Survey propels fight for gay rights ordinance


February 24th, 2012

Lincoln, NE – Many of Nebraska’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities feel discriminated against in the workplace, according to a survey released this week by University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers. For some policymakers, it’s raised the bigger issue of whether individual rights and amendments should be handled by local or state government.

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Dr. Christopher Fisher is Assistant Professor at UNMC's College of Public Health, and lead researcher of the Midlands LGBT Needs Assessment Community Report. (Photo courtesy UNMC)

Some state lawmakers don’t want discrimination cases against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Nebraskans decided at a local government level. In a Judiciary committee hearing Wednesday, State Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha sponsored a bill that would prohibit cities from protecting so-called new classes of people who aren’t protected under state law.

That effort was in response to Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray’s recent proposal to prohibit discrimination against gay and transgender residents in the workplace. Gray first introduced his proposal in 2010, but it failed to pass. He plans to re-introduce it on Feb. 28, and his cause received some ammunition this week with a survey released from University of Nebraska Medical Center. The survey said nearly a third of LGBT respondents claimed to have experienced some type of job discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender orientation.

Dr. Christopher Fisher is Assistant Professor at UNMC’s College of Public Health, and lead researcher of the Midlands LGBT Needs Assessment Community Report. Thank you for joining us Dr. Fisher.

FISHER: “Thank you for having me.”

State Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha sponsored a bill that would prohibit cities from protecting - so called new classes of people - who aren't protected under state law. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

I’d like to start by asking, if you could describe for our listeners what the objective of this study was, as well as your methodology?

FISHER: “The broad aim of the study was to assess the physical, mental, social and sexual health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons who lived, worked or played in Nebraska. By played’ we were attempting to capture people who perhaps, say, live in Council Bluffs but work in Omaha, or visit very often, and would utilize services that are provided within the state of Nebraska.”

Let’s focus on the job discrimination elements that have surfaced as a result of the study. As I’m sure you know, that has become fodder for proponents of Councilman Ben Gray’s proposal to amend Omaha’s anti-discrimination ordinances. I’m curious as to how you stand on this issue, being the lead researcher of this study?

Councilman Ben Gray will re-introduce an ordinance that would protect LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace. (Photo credit TowleRoad)

FISHER: “As we started to hear about the potential of Councilman Gray to reintroduce his ordinance, we’ve been in the process of looking over our data and looking to see how else we can dig deeper into the information to start adding to the scientific knowledge of the broader academic community. As we heard about his interest in reintroducing the ordinance, we looked deeper into one of our scales, which included a couple of questions specifically around job discrimination because of a person’s LGBT status. We felt this was a perfect opportunity for us to demonstrate public health research at its finest. The main goal of that kind of research is to provide scientifically-based evidence that can be used for consideration when people are considering policies, and looking at ways to address the health and well-being of communities. This was a great opportunity for us to pull up the numbers, look and see what we could find from our sample and have that information available to the city council as they begin their deliberations on this ordinance.”

There have been some outspoken critics of this study, most recently, it was former Omaha radio host Tom Becka making accusations that there were holes in the data you and your team compiled. How would you respond to that?

FISHER: “Any research study that is done is always going to have imperfections. One of the things we were very keen on from the very beginning when we released the original report, back in the summer of 2011, was to ensure we very upfront about the limitations of our study. This was an online survey, there are questions around that. There is a vast body of scientific research that has shown that online survey research is just as valid as a paper and pencil survey. We feel that we did everything that was possible to ensure this was a rigorous and scientifically valid research study.”

Lastly, what do hope to take away from all of this, do you feel like you found what you and your team were looking for?

FISHER: “We were essentially just looking to describe at the outset the various health conditions of LGBT persons in Nebraska. It was not information that was in existence before. We were very successful in being able to do that, and providing information that can now be used, not only in policy, but by healthcare providers. It can be used by community-based organizations that are seeking to help address the health needs of LGBT persons in Nebraska. From that standpoint, we definitely feel like we were very successful in gathering information that was going to be most useful to the community.”

Thank you so much for joining us Dr. Fisher, I do appreciate it.

FISHER: “Absolutely.”

Editorial note: Councilman Ben Gray is scheduled to re-introduce his ordinance to the Omaha City Council Feb. 28. The ordinance was initially introduced in 2010, but failed to pass. A public hearing is scheduled for March 6.

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