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VALPARAISO — Residents on Thursday had one more chance to state their case on a proposed human rights ordinance before the City Council votes on it Monday.

The council held a special meeting and public hearing with resident comments on the proposed human rights ordinance in the auditorium of Benjamin Franklin Middle School.

The human rights ordinance proposed by the city’s Human Relations Council has been drafted with public input and outlines a policy that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, veteran status and familial status.

In a standing-room-only crowd inside the auditorium, more than 40 people signed up to speak during the scheduled two and a half hour meeting. They included Janet French, who told the council to "please pass this ordinance."

French, who said she's a proud parent of a gay child, said the risks involved is not bathroom use. It's that lesbian, gays, and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide, and nearly half of transgender youth have seriously thought about suicide with a quarter making the attempt. 

"I ask those of us with real religious conviction consider that," she said. "If nothing else I hope its possible to relate to my husband and mine's anxiety and fears for our daughter. Or for any parent forced to fear for their child's well-being, emotional and physical safety and frankly, their very life, simply for being who they are."

French said her daughter grew up in a welcoming, supporting church and that many people of faith support the ordinance. 

"We do not discriminate," she said. 

Pastor Phil Willingham of Heartland Christian Center in Valparaiso, is against the ordinance and asked the council how it addresses requirements of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Willingham said the act's first requirement is there has to be a compelling government interest.

"Where is the crime wave of discrimination happening in our community," he said. " Where are the impact studies, where is the data?"

Willingham said all that's been heard so far from those in favor of the ordinance is a few people talk about how they feel or what they perceive happening.

"We cannot base laws on feelings and perceptions," he said.  

Paul Schreiner, who supports the ordinance, recalled times of when the country thought it was OK to have slavery and to not allow women to vote.

"We have an opportunity here in this city to preclude the necessity of hitting ourselves in the forehead and say how stupid could we have been," he said. "This group of people we have identified, LGBT, they are our neighbors, and if we get to know them, I think we will prevent the fact we have to make another stupid mistake."

Denny Smith said the ordinance would take away religious freedom of citizens.  

"This ordinance would pull back on the religious freedom that we have," he said. "I'm opposed to the ordinance."

The City Council will make its decision at its regular meeting Monday at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. 

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Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.