Scottsdale’s elected leaders are debating how to assuage the fears of people worried the city is becoming hostile to gays after being inundated with messages of concern.
Mayor Mary Manross is scheduled to meet with representatives from gay rights groups on Aug. 15, said Diversity and Dialogue Director Don Logan, while some City Council members say action — such as a proclamation meant to reassure gays, lesbians and transgendered people — could be forthcoming when the council returns from summer hiatus in two weeks.
Vice Mayor Tony Nelssen said he was open to ideas, but accused gay rights groups of making political hay at Scottsdale’s expense.
“Somebody pulled the trigger on a national campaign,” Nelssen said. “I think somebody is trying to give us this reputation. I don’t subscribe to the theory that we deserve it.”
Councilman Bob Littlefield said he doesn’t believe that Scottsdale is particularly homophobic or anti-gay, but he’s willing to work with the gay community. “I’ll be happy to meet with people and I’d be happy to make some kind of statement,” Littlefield said.
Hundreds of people from here and around the country sent messages to council members expressing concern about the safety of gays in the city after gay rights groups such as New York-based Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination and the Phoenix-based group Arizona Equality released statements last week accusing officials of looking the other way while incidents of crimes and alleged discrimination against gays and transgendered people in Scottsdale are on the upswing.
“We want to help create a safe community for gays and lesbians to shop, visit, live and walk in,” said Sam Holdren, Arizona Equality field organizer. “The action that we’re ideally looking for is for the mayor to make a statement that violence against the LGBT community is not OK.”
Holdren, however, praised the city’s police department for investigating hate crime cases. “We are very proud of the Scottsdale Police Department for their help,” he said. “We have full confidence in their work and realize they’re doing all they can to stop these crimes.”
Several recent incidents together add up to a disturbing trend, Holdren said. They include:
• An attack on two gay men outside a south Scottsdale steakhouse in December.
• Another attack on a gay man outside an Old Town bar last month.
• Manross’ decision to alter a proclamation meant to honor the contributions of gay residents so much that the final product didn’t even mention gays.
• What Holdren characterized as Nelssen’s suggestion that tourism advertising aimed at gays and lesbians was to blame for the Scottsdale Fetish Prom.
• And a local club owner’s decision to ban transgendered people from his Old Town nightclub after female patrons complained about them using the women’s restroom and men harassed them in the men’s restroom.
The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating after one of the club’s transgendered patrons filed a discrimination complaint.
Despite the publicity, the volume of visits to a Scottsdale Convention and Visitors Bureau Web site aimed at attracting gay tourism has not fallen off, said Rachel Pearson, bureau spokeswoman.
City Councilman Wayne Ecton said he’s “very concerned” that Scottsdale is getting a reputation as being anti-gay.
“I don’t want us to have that kind of reputation,” he said. “I don’t think there is anyone on the council that’s opposed to coming forward and being more direct. It’s something that’s on everyone’s mind.”
Ecton said the council could make a statement, or take some further action that is, as yet, undecided. “The action isn’t in words,” Ecton said. “The action is how the city is going to discourage it.”
Nelssen said Scottsdale is a safe city, but he wouldn’t necessarily be against a statement reassuring gays.
“I’ve got no problem saying that. I don’t think we need to single out one particular group and say we won’t tolerate violence against them more than anybody else,” he said. “We don’t tolerate violence toward any of our citizens.”
Pat Dodds, a city spokesman, said Scottsdale offers health and dental insurance to the domestic partners of city employees, and has a Diversity and Dialogue Office and Human Relations Commission that deal with minority issues. The police department also assigns a detective to work on hate crime cases full time when they arise, said police spokesman Sgt. Mark Clark.