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Berwyn adds sexual orientation to ordinance
by Amy Wooten
2008-06-04

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Berwyn recently joined 13 other cities in Illinois when city officials unanimously decided to include 'sexual orientation' to its human-rights ordinance.

'We are all very happy,' Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay and Lesbian Organization ( BUNGALO ) member and former board chair Ted Korbos said.

On May 27, Berwyn's city council voted 8-0 to add 'sexual orientation' to the language in its city ordinance that protects against discrimination. Aldermen also voted to update other language within the ordinance and rename it the Human Rights Ordinance. ( It was formerly known as the Community Relations Ordinance. )

The decision brings Berwyn in line with a statewide law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in areas of housing, public accommodations and employment, which was passed in 2005.

The near west Chicago suburb's close neighbor, Oak Park, already provides its gay and lesbian residents anti-discrimination protections as well as an established domestic partner registry and domestic partner benefits for village employees.

Despite the fact that state law already bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, Korbos said that Berwyn City Council's vote 'definitely sends a message.'

This is quite a victory for local gay rights advocates. In 1994, the Berwyn City Council, because of pressure from a very small but vocal group of Republicans and conservative clergy members, unanimously voted to exclude a sexual orientation clause from a proposed Community Relations Ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and accommodations. Shortly after that setback, local activists came together and formed BUNGALO, a gay and lesbian organization.

For years, BUNGALO focused on helping get statewide legislation passed in order to advance gay rights in Illinois. Korbos said that although proponents of an inclusive human rights ordinance have had the votes for the past several years, 'The timing was just right,' he said. The membership of the city council went through a dramatic change a few years back, and a new, more supportive mayor came into office. The city's new Director of the Community Relations Committee, Therese Shonder, brought up the idea of updating the city's ordinance. In April, BUNGALO member and All Berwyn Committee ( ABC ) president Susan Anderson presented the idea at a diversity forum, which led to ABC making a formal recommendation to the city council. The city's leaders were very receptive, and public opposition was nearly non-existent.

Korbos, one of the organization's founding members, said that one of the vocal opponents of the sexual orientation clause from 14 years ago showed up to the recent city council meeting, but left in a huff when even Republican alderman approved of its inclusion last week.

Fourteen years ago, one of the main arguments given for voting down the clause was that state law did protect against sexual orientation discrimination. Korbos told Windy City Times that it is 'ironic' that today, current Illinois law became an argument to update the Berwyn ordinance.

'It really paved the way,' Korbos said.

Shortly after the decision, BUNGALO's board of directors released a statement thanking BUNGALO's founders and past board members for 'shouldering the work for the last 13 years that led to this victory.

'They adopted the motto 'We Too Are Berwyn' years ago to remind city leaders that the Berwyn LGBT community was an important part of the larger community and should not have been excluded,' the statement continued. 'Today, we can say 'We all are Berwyn' as the city begins its first day as a totally inclusive community.'


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