Short of new law, Scottsdale looks to support LGBT community

Phoenix REALTOR Aaron Carter says he is encouraged

Phoenix Realtor Aaron Carter says he is encouraged to hear Scottsdale may be taking steps to ensure members of the LGBT community know they are welcome. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton

In the wake of state governments adopting religious-objection laws that some perceive to be discriminatory against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the city of Scottsdale is making this perfectly clear: Members of the LGBT community are welcome here.

Indiana and Arkansas general assemblies have both passed similar laws recently that allow residents and businesses to challenge government ordinances they feel interfere with their religious beliefs.

Opponents say the new laws will make it legal to discriminate against certain minority groups, especially gays and lesbians.

The Indiana General Assembly has since vowed to “clarify” its law while published news reports say the Arkansas governor doesn’t plan on signing the bill as presented.

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

Scottsdale City Council met Tuesday, March 31 to discuss the creation of an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in government, private employment, housing and accommodations or city services.

Scottsdale City Council decided to not pursue the creation of an ordinance but rather launch a public relations campaign alerting the outside world to its Unity Pledge signed in 2014.

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

Scottsdale Councilwomen Virginia Korte and Linda Milhaven voiced opinions in support for the further development of the anti-discrimination ordinance while their colleagues say they are OK with learning more about how the public pledge is being interpreted, according to the work session discussion.

It appears Scottsdale will not be joining the ranks of other Arizona municipalities including Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff as the 226th American city to adopt an anti-discrimination ordinance to protect members of the LGBT community.

Linda Milhaven

Linda Milhaven

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.

The move is welcomed by one advocacy group, which claims civil protections are still needed for Americans in the 21st Century.

“Since we are a youth-focused LGBT organization we really love to see this type of effort coming through,” said One N Ten Program Director Stacey Jay Cavaliere in a March 31 phone interview.

One N Ten is a not-for-profit organization committed to serving and assisting LGBT youth with tools to improve self-esteem and acceptance of who they are as members of a community, proponents say.

“We have been a nonprofit for 22 years,” Mr. Cavaliere said. The Phoenix-based effort hosts satellite offices in Tempe, Glendale and Scottsdale.

“We are actually working with the city of Scottsdale providing consultation to the City Manager’s Office of Diversity. They have welcomed us with open arms. They are trying to get anti-discrimination rules in effect and that has been very exciting.”

Mr. Cavaliere points out One N Ten is also providing input to the Scottsdale Unified School District through its established Blue Ribbon Education Committee, which is led by Superintendent Dr. David Peterson.

“We have been engaged with what is going on in Scottsdale,” he said. In calendar year 2014, One N Ten provided services to about 1,000 LGBT youth.

While efforts like the current one in Scottsdale are a step in the right direction, Mr. Cavaliere says more protections are needed.

“Within the LGBT community there are more opportunities for discrimination. That fact that you can be fired in the state of Arizona for being LGBT is totally OK (in this state) because there is no protection against this. How discouraging for a young person.”

While other local governments adopt laws that strip away rights and promote inequality, Mr. Cavaliere says its nice for Arizona to have a “bright spot” in the fight for human equality.

“When (Senate Bill) 1062 was around (in Arizona) and now with Indiana, we still really have to work hard in our communities and stand up and say ‘I am open to things that are different,’ and our cities need to do the same,” he explained.

Arizona SB 1062 would have allowed businesses to refuse service to the LGBT community if it conflicted with the owner’s religious conviction, according to Independent archives.

The bill was passed by the Arizona Legislature last year. Then-Gov. Jan Brewer, however, vetoed the proposed legislation.

“This is a new civil rights struggle,” Mr. Cavaliere pointed out. “If it is not one group we are trying to pounce on, it is another.”

A competitive disadvantage

Not having a anti-discrimination policy in place puts Scottsdale at a “competitive disadvantage,” according to Rachel Pearson, vice president of community and government affairs at the Scottsdale Convention & Visitor’s Bureau.

“(An LGBT non-discrimination policy) is going to signal to our tourism industry that we are really a place for everyone,” Ms. Pearson elaborated in a March 26 phone interview.

“Any time you protect your citizens and visitors, it’s not just the right thing to do but it also puts that ‘Welcome’ sign out for everyone in your community.”

An unwelcoming environment does make tourists hesitate, according to Ms. Pearson. She remembers specifically last year, when SB 1062 would have allowed businesses to refuse service to the LGBT community if it conflicted with the owner’s religious conviction.

Dozens of potential visitors expressed concerns last year, reporting they were not comfortable visiting the state, Ms. Pearson said.

“So we know it affects people, where they come, and where they choose to meet,” she said.

The Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau hosts a web page specifically for LGBT travelers, continued Ms. Pearson. In addition, the bureau is working on a re-launch of

“Feel the Pride,” making the page more robust with information specific to the LGBT community.

The web page lists everything from hotel and restaurant recommendations, to outdoor and indoor activities, to links to government and nonprofit resources. A spread toward the bottom has a calendar of LGBT events.

Phoenix, Flagstaff, Tucson and Bisbee all host Pride parades or festivals, according to the website. Phoenix is also the home of the Rainbows Festival, and the Arizona Gay Rodeo is held each year in Laveen.

