Scottsdale business summit to focus on pros, cons of LGBT anti-discrimination

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)

While the Supreme Court has ruled same-sex marriage legal throughout the nation, Scottsdale City Council is still weighing the merits of providing workplace protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents who work within the city.

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. 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 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.

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.

Earlier this 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.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte says the Unity Pledge is nothing more than “window dressing” for an issue that demands concrete legislation protecting a defined segment of the population. The community call for more LGBT protections continues at weekly council and community meetings.

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 Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors is providing space for a business summit from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Tuesday Aug. 25 at 8600 E. Anderson Drive, No. 200, to give business owners a chance to offer both pro and con arguments for an anti-discriminatory ordinance.

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.

A case for unity

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane says he wants to bring the community of Scottsdale together on this issue — not draw battle lines.

Jim Lane

Jim Lane

“No. 1, anything can happen, but I am not going to say that I feel any differently than I did a few months ago,” he said in a June 30 phone interview. “I am not an advocate for an ordinance that is more divisive than inclusive.”

Mayor Lane says he believes in the Unity Pledge because the willingness of a free society to embrace an equality effort is much more meaningful than the creation of a bureaucratic process.

“That is why I am embracing it … it is hardly window dressing unless you denounce that people can come together,” he pointed out. “I put a lot of stock into people and I believe in the good of people.”

Mayor Lane says the free market oftentimes takes care of itself.

“I just think the integration of a protected class really shows the balkanization of our culture. I am very concerned about that.”

Mayor Lane says all are created equal and it is important to him that everyone is treated fairly.

“It is a hard conversation to have, no doubt,” he said of LGBT discrimination issues. “I would like to calm it down with a complete understanding that we are looking for a community that will freely respect everyone on an equal basis.”

Mayor Lane believes everyone in Scottsdale should be treated equally — regardless of creed, color, religion or sexual orientation.

“I am sincere in this effort,” he said. “I feel very strongly that an ordinance is not the answer. All of my tenure here is bringing people together — that is really my tact moving forward and I believe in that.”

Mayor Lane says creating laws for problems that don’t exist can be counter productive.

“We have not been looking into creating an ordinance for a problem that doesn’t exist because that has a tendency to create a problem,” he said. “There has not been a demonstrated problem.”

An incomplete effort

Councilwoman Korte says all human beings deserve the same protections from discrimination — regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

“We know discrimination does exist in jobs, housing and public accommodations,” she said in a June 30 phone interview. “There is no federal law that outlaws discrimination within the LGBT community.”

Councilwoman Korte says that’s why local governments have to step up to the plate, but a Unity Pledge is not really a step anywhere, she contends.

“It is a proclamation; it has no validation of law, there is no procedure for individuals who have experienced discrimination to report it,” she said. “A proclamation is a proclamation, it is really window dressing for an issue like this.”

Councilwoman Korte supports the Unity Pledge, but says it doesn’t go far enough to protect the rights of everyone.

“We need to go a step further as Phoenix and Tempe and Tucson and Flagstaff, and 18 other states across the county, to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance that offers protections in employment, housing and public accommodations,” she said. “It is amazing to me how many individuals do not realize LGBT community members are not protected by the First Amendment.”

Equality is a human right that ought to be treated as such, Councilwoman Korte says.

“I think we need to do this because we are a free country and we have a Constitution. We are all created equal but when it comes down to the LGBT community, it is not one of those protected classes,” she said.

Political push-back has weakened, says Councilwoman Korte. She says last March’s work session discussion was expected to be a precursor to the creation of an ordinance.

“I think one or two council members may be shifting,” she explained. “I think the primary resistance as indicated by the mayor and Councilwoman (Suzanne) Klapp is due to the thinking the ordinance could become an undue burden on businesses.”

Scottsdale Area Association of Realtors President and CEO Rebecca Grossman says her organization doesn’t have a dog in this fight.

“We were asked to provide a facility for this forum. We are not hosts or organizers of the event,” she said in a June 30 phone interview. “But we want this type of information to be discussed in a place were there are opportunities for pro and con arguments.”

Ms. Grossman points out the National Association of Realtors, of which the SAAR trade association is a member, has already adopted LGBT protections for its members in its code of conduct.

“We are supporting this change because it would align our code of ethics with the city ordinance,” she said of the 2011 and 2013 Code of Ethics additions affirming the right to rent or purchase shelter of choice should not be abridged because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Realtor Code of Ethics is a 100-year-old code strictly adhered to members of the organization, officials say.

“In order to protect themselves our members needed protections because we could be in a position where people can discriminate and there is no forum for them to complain.”

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.