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Ky. town may be smallest to ban anti-gay discrimination

VICCO, Ky. -- Mayor Johnny Cummings answered his cellphone with its insistent air-horn ring tone over and over Wednesday morning, juggling his reading glasses, a takeout coffee cup and a succession of cigarettes. Cummings' most immediate concern, as he worked out of the brick storefront City Hall, was keeping tabs on the waterworks crew as it switched on pumps to prevent overflows amid a persistent downpour. But Cummings couldn't avoid the inquiries from the media, both in person and by phone, about how this tiny coal-mining community in Eastern Kentucky's Perry County had become the smallest municipality in America known to have approved an ordinance protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. City commissioners voted 3-1 on Monday to approve ordinances banning discrimination, by employers and by sellers and renters of housing, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as race, religion, age and gender. Cummings, a fifth-generation resident of Vicco, also finds himself fielding questions about what it's like to be an openly gay mayor in a socially, religiously and politically conservative region of Appalachia. Cummings sees the Vicco vote as part of a larger effort to revive the city of 334, which has struggled in the more than half-century since the end of its mining boom. "Kentucky had so many small towns that were just dying and withering away, and Vicco was one of them," Cummings said. "We want to change the reputation of the town. It's always been something that everyone made fun of — just a small, little town, redneck rough and tough." Cummings would just as soon talk about other ordinances also passed last Monday — imposing a curfew to reduce loitering and expanding zones where alcohol can be sold, in an effort to attract a restaurant. Cummings would like to talk about how the city has sharply reduced leaks in its once-porous waterlines, balanced its budget and begun plans for a new park and community center to give young people a positive outlet in a region raked by drug abuse. But Cummings acknowledges he was pleased that "the gay mayor and the heterosexual commissioners" were able to have a lengthy and respectful deliberation before Monday's vote. Part of the debate was whether other city efforts at revitalization would be eclipsed. "It was just something that was right," he said. "We never thought it would be such a hoopla."


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