In Scottsdale, the W Scottsdale Hotel participates in Turn It Up for Change, a marriage equality initiative, by hosting monthly events to help raise money for the Human Rights Campaign.

Scottsdale is a welcoming place, said Ms. Pearson. A policy just reinforces that.

A sign of the times

Phoenix resident Aaron Carter, a Realtor with HomeSmart, says he can’t point to a specific instance when he was professionally discriminated against due to his sexual orientation here in Arizona.

“I can’t say that I have experienced any discrimination, but I am very aware of people asking if ‘Aaron Carter is gay?” he said in a March 31 phone interview. “Being a gay, married man isn’t the first thing that I disclose about myself but I am very proud of those facts and eventually share that about my personal life.”

Mr. Carter says all people — despite one’s religion, color, creed or sexual orientation — want to feel accepted by society at large.

“I think all people who are in that position want to feel that they can be proud of that fact,” he said of marriage. “I have been very lucky that I have worked with Arizona companies that are open and support anti-discrimination policies within their own organizations.”

Mr. Carter’s idea of American ambition and success doesn’t rely on a person’s sexual orientation — but that’s something that still exists, he says.

“I now feel more comfortable and confident compared to 10 years ago; but I am still aware of it and I can’t deny that,” he said of bigotry and prejudice present in all walks of life. “I do feel that I can be successful here in Arizona. Discrimination is still not gone, but the way to get rid of it is to put more policies in place.”

Mr. Carter points out he does business regularly in Scottsdale and agrees with the notion the community is the economic straw that stirs the drink that is the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“To adopt something that promotes and protects against LGBT discrimination is a sign of the times that we support LGBT equality in the business place,” he said.

Kevin Pagano, right, with his husband Jeff, says he has found Scottsdale to be particularly welcoming to the LGBT community. (Submitted photo)

Kevin Pagano, right, with his husband Jeff, says he has found Scottsdale to be particularly welcoming to the LGBT community. (Submitted photo)

Kevin Pagano echoes that sentiment.

“It is great that it’s Scottsdale doing this,” he said in a March 31 phone interview.  “I love Scottsdale. The fact that is happening there is almost like a weight off of my shoulders.”

Mr. Pagano, a married man who works in Scottsdale, says any anti-discrimination effort is something worthy of note.

“To put their neck on the line in a red state, that is amazing,” he said. “It only takes one to make a domino effect happen. Look at what happened with gay marriage — and I hate calling it that. It’s a marriage just like my mom and dad. I think it’s almost derogatory. But you know? Kudos to Scottsdale.”

Mr. Pagano also says he can’t point to a time when he felt discriminated against here in Arizona.

“I am very open about my marriage, like I am not afraid to talk about it,” he said.
“I think Arizona is very much up-and-coming. The young minds are the voices we need. They weren’t raised with prejudices of my parents’ generation.”

A focus for Scottsdale

In 2007, Scottsdale City Council adopted a resolution to promote equality in city employment, but declined turning the policy into an ordinance, records show.

In 2014, the mayor and council signed the Unity Pledge and joined the long list of Scottsdale businesses dedicated to eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

On March 31, the mayor and council sat down again to discuss non-discrimination options for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Scottsdale has no laws to protect the LGBT community from discrimination in government or private employment, housing and accommodations, or city services.

Scottsdale mirrors federal policy to address fair housing — meaning no landlord may discriminate against a person based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex or presence of children. It does not protect sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, a March 31 staff report explains.

Jim Lane

Jim Lane

Policies and ordinances are distinctively different, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane explained in a March 27 phone interview. While a community may accept a policy, it does not carry the force of law.

Ordinances, while sometimes inspired by policy, are enforceable laws, Mayor Lane contends.

On the other hand, policy is sometimes stronger than ordinance, Mayor Lane continued. As in the signing of the Unity Pledge, when a community gives their pledge it becomes their policy.

“It’s one of those things that bring people together,” Mayor Lane said. “It goes to the best nature in human beings to give a pledge in the true sense of one community — bringing us together with a common respect for one another.”

That was also the idea behind signing the Unity Pledge in 2014, said Mayor Lane. City council voted unanimously to sign the pledge, declaring its dedication to workplace equality and equal treatment in housing and hospitality.

“There are misconceptions about a lot of things here in Arizona for a variety of reasons,” Mayor Lane said, explaining how council determines the best way to respond to a staff recommendation. “It’s a matter of being able to communicate to the world what we are about. There’s a perception that may be incorrect (and) that we want to correct. And it may be an ordinance is the way to go, or it may be a pledge.”

Recommended changes to city ordinance would have made it illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by private employers, housing and accommodations, and city services and contractors.

Similar recommendations for an ordinance were made in 2007 to make government employment non-discriminatory, the staff report continues. At that time, city council chose to adopt an internal policy, to reflect those recommendations, and declined creating an ordinance.

The purpose of the work study session was to discuss the best course of action to take with an LGBT non-discrimination initiative, Mayor Lane explained. No action is taken at a work study session, but council will decide whether to respond to the recommendations, and what form that response might take.

Ms. Walker is a freelance journalist under contract with the North Valley Office of Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA

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

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