” of students from Jefferson County public schools if “the homosexuals” were allowed to foist their lifestyle upon unwitting children. “Homosexual behavior is much more vulgar than you have ever imagined,” said Dr. Frank Simon, the gay sexpert, local head of the American Family Association and general drama queen. He said amending the policy would be akin to “promoting a lifestyle with a death sentence for our children.“Are we going to turn these poor, helpless children over to the homosexuals?” Simon asked emphatically, to wild cheers from the gallery. The other side — that is, the side promoting equal protection rather than fear, bigotry, shitty statistics and ignorance, and in the process attempting to indoctrinate a whole new generation of kids into a behavior of intolerance based on their personal religious choices — was amply represented as well. “It’s a sad commentary if you think about it, that in our society today these policies could be controversial,” Steve Neal, executive director of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, told the board. As soon as he uttered the words, though, a large, red-faced man wearing a suede jacket and cowboy boots hollered angrily, “You’re a moron!”And that pretty much set the tone for the evening. There would be interruptions and applause at nearly every possible juncture. The 400 or so people who began the evening sitting in chairs and standing around the edges of the room would thin out by around 10, while reporters like me sat through a seemingly endless array of ill-reasoned “protect the children from the gay agenda” bullshit and Superintendent Sheldon Berman looked perpetually bored, probably wondering why he left Massachusetts for the 19th century. Every time some preacher would expire his time with an angry cry against the corruption of the anal-sex sinners, he’d slap hands up and down the rows, like God was some kind of professional sports team with a good record. It may be time for a trade. The board members who voted for equal protection are Steve Imhoff, Larry Hujo, Debbie Wesslund and Joe Hardesty. Carol Haddad was against it from the start; however, both Ann Elmore and Linda Duncan changed their minds and voted against it. Both said they were convinced the policy change wasn’t needed because, as people, gays and lesbians were already protected. They also cited the fact that there have been no complaints filed by gay or lesbian employees of JCPS; of course, until last night’s vote there was nothing to codify such a complaint, so to use such “evidence” is a little absurd. Then again, both seemed to be swayed by the hateful crap flowing from the fervent nut jobs, so who knows?Mike Slaton, a Fairness Campaign organizer, said after the meeting that he was pleased with the vote, but he wished the board had gone further — to protect gender identity as well.“This is a victory over homophobia, but it is not yet a victory for full rights,” he said. Berman spoke to the audience after the vote, ensuring that this policy didn’t mean kids would suddenly be pummeled with literature on gay rights. “It is never appropriate to proselytize — either around religion or sexual orientation,” he said. —Stephen GeorgeMore trees, pleaseIf a tree grows in the forest, well, that’s nice. But if, say, 1,000 trees grow in the city, that’s a commendable human endeavor.The latest prettifying venture from the mayor’s office is the Community of Trees campaign, which aims to sprinkle city streets with 1,000 new trees. The plan shows half of the trees planted downtown, with the rest spreading out from there into the Highlands, Germantown, Old Louisville, West Louisville and a few spots in the south. Trees have been made available to various individuals and groups by Brightside, Metro Public Works, the University of Louisville and other groups. Each entity seems to be handling its own trees, but selections from Brightside will include native maple, pin oak and redbuds. There are also some of the small, exotic fruit trees loved by city planners almost everywhere, including peach trees and inedible purple sand cherries and Bradford pears.Neighborhood and community groups that promise to nurture the saplings into old age will maintain the trees. Similar projects in other cities have met with varying levels of success, especially where limited water resources put free trees on the bottom of the priorities list. Most of the trees are already spoken for, but a representative at MetroCall said they are still taking requests in case additional trees are donated, or recipients fail to pick up their free greenery. —Jennifer OladipoYour connection to destructionJust in case you thought mountaintop removal mining had been taken care of, it hasn’t. And in case you think it doesn’t have anything to do with you (it probably does), now there’s a way to find out for sure.The good folks at North Carolina-based Appalachian Voices have created a simple Web tool that helps users see how their energy consumption might contribute to mountaintop removal coal mining. By entering a zip code, people can find out in seconds whether their electricity providers buy coal from companies engaged in the aptly named process that involves blowing up mountains and shoving the dynamited remains into rivers and valleys below. The group works with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and other organizations on the “I Love Mountains” campaign, which is aimed at ending MTR.Check out www.ilovemountains.org/myconnection to see a nifty map that shows the plants in your area using coal from this exceptionally destructive mining method. A quick test-drive showed that several Kentuckiana zip codes are powered by a company that sources its coal from MTR, including Clark County, Indiana’s REMC and Louisville Gas & Electric.Better yet, check up on other people. Friends and family in far-flung locales might be interested to discover that their daily TV watching and food refrigeration are powered by the evisceration of Kentucky’s forests and mountain-scapes. Zip codes from Boston to Beverly Hills yielded the names of complicit companies, something to note as holiday travel has many of us visiting cities aglow all over the country. —JO Contact the writers at citystrobe@leoweekly.com