LGBT equality effort picks up steam in Scottsdale community

Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 E. Drinkwater Blvd. (File photo)

Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (File photo)

The drumbeat of discussion on whether or not the city of Scottsdale should further consider an anti-discrimination ordinance to protect members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the workplace appears to be getting louder and louder.

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

Residents on both sides of the issue continue to voice opinions, while two members of Scottsdale City Council — Virginia Korte and Linda Milhaven — have thrown their support behind the cause.

In a city that cultivates, manages and promotes a multibillion dollar tourism industry widely considered one of the strongest in the nation, city officials say they want there to be no confusion or misunderstanding where it stands on the issue.

But a March 31 work session discussion at City Hall left some wondering why the city of Scottsdale would not join the growing chorus of other Arizona municipalities — including Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff — as the 226th American city to officially adopt an anti-discrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBT community.

Linda Milhaven

Linda Milhaven

At the conclusion of the late March meeting, Scottsdale City Council stopped short of creating an ordinance. Instead, the council launched a public relations campaign alerting the outside world to its Unity Pledge signed in 2014.

The city already has on the books a similar anti-discrimination measure that applies to its own employees. Proponents say it’s time for the city to expand those protections to all residents. In December 2007 the city adopted Ordinance No. 3765, which prohibits any employee from discriminating against another employee based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The mayor of Scottsdale says the public relations effort is meant to put the world on notice where the municipality stands on the civil rights of the local LGBT community.

But a growing number of supporters say words won’t prevent discrimination against the LGBT community — and that it’s time the city puts legal teeth behind those words.

A community dialogue

The North Scottsdale United Methodist Church, 11735 N. Scottsdale Road, hosted a community discussion on LGBT discrimination issues May 19. About 100 residents attended the meeting, led by Councilwomen Korte and Milhaven.

The discussion solidified Councilwoman Korte’s resolve that the community of Scottsdale wants to have a broader discussion about discrimination protections.

“Yes, I think there is an opportunity to bring this back to city council regarding action on community outreach,” she said in a May 26 phone interview.

“What we are hearing, what is loud, strong and true, is that there is discrimination in Scottsdale. That is something other councilmembers do not want to believe. But it is important to our citizens and the people who work in Scottsdale that they feel safe. That is what we are hearing loud and clear.”

Councilwoman Korte said the discussion was like any other community dialogue with one exception — members of the community were encouraged to share personal stories of resolve in the face of perceived discrimination.

“I think that is what is missing in many community dialogues — the personal stories of the issues happening,” she said.

Councilwoman Korte says community organizers will be hosting a business community forum focused on LGBT discrimination issues this June as she builds her case for Scottsdale City Council to again consider a formal anti-discrimination ordinance.

“Our next steps — my next step — One Community and the Human Rights Campaign, is to put together a business forum,” she said.  “We are going to have an open forum to express concerns, so we better understand the rights of our citizens, and so we can better understand the needs of our business community.”

Councilwoman Korte says a person’s ability should trump all in the evaluation of a person in the workplace.

“We know antidiscrimination is something that has been embraced by the business community,” she said. “Typically, the business community is far ahead of the government in understanding the marketplace. We feel it is important to have this open dialogue.”

Nicole Stanton

Nicole Stanton

Phoenix First Lady Nicole Stanton, wife of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, echoes that sentiment of encouraging “open and honest dialogue” from residents and business owners in the community.

“The better the economic environment here in the city and the state, the better all of our livelihoods will be,” she said in a May 26 phone interview. “We need to be as hospitable of a place as we can be. One way that we can do that is by embracing everyone. Diversity is our strength, not our weakness.”

Phoenix City Council in 2013 expanded the city’s anti-discrimination law to include protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in city contracts, housing, employment and public accommodations such as restaurants.

Mrs. Stanton, managing partner at Quarles & Brady LLP., says a common American goal is one of professional accomplishment. But that ideal can be tarnished by discrimination in the workplace.

“Overtime, since the Civil Rights Act, I think people have gotten smarter about how they discriminate,” she said.

Mrs. Stanton says the extreme private sector backlash of SB1062 a few years ago in Arizona is as far as anyone needs to look to understand the economic engine a diversified economy can offer — and how swift a response the private sector can deliver.

“It was born out of misconceptions and I think that is a very dangerous place for laws to start,” she said of her perception of SB 1062.

Two sides of the coin

Two members of the Scottsdale community agree discrimination is a bad thing and shouldn’t occur, but both have unique opinions on the development and implementation of an anti-discrimination ordinance focused on the Scottsdale LGBT community.

“I think the unintended consequences of these things is the main reason why this is a bad idea,” said Socttsdale proprietor Curtis Brown in a May 26 phone interview.  “I would like to have someone on the council describe to me who this would cover? If you can’t tell me who it covers how can I adhere to the law?”

Mr. Brown contends the personal lives of employees should not be relevant in any case.

“If my policy is to keep peoples’ private lives private, then by definition this would not be a factor in the workplace,” he said.

Through his experiences as a business consultant, Mr. Brown contends the private sector cares little about one’s sexual orientation. The challenge, he sees, is defining who falls under the protection.

“It sounds good and it feels good for these politicians, but you have such a nebulous definition. Do we really know what LGBT is?” he asked. “I want these politicians to step up and define membership in this group.”

Clear-cut definition or not, Scottsdale resident John Greco says the LGBT population deserves a fair shake just like everyone else in the American workplace.

“In general the country needs to untap everyone’s potential,” he said in a May 26 phone interview.

“We need to make sure everyone has a fair shot. The whole notion (of our nation is based upon the ideal) that individuals get together, and there is a social contract to form a government on which subordinate population subject themselves but only if the government requires that every individual is equal. Clearly that is not how things work out or are designed to work out.”

Mr. Greco is a former Tempe city manager. He was a a member of the Scottsdale Human Relations Commission that developed the anti-discrimination ordinance protecting city employees.

“Everyone else is covered if you are part of a group. The only category that is not covered is the LGBT community,” he pointed out. “You can be fired just because you are gay, but everyone else is covered?”

The driving force behind anti-discrimination efforts is equality, Mr. Greco contends.

“You can’t be denied service because you are a woman. You cannot be denied service because you are a Mormon. You cannot be denied service because you are brown or black.  “But in Scottsdale, right now you can (be denied service) because you are gay.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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