Scottsdale appears likely to pursue LGBT antidiscrimination ordinance

The rainbow flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride and LGBT social movements in use since the 1970s with colors representing sexuality, life, healing, sunlight, nature, art, harmony and spirit. (Photo courtesy of Ludovic Bertron at Flikr.com)

The rainbow flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride and LGBT social movements in use since the 1970s with colors representing sexuality, life, healing, sunlight, nature, art, harmony and spirit. (Photo courtesy of Ludovic Bertron at Flikr.com)

Amid growing support for a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Scottsdale City Council next week is expected to take its first official step toward considering, creating and adopting such a law.

During a meeting planned for Monday, Aug. 31, a majority of Scottsdale City Council are expected to direct city staff to investigate how other Arizona cities and towns have implemented workplace protections for members of the LGBT community who work within those municipalities.

Scottsdale city leaders say they hope to devise legislation with new civil protections for the LGBT community while preserving the individual rights — religious or otherwise — of local residents and proprietors. City staff would have 90 days to complete a report for the council.

Earlier this summer the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that legalized same-sex marriages throughout the nation, but that ruling didn’t extend to the workplace. 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.

Scottsdale City Council members Virginia Korte, David Smith, Linda Milhaven and Kathy Littlefield are expected Aug. 31 to be part of a majority vote allowing Scottsdale to pursue a law protecting the LGBT community in the workplace.

In 2014, the entire council signed a “Unity Pledge.” But a work session discussion last March left some wondering why the city of Scottsdale would not join other Arizona municipalities — including Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff — and become the 226th American city to officially adopt an antidiscrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBT community.

Last month, the city of Scottsdale sent a letter to 88,000 utility customers encouraging residents and proprietors to sign the pledge and join the council in its support of LGBT rights.  Those who want to sign the UNITY Pledge can visit ScottsdaleAZ.gov and search “Unity” or go directly to the UNITY Pledge website: www.OpenAZ.co.

The city already has on the books a similar antidiscrimination 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 city employee from discriminating against another employee based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The right kind of legislation

Scottsdale Councilman David Smith says he represents all Scottsdale residents — and doesn’t want any person or particular group singled out for discrimination.

David Smith

David Smith

“Most important is making sure that whatever we do to ensure the protections of one group doesn’t unduly restrict the protections of another,” he said in an Aug. 25 phone interview.

“That’s the kind of dialogue I hope to have next week. Really, the direction to staff will be to start looking at other community efforts and see what other options can be adopted appropriately in Scottsdale.”

Scottsdale resident and community advocate John Washington says the city of Scottsdale should not adopt an LGBT antidiscrimination ordinance.

“Unfortunately, although not prevalent, discrimination exists even in Scottsdale,” he said. “No legislation or ordinance will end it. The most important thing any of us can do on a local level is set a good example for others to follow.”
Mr. Washington contends the effort to bring antidiscrimination legislation to Scottsdale will not solve the problem it is meant to address.

“Any proposed ordinance should be evaluated as to whether it will actually solve the problem it addresses,” he said. “A city ordinance will not, especially because as a so-called ‘right-to-work state,’ Arizona state law trumps local ordinances.”

Mr. Washington says political motivation is the fuel setting fire to this controversy.

John Washington

John Washington

“The promoters of the local ordinance — council members Virginia Korte and Linda Milhaven among them — are pushing it for their own political gain,” he said.  “Virginia was the CEO of the chamber of commerce. If she were really serious about this issue, she would have first pushed the chamber to adopt a requirement for chamber members to embrace such policies for their own businesses.”

Councilman Smith says the goal is to create the right balance and to quell fears for residents on both sides of the issue.

“The challenge is how do we protect one group while not putting limitations on another,” he said. “This will hopefully lead to a fruitful discussion.”

Growing chorus of support

Interim Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Eric Larson says the chamber and its membership support an LGBT antidiscrimination ordinance for the simple reason that it makes good business sense.

Eric Larson

Eric Larson

“Actually, it is quite simple. An ordinance is an act of governance and in this instance the governance is about the greater good,” he said in an Aug. 25 phone interview.

“The greater good is anything from the business community perspective that is helping the local economy and this is being seen as good for business. It is being viewed that business growth could be impeded by the lack of an ordinance.”

Mr. Larson says the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce is one of several signatories of a letter sent to Scottsdale City Council to encourage the exploration of a an LGBT antidiscrimination ordinance.

“We are strongly in support of these actions the council will contemplate on the 31st,” he pointed out.

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

Scottsdale Vice Mayor Virginia Korte agrees the first step toward creating an antidiscrimination law may come next week, but it is only the first of many steps to be taken.

“This would not only protect the LGBT community but also protect the rights of all Scottsdale citizens,” she said in an Aug. 25 phone interview. “This is a first step to define what those elements would be and come back to the council with those elements. It is the first step of many for the city of Scottsdale.”

The Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors provided space for a business summit Aug. 25 at 8600 E. Anderson Drive, to give business owners a chance to offer both pro and con arguments for an antidiscrimination ordinance.

“I heard very encouraging remarks from individuals in the audience,” Vice Mayor Korte said of the business summit. “We really talked about the economic impact, the impact on business attraction and talent attraction and retention — the whole impact on the tourism industry.”

Just over 100 people attended the summit in central Scottsdale, Vice Mayor Korte says.

“Of course there were some negative comments and that showed me that discrimination is alive and well in Scottsdale and we have to do something about that,” she said.  “That is not the majority of people. Having worked on this for about a year now, I do believe that a very large amount of people embrace diversity and say, ‘it’s about time.’”

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

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