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St. Joseph County human rights complaints will be investigated in South Bend

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. – At Tuesday’s County Council meeting, the board passed an interlocal agreement to utilize the city of South Bend’s human rights enforcement resources.

With new laws passed in February to protect human rights in St. Joseph County, county leaders have been working to figure out who will enforce them. Previously, the state handled any discrimination complaints.

Because the state’s human rights laws do not offer the same protections as the local ordinance, many advocated that the county utilize the existing structure used in the city of South Bend. The South Bend Human Rights Commission offered their resources to the county for free until May of 2018.

The agreement passed through the county council with a six to three vote.

“To me, I received a majority of my education here. I grew up here. I want to give back to my community but I can only do that if I feel safe and protected within my community,” says Derek McDowell, Program Assistant of the LGBTQ Center.

While the state of Indiana does not protect the LGBTQ community under their discrimination laws-- the city and county ordinances do. That has prompted the city to develop resources to protect that community and enforce the laws that the state doesn’t have.

It was that commitment to protecting the rights of everyone, which inspired the Notre Dame Student Government to come to the meeting in support of the agreement.

“This goes a long way because it shows that not only the city, but the whole county has a commitment to ensuring that everyone can live and flourish in a just community. I’ve already considered living and staying in South Bend and this makes it more likely,” says Director of Community Engagement and Outreach, Adam Moeller.

Since the ordinance passed in February, around thirty five complaints have been filed in the county.

Executive Director of the South Bend Human Rights Commission, Lonnie Douglas, hopes to resolve each case within six months.

“People won’t have to worry about discrimination. We can get on with life and live among each other and not have to worry ‘I have no recourse, I have nowhere to go to get it right,’” says Douglas.

The petitioners of the agreement will keep track of the work load. In May of next year they will reevaluate if a second case worker is needed. If they have to hire another person, the county would have to take on the cost.

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