Scottsdale takes first step toward LGBT nondiscrimination law

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)

Scottsdale City Council has formerly instructed city staff to investigate how other American municipalities have adopted nondiscrimination laws protecting the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community while observing and protecting the civil rights of all residents.

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

City staff has 90 days from Sept. 1 to report back to Scottsdale City Council on how cities and towns from coast to coast have adopted LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances while appeasing the concerns of other demographics.

Scottsdale City Council voted 5-2 Monday, Aug. 31, to allow city staff to pursue the investigative endeavor. Mayor Jim Lane and Councilman Guy Phillips did not vote in favor of the effort.

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 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 nondiscrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBT community.

Linda Milhaven

Linda Milhaven

In June, 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. To date, 240 business and 540 residents in Scottsdale have signed the UNITY Pledge, according to Kelly Corsette, the city’s communications director.

A member of city council says close to 50 hateful letters were sent back to the city following the UNITY Pledge effort, which for some on the local governing board has convinced them of the need for new civil protections.

Scottsdale municipal employees already enjoy LGBT workplace protections. 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.

“I am very encouraged, very excited and very optimistic,” said Scottsdale Vice Mayor Linda Milhaven in a Sept. 1 phone interview. “The groups who showed up in support last night had some very wonderful things to say. The groups who were against said they believe that everyone should be treated fairly — I really believe there is a way for us to create an ordinance that treats everyone fairly.”

Vice Mayor Milhaven says there is a level of skepticism, but she believes a balance can be struck that should satisfy all sides.

“I think this is an effort with the undertaking to get both the things that do work and the things that don’t work,” she said. “I think it was pretty clear form the agenda item that this was about continuing the conversation and understanding what other municipalities do.”

Vice Mayor Milhaven says all people in Scottsdale — residents, employees and business owners — should be treated fairly and provided the same civial protections regardless of color, creed or sexual orientation.

“I would love to see us adopt an ordinance that preserves religious freedom and makes sure everyone in Scottsdale is protected,” she pointed out.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte echoes that sentiment.

“I believe we have a majority of councilmembers who completely understand the value of a nondiscrimination ordinance for Scottsdale,” she said in a Sept. 1 phone interview. “Now our challenge is to move this forward under the direction that was given.”

That challenge will come from understanding how a community such as Scottsdale can protect all of its residents and employees while still observing the religious perception of all.

“That will be our challenge, but I think that this is a very strong first step,” she said. “There is a belief that conversation and dialogue is always a productive thing to do.”

Fear is a powerful thing, Councilwoman Korte explains.

“Reaching out with the UNITY Pledge the way we did, there were probably 45 or 50 written responses — and the majority of them were hateful,” she said. “For those that didn’t believe discrimination existed in Scottsdale here was clear evidence that discrimination is alive and well in Scottsdale.”

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane did not respond to a phone call for comment.

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

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