Human Rights Campaign calls for equality in Omaha


August 19th, 2011

Omaha, NE – The Human Rights Campaign pulled its bus into Omaha Friday. The nonprofit advocacy group is on a nationwide tour highlighting states that don’t have enough laws on the books protecting the rights of gay and lesbian people.

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“My name is Ryan Lowry and this is my fiancé Mitch Lee.”

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, flanked by Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle and Councilman Ben Gray. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

Two young men from Lincoln stood up before a podium in downtown Omaha Friday with a big blue and yellow Equality bus parked on the grass behind them.

“In March 2010, Mitch proposed to me while we were on vacation,” Lee continued, “and I immediately began calling my family to tell them the news. While they were thrilled for us, a question kept coming up. Where will you get married? You know you can’t get married in Nebraska.”

Flanked by leaders from the Human Rights Campaign, local gay rights groups, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle and City Councilman Ben Gray, Lowry said he and his partner entered a competition to win a dream wedding paid for by the Lincoln Journal Star. They won, and he said the couple received overwhelming support from the community.

“That, to me, is the true character of a Nebraskan,” Lowry said, “someone who puts judgment aside and someone who values a person for who they are and not for what label is attached.”

The Human Campaign Bus is taking its "On the Road to Equality" bus through several states, ending in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Robyn Wisch)

Census numbers show there are about 3,700 same-sex couples living in Nebraska. And a poll presented by the Human Rights Campaign shows a majority of Nebraskans have one or more gay people in their lives – as friends, co-workers or family members. And a majority believes discrimination against gay people is a problem in the state.

HRC President Joe Solmonese, said “The hearts and the minds of Americans are quickly moving to the side of fairness. Every day we hear about another victory, whether it be in New York in the passage of marriage equality, or more commonly on the local level with municipalities passing basic protections in employment, housing and public accommodation. We are winning this fight every day.”

But the numbers also show the majority of Nebraskans still oppose legalizing same-sex marriage, although the margin is lowering. But Solmonese says lawmakers are still behind the public support that’s out there. He says Nebraska is one of eleven states that have no anti-discrimination laws on the books protecting lesbian, gay, or transgender people. And no Nebraska cities have passed similar ordinances.

“The sad reality,” Solmonese said, is that right here in Omaha and across all of Nebraska, you can be fired from your job for no other reason than being gay or transgender.”

Mayor Suttle threw his support behind the campaign, saying he is committed to working toward equality in Omaha. “Nebraska is a diverse state, with people of all walks of life and all backgrounds,” Suttle said. “I believe we are community that cares about equality and fairness. And our city should be a place where everyone is given an opportunity to live, to work, and they should be free from discrimination.”

Councilman Ben Gray, who introduced an ordinance last year to protect gay, lesbian and transgender people in the workplace said since that failed at the city council, he has received three phone calls from people in his district about three young gay people who committed suicide.

“That ought to be unacceptable to all of us,” Gray said. “We ought to recognize that there is a concern that needs to be addressed, that there is inequality that we need to take care of. And my ordinance still sits in my office and it will be brought back.”

Gray said he will bring the ordinance back to the council table before the end of the year. Asked if he thinks he has the votes to get it through this time, Gray said he’s hoping to change minds. But even if he can’t, he said, it won’t stop him from doing the right thing. The Campaign heads to Lawrence, Kansas for its next stop on the tour which will wind its way through the nation’s capitol ending up in Orlando, Florida.

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