The Scottsdale City Council extended workplace protections to the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered employees Tuesday but chose not to pursue far broader regulations that would impact private city businesses.
The council voted 4-3 to approve changes to its anti-discrimination ordinance to include protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity, an issue that gained momentum over the last year as gay and transgendered activists pointed to Scottsdale as hostile toward gays following beatings, a dispute over restroom access at a nightclub and a proclamation that excluded the mention of gays.
The new rules will affect the city’s personnel activities, including hiring and promotional practices, disciplinary actions, compensation and benefits. The city already had workplace protections based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability.
A large number of gay and transgendered supporters wearing yellow “Equality 4 Scottsdale” buttons packed the council chambers and spoke in favor of the changes, saying they were pushing equality and speaking for people who were unable to speak for themselves for fear of disclosure.
On the other side, a city employee, representatives from two Christian-based conservative groups and other city residents urged the council not to adopt the changes, saying they were unnecessary and would only advance an agenda.
Equality Arizona Executive Director Barbara McCullough-Jones, whose group has pushed the changes, issued a statement after the meeting.
“We congratulate the Scottsdale City Council for joining countless other private and public sector employers in adoption a policy to ensure equal protection for their employees, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite facing strong opposition, Scottsdale’s elected officials demonstrated leadership by putting into policy the inclusive practices of this diverse city.”
Margaux Schaffer, who described herself as a post-operative transsexual woman, told the council members they needed to set an example.
“If you believe in equal rights for any one group to the exclusion of another, then you do not believe in equality,” Schaffer said.
But Center for Arizona Policy general counsel Peter Gentala said the issue could open up the city to conflicts with restroom access and legal challenges.
“This is about changing civil rights law to promote an agenda in a way that has not been changed at the state and federal level,” Gentala said. “The city should not take sides in this cultural debate.”
After the council voted to change the city ordinance, it then voted 5-2 not to have further discussion on proposals to require contractors, suppliers or a lessee of the city — including subcontracts and subleases — along with private businesses and organizations within Scottsdale, to offer the same discrimination protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity, saying it was overreaching.
Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross and Council members Betty Drake, Wayne Ecton and Bob Littlefield supported the change affecting city employees. Manross, who earlier this year was criticized by gay activists after watering down a proclamation meant to honor gays by excluding their mention, cast the deciding vote in favor of the new city protections.
“I think the best thing to do is formalize the practice we have lived under,” Manross said.
Councilmen Jim Lane, Ron McCullagh and Tony Nelssen opposed.
McCullagh criticized the activists, saying they have mischaracterized Scottsdale as hostile and discriminatory toward gays to advance their agenda.
“The proposed ordinance is a solution in search of a problem,” McCullagh said.
Only Drake and Littlefield supported continuing the discussion on the recommendations affecting private businesses.
The consideration for the ordinance, in part, stemmed from three assaults against gays in Scottsdale within the last year, including one the resulted in serious injuries at Frasher’s Steak House and Lounge. The others occurred outside gay nightclub BS West in downtown Scottsdale.
Michele deLaFreniere, chairwoman of the city’s Human Relations Commission and a transgendered woman, also brought the issue into the forefront after filing a complaint against Anderson’s Fifth Estate for being banned from the club over restroom access. The dispute has since been resolved.
When it comes to restroom access at the city level, the city recommends working with the employee on a case-by-case basis, saying employers have different restroom access policies.
Scottsdale joins a handful of other Arizona cities that have offered similar protection to employees. Phoenix, Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff have policies to protect city employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Phoenix extends its protection on the basis of sexual orientation to vendors, suppliers or contractors that employ more than 35 persons. Tucson’s protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity apply to city employment, private employment, public accommodations and housing.
In June 2003, Gov. Janet Napolitano issued an executive order that makes it illegal for a state agency to discriminate based on an employee’s sexual orientation, but it did not include protections on the basis of gender identity